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 futfanatico.com, 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. Pets.com 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, Futfanatico.com, 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 Futfanatico.com