MoneySavingExpert pockets himself a packet
Well. Golly gosh and bless my soul. The top ‘independent’ money saving advice site has been sold to a comparison broker. But it’s OK, Martin Lewis’s Money Saving Expert will definitely retain its independence even though it will be owned by moneysupermarket.com, one of the biggest providers of affiliate links to MSE.
In a three year deal worth £87m, the site will be sold to the comparison giant, but Lewis will remain as editor-in-chief. There may be scope for him to stay on beyond the three years, but that is not part of the deal. What is very definitely part of the deal, according to Lewis, is a very strong editorial policy that will preserve the site’s editorial independence.
Lewis claims that the editorial code, included as part of the legal agreement, will “guarantee” the site continues to operate as it does now. The editorial code itelf is quite long (although you can read it here if you are so inclined) but briefly it states:
“The site continues to follow its founding principles. Our primary job is to continue to ensure we provide the best information to help consumers, based on journalistic research, and this editorial line will stay independent of any commercial objectives or influence.”
Lewis says that “the Editorial Code and the way the site will continue to operate satisfies that, and while this is a sale, it's certainly not a sell-out.” Really? While Lewis will undoubtedly have some influence for the next three years, what will happen after that? With no ownership and no guarantee of continued editorial control can the Moneyy Saving Expert really “guarantee” that all the links won’t become moneysupermarket links? And that the content won’t be influenced a teeny little bit by who is paying the bills? As MS forum user Lansker puts it “If it looks like a sellout and quacks like a sell out, it is a sell out.”
And the masses are not happy. Other quotes from the forum post where the sellout buyout was announced include gems from Sablade who declared it as “a very sad day for your unbiased opinions - a sell out! We now need a new unbiased independent website.” Sablade is clearly gifted with the art of visualisation, continuing with “unfortunately the voice of the consumer has been bought, money can buy anything, anyone has their price and Mr Lewis has dumped on his own doorstep. To start with we will see no difference but drip by drip moneysupermarket will suffocate this site and strip it of all its ways to turn the public's free advice into pure profit.”
User Fifer raises another point “There's a question missing from the Q&A. ‘What's in in for MoneySupermarket.com and how will they make a return on their massive investment?’” But Fifer doesnot stop there. He goes on to forecast the downfall of the site:
“There will be a period of stability followed by a decreasing level of activity by the founders and an increasing level of commercial activity.
Even if that was not the case, the commercial association tarnishes any claim of independence. Even if the site remained completely true to its founding principles, the commercial link will destroy people's perception of independence and fairness. The site, however honest it may be, will not be trusted.”
K-man was less wordy in his response “Shocking. Deleting myself from the forum as soon as I work out how to do it”
So given that Lewis must know that the deal is going to tarnish the site’s reputation and the displeasure of the people he is trying to help, why did he do it? You already know the answer to this one don’t you.
In his response to the news, Martin Lewis clearly says “Of course, I'd be silly to say that the large amount of money for me, my team and to charity wasn't a big part of the decision” and we shouldn’t really be surprised. Even before the deal was announced, on the finance page of the site Lewis declared that “the site is a very substantial part of my income; and I make a very good living…so I hope the site continues to make very decent money, like any business … in fact I'd be delighted if it made me a billionaire, providing it never compromises my ethics and recommendations." In the year ended 31 October 2011, MoneySavingExpert reported an income of £15.773 million (2010: £11.361 million)
An £87m wedge may not quite make him a billionaire, but at what cost? Can he really go happily to the bank content in the knowledge that he has not compromised his ethics and recommendations? Will you use the site* anymore? Perhaps the most poignant summing up of the whole shebang should be that of forum user Landsker “at least if you'd sold to Compare the Market, we'd have the meerkats to enliven things.”
*not that you need any site other than Bitterwallet, of course.