Paying For Downloads Is Lame, And We Had No Idea We Were Doing It

You know that annoying kid in junior high that used to give you his lunch money to hang out? That’s what incentivized mobile app downloads are like. Or rather, it’s that kid’s mom or older brother paying you to hang out with them.

So when we were blindsided by saw this post by our founder Michael Arrington earlier today, about the TechCrunch iOS app being offered in exchange for a whopping 9 premium plays of Goobers Vs. Boogers*, we didn’t believe it.

That’s not the TechCrunch app, we said. It has to be a clone. The logo is different, we said. Our COO Ned Desmond even downloaded a Tapjoy game and started playing it, just to prove it wasn’t the real TechCrunch app being offered up for fewer Premium Play credits than Bubble Safari.

“It’s not TechCrunch’s practice to pay for downloads or any traffic,” our Director of Product Christine Ying insisted when I asked her if she knew why our legit mobile app was hanging out with the likes of Big Win Slots in all of its desperate splendor in the middle of Draw Something Free! (or insert other lame mobile game here).

Finally, our COO got to Level 5 of Goobers Vs. Boogers or whatever, and we discovered that it was indeed the TechCrunch app being pushed upon innocent social mobile gamers, all with the eventual goal of pushing these terrible terrible apps to the App Store Top Charts. This is sad.

Because, despite our impassioned doubts, we were actually complicit in this without our consent. As far as we can tell, Aol has some sort of deal with Tapjoy for its other apps (I dunno, MovieFone) and TechCrunch was rolled into it. Neither Eric Eldon or I or anyone else at TechCrunch were consulted about or aware of this decision, which is not without precedent. This pisses me off. Eldon is on vacation, but I’m pretty sure it would piss him off, too.

Because straight up paying for downloads, or traffic, to a blog is insidious and it makes users and readers wrinkle their noses when they read the phrase “paying for downloads.” And we are good enough that we don’t need to do it.

Despite, or even because of, the trolls, people love TechCrunch. If they’re not downloading our app, it’s probably because it crashes. I’ve read the reviews. As Christine pointed out earlier, TechCrunch has traditionally been against paying for traffic (or downloads) of editorial content, because our content is actually interesting, and paid traffic tends to be very low quality. It’s our fault if the vehicle of that content is flawed to the point where people don’t want to use it, and paying people to do so doesn’t solve the problem.

So, since Michael raised a stink about it earlier, our occupying parent company is trying to pull us from whatever this deal is — to its credit. But, just TechCrunch as far as we know.

This is also sad. Why not pull all the Aol properties from Tapjoy, whatever they are? Why just one? Tapjoy is spammy and scuzzy and exists to game Apple’s top App Store rankings for apps that are probably not worth downloading. Otherwise, why would those apps be paying people to? In fact, Apple itself has cracked down on Tapjoy since it became aware of its practices. If they (Aol) pull a deal in one case (us) because of this principle, they should pull in all of them. Why make an exception?

Since we’ve investigated this, we’ve also been made aware that Aol pays for Google Ads on The Crunchies, but that sort of sits better with me, at least, because that event is very clearly defined as a revenue opportunity. People can buy tickets through those links, and the ads aren’t being used to artificially puff up our traffic numbers.

Aol and/or our business side may think it’s smart to extend these sorts of lame practices over to editorial content without telling us or asking for our input, but we don’t. And until they stop, we’re going to make fun of them, just like we would have in junior high. With all due respect, of course.

*Note: Goobers Vs. Boogers is not actually a Tapjoy app. I’ve only included it here because it sounds ridiculous.