Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Pay Wall-Picket Fence : Pickpockets Beware or Readers Be Warned by Elliot

A More Splendid Life welcomes back Elliot of the wonderful, here to shoo away some of the tumbleweeds clogging up our administrative offices over the last couple of weeks. Enjoy!

An abbreviated history of the internet. First, the Gold Rush era. The internet explodes into existence. Businesses flock to create websites and advertise. Pop-up ads crash your Netscape Navigator for the hundredth time. sells for millions. Napster transfers free music to college campuses the world over. Yet will order ever arise from this mass of chaos? Second, the new Sheriff epoch. The bubble bursts. The internet will not replace oxygen as the most consumed product on planet Earth. Pessimism pervades, but Google creates a useful algorithm to organize the whole bloody mess. Businesses shift to "ecommerce" and pay pennies for banner ads. Napster & college kids lose lawsuits. Youtube unleashes the power of video. A rebound gains momentum.

We live in the third era: creative offshore trusts. Everybody downloads IP maskers, uses bitorrent, and flips the bird at music companies. Copyright holders harass justin and veetle, but sopcast spreads across the Western World. Soon, broadcasts of sport emanate from China to fill our IPAD screens. Businesses hire "search consultants." We live in a large cloud of savvy pirates and writers, using an antiquated median that reach its peak in the 18th century, ask a simple question: can I make a buck?

The answer is yes. I will ignore the whole paid hobby/professional debate and assume written content provides entertainment value. In a capitalist system, individuals exchange currency for entertainment value. However, I harbor realistic appraisals of that value: a good soccer blog post entertains you for about two minutes. A good 2 page Slate piece entertains you for about five minutes. A daunting and intense 10 page NYTimes piece entertains you for about fifteen minutes. So if each individual soccer blog post has such de minimis value, how can you raise funds? Subscriptions. 

My own website,, offers a Kindle version subscription for individuals that want to pay $0.99 per month. However, I also offer the website for free to any joe schmoe on the web. Newsflash: most people own a computer or have one at work. Thus, to maximize my subscriptions, should I use the new Google technology to erect a paywall? If history is any guide, no. Only the WSJ and arguably Zagat have successfully implemented one. WSJ's readers, business executives, always have cash to burn and had a long history of overpaying for Bloomberg. The jury is still out on Zagat, although I like to think we share a similarly elegant & fine dining pool of readers.

Thus, as a full-time occupation business model, I am a failure. However, other and superior blogs have other plans.

FakeSigi walks the line between a donation button and a subscription model. While no paywall has been erected, his website strongly suggests you pay an annual subscription if you think that his writing is worth it.  You also get the added perk of being able to comment on his site if you are a subscriber. This model has generated some profits, a blow for either altruism on his part or his readers. Some people are willing to pay. But what about the seedy pirates that float about the blogsophere in this era?

Jonathan Wilson has embarked on a similar subscription adventure at The Blizzard. Basically, the website offers a subscription model/pay wall variant. You must pay to read, although you can glance at samples. Issue Zero allegedly allows you to choose the price ala Radiohead's "In Rainbows" release, but if you enter zero you will be disappointed. The paywall will certainly separate the paying clients from the ragamuffins, but the content also holds a major difference from FakeSigi: the articles are more NYTimes epic than blogpost. The Blizzard thus dovetails with the Kindle Singles concept - paying a $0.99 or a $1.99 for a medium-length individual article.

So are readers willing to pay for lengthy articles but not blogposts? Why does length matter? I am a member of the last generation willing to pay $8 for a book, but I puzzle myself. Why? Doesn't a blog produce the same amount of reading and satisfaction over the same period of time? Is it the promise of consistency? A guarantee? A commitment between me and the author, whereas blogs bring no promise but a potential blip in my Google Reader? Regardless of the irrationality, I am willing to pay.

So if you don't go the way of de facto journalism with long articles, can a blogger only obtain a profit by banners ads and adhering to the SEO 5-topical-posts per day rule? Granted, to be fair to this style of blogger, staying on top of the news, consistently writing humorous jokes, and building trust with readers & becoming their bridge to the news is a skill in-and-of-itself. Not everybody can be George Stephanpolous and smile at America every morning.

Thus, we return to where we started: the era of educated pirates or, alternatively, blogs which offer de minimis value. Or both. My conclusion is that blogs who don't go the SEO route will soon offer a handful of free posts per week, but then a Kindle Single for a longer & well researched post (perhaps once a month). Or perhaps they may turn similar posts into a series available on Kindle Singles. Regardless, don't worry - at my site I will not ransom Junito from you. I predict that if you finished reading this post, you are one of the 50-100 people who would derive pleasure from the esoteric topic and my unique writing style. I hope you derived three glorious minutes of free satisfaction.

Elliott blogs about soccer and Real Madrid's greatest 4 year old prospect at


PK said...

Having been one of the people that paid for The Blizzard and devoured it over the course of a week, I think it is a brilliant concept. This may sound odd, but being able to pay for writing (or music, or a movie)allows me to say "Seriously, I love what you are doing". It says a lot about how much the Internet has changed the dynamic between content creator and content consumer that a statement like that sounds...strange.

elliott said...


Good point. I feel like consumers actually feel a bit alienated by the "free" experience. I always feel cheap and seedy when I read a stunning RoP post, laugh for minutes, and then don't directly confer any benefit to Brian or Fredo.

FakeSigi's subscription model taps into that feeling, although I have doubts about subscriptions working for a traditional 3-4 posts per day/3-4 paragraph per post blog model.

Would I have paid for his MLS website disaster post? IN A HEARTBEAT.

cswitzer said...

I follow 30 or more soccer blogs (and listen to 5 or 6 free podcasts). And soccer is only one of many interests. Even at .99c per month, paid blogs would quickly comsume $100-150/month for me. End result would be massive reduction in my consumption of free media.

Fortunately, most blogs are priced right - $0.

For many people, blogging = scrapbooking. Fun to do. Fun to share. But nobody is going to pay to see your scrapbook. I don't mean that to insult bloggers or scrapbookers. But with 6,700,000,000 on a planet, there will always be a group of people interested enought in almost any topic to fill their free time writing about it to share - for free - with others. As you know, competing with those seriously drives down the monetary value of your product.

Futher, there is other "value" to blogs. Blogs drive traffic to money-making ventures (like to ESPN's site). Blogging is an integral part of a "legitimate" journalist's job. These ventures don't need to charge blog readers because they have other ways to monetize those readers' interest in the blog.

Others leverage the following and expertize they gain by blogging to do paid work as guest writers for magazines. I'm thinking here of the Urbanophile, Aaron Renn, one of many bloggers who has pondered the topic of monetizing what is, essentially, a hobby.

To end with a note of optimism, I do subcribe to the WFD podcast. I don't have cable TV (I've always refused until they offer a-la-carte channels; people said I was fighting an unwinnable war, but now with TVU Player, Sopcast, and Chrome's Live Football and Chrome TV extensions, victory is mine!), but I wanted a daily, extended soccer news/talk show. None of the free products, though I follow many, was good enough. And WFD was a great product for a reasonable price.

Good luck.

Elliott said...


excellent points and I definitely think you hit on the nail on the head with your scrapbooking analogy - nobody will want to pay for a hobby quality product, especially when others offer it for free and the pros don't charge too much.

I similarly refuse to pay for Cable TV and love the Sopcast player, however, that presents the dilemma for broadcasters the world over: how can they afford to pay their own bills? Ever more obnoxious in-game ads? Larger plugs on t-shirts and on stadium walls?

I think TheBlizzard and Kindle Singles will really present a lithmus test and opportunity for bloggers to delve into long-form journalism and see how good the market is.

With over 6 billion people in the world, how many would shell out $1 or $2 for a 20 page piece on St. Pauli's painful march towards corporate conformity?

I don't know, but I'm one of them.

Raf-in-AZ said...

cool mention of World Football Daily. Thanks for that comment down there cswitzer.

my name is Rafa and I producer WFD. I am looking to get in contact with the author of this blog piece. would be a great guest on our show. just wanting to talk about the struggle to make a profit off something that so many are used to having for free.

Lanterne Rouge said...

Ingenious - charging for one stellar blog post a month whilst making 90% of what one does available for free is a new idea to me and I think it could work for some of the better sites out there including A More Splendid Life and Futfanatico

PokerFiend said...

wouldn't it be easier just to place a paypal donate button or something, this way the blog author could actually measure how much the audience likes his writing :)

Gambling Rob said...

What PokerFriend said, if blogs were to become paid i would have gone bankrupt.

USMAN said...

very huge level of thinking! seo is really very important thing!

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