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No more Sunday Coupon Preview

Ordinarily, it would hardly seem worth pointing out behind-the-scenes changes involving where this website gets the information for its weekly previews of the upcoming Sunday insert coupons. But, at the risk of sounding self-serving or sanctimonious, there are reasons behind the change that are worth bringing out into the open.

This week’s preview is not from the site Sunday Coupon Preview – instead, credit goes to Coupon Previews, and any future sources will be cited accordingly.

Why should you care about any of this? Because of where Sunday Coupon Preview was allegedly getting its information, who actually owns and operates the site, and why they ought to have known better.

For years, Sunday Coupon Preview was the site of choice for coupon bloggers across the internet looking to alert their readers to upcoming coupons. That was largely because the site was heavily promoted by Escalate Network, which offers online publishers small pay-per-click commissions for running its clients’ ads and offers, and for promoting printable coupons.

Full disclosure dictates the declaration that Coupons in the News is an Escalate Network affiliate. But editorial independence dictates that we don’t refrain from possibly biting the hand that feeds us two cents per click.

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Escalate ended its longtime promotion of Sunday Coupon Preview in February, and some bloggers have since migrated to other sources for information (such as, in some cases, coupon-clipping services, whose early access to mass quantities of inserts raises its own set of questions). Out of habit, or inertia, others have stuck with Sunday Coupon Preview.

But, no longer influenced by the promise of riches pouring in two pennies at a time, the end of the Escalate promotion freed up those who were using the site, to take a closer look at Sunday Coupon Preview. Where was it getting its information? Why does the site have a nonfunctioning contact form?

Some bloggers who labor to transcribe supermarket ads and lists of coupons like to hide little “Easter eggs” in their work. They might purposely slip in a slight misspelling, or transpose digits in a price. If that same error shows up on another site, without attribution – that other site is busted.

And for some time now, “Easter eggs” hidden in Coupon Previews’ listings have been showing up on Sunday Coupon Preview, suggesting that the site has not exactly been obtaining and compiling its own information. Coupon Previews’ owner has even vented on his site about Sunday Coupon Preview, claiming that “their entire website is a cut and paste job.”

Many Sunday Coupon Preview users (including this site, mea culpa) were unaware of such allegations. Was Escalate also unaware, in all the years it promoted the site to its many publishing partners? Escalate promises publishers that it “works diligently to ensure there are no spammy ads or offers in our network and we pride ourselves on being an ethical and family friendly company”. And for the most part, that is true. So surely they would have vetted the site’s owner?

Except that the site’s owner is Escalate itself.

Escalate owns an entire network of websites, including the couponing forum AFullCup, the printable coupon site Free Coupon Alerts – and Sunday Coupon Preview. This fact is not disclosed on the Sunday Coupon Preview website or on Escalate Media’s site. The promotional arm of the company is separate from the content-producing side, but promoting Escalate’s own properties to other publishers in its network certainly helps provide some synergy.

When asked about the connection, an Escalate spokesman told Coupons in the News that Sunday Coupon Preview was created in 2009 by the company’s former founder, who has since left Escalate. When the Sunday Coupon Preview promotion ended in February, publishers were told it was “due to click fraud from several bloggers” – i.e., publishers clicking on their own websites’ links and ads to boost their numbers. “Due to the actions of a few, everyone now loses out on this revenue opportunity,” publishers were admonished.

But Escalate admitted to Coupons in the News that there was more to it than that. When the founder left the company, and the website, there was “nobody to investigate and filter out all the bad traffic” anymore, so it was easier just to end the promotion.

The Sunday Coupon Preview website, though, remains a part of the company. Escalate’s official line is that the site gets its information from message board contributors who post the coupon previews on Escalate’s partner site AFullCup. It’s possible that AFullCup’s contributors were getting their information from Coupon Previews, and that’s how the “Easter eggs” ended up on Sunday Coupon Preview.

But contributors to AFullCup’s forums appear to get their information from a variety of sources, including those who get their hands on early editions of the newspaper. When they do get their information from Coupon Previews, they generally say so. Sunday Coupon Preview does not credit any outside sources for its previews. And in the weeks when AFullCup’s previews are written by those who’ve seen the inserts firsthand, Sunday Coupon Preview still often appears to have all of the same information (and “Easter eggs”) as Coupon Previews.

When confronted with this information, and reminded that it conflicts with Escalate’s own “ethical, non-spammy” values, Escalate pledged to investigate, and “remind and enforce whoever is writing for that site currently to only use data from our members or internal resources,” or at least “to make sure they’re attributing appropriate sources and utilizing first party data when possible.”

At the time of that conversation, Sunday Coupon Preview had already posted this weekend’s RedPlum preview – which looked awfully similar to Coupon Previews’ version, Easter eggs and all (check out the Gillette “mail” razors on Coupon Previews, and then on Sunday Coupon Preview). After that conversation, the SmartSource preview went up – and to Escalate’s credit, it does not appear to be a “cut and paste job”.

Bottom line, those who argue that information is free, might say it’s not really plagiarism if you copy something other than an original work of creative writing. A list of coupons is just a list, after all. But out of respect for those who do the work creating those lists, publishing them elsewhere without attribution is simply bad form. For a company whose stated values would seem to preclude such activity, it’s bad business. And for a website that is no longer being cited or endorsed here, it’s just too bad.

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