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When Should Bloggers Stop Giving it Away?

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I have something on my mind. I’m thinking about a discussion I had on Twitter yesterday with James Chartrand of the wonderful Men with Pens blog. James and I are good friends and have regular brain storming sessions, mostly about making money with this blogging thing. Now, in all fairness, my blog network earns more than James’s blog, but I’m no where near ProBlogger‘s level of income, though I’m willing to bet I work just as hard. Yesterday, James and I were discussing some new ways to generate income blogging and we wondered…each day we both put our all into our blogs. We give away our secrets and tricks of the trade. We could generate tons of revenue with courses or books, but instead, we package it up for free on our blogs. Would blog readers pay to read a “premium” blog?

We took it to Twitter…

Twitter status MWP

To say the results were interesting is an understatement. Most respondents said no, they wouldn’t pay to read posts by their favorite bloggers. A couple of Twitterers said the material would have to be brilliant and written by A-listers, but they wouldn’t pay for any old blogger off the street.

I find this whole thing thought provoking. In the freelance writing world, there’s a big campaign to make sure writers are paid what they’re worth and should never work for free or for slave wages, yet many of the same people admitted they wouldn’t pay for content either.

Some Twitterers express annoyance over bloggers who are constantly creating products to sell. It seems every few months there are courses or ebooks or some sort of affiliate programs launching. Many blog readers are saying they don’t want to be hit up for money all the time.

So let me ask you this…

I work on my blog full time. I spend at least three hours trolling for job leads for freelance writers and the rest of the day writing at least three informative posts for my community. I also receive over a thousand pieces of email a day, and do my best to answer them all. Bloggers put a lot of effort into what they do, and it’s done on their own time. Why are readers so outraged when we want to take on a sponsor, monetize a twit or charge for premium content?

When should bloggers stop giving it away?

Now I’m not saying we need to charge for every post or install turnstiles on all our blogs. However, the mere mention of “what if a few of us got together and put together a blog featuring premium content” had folks scoffing at the idea. Some suggested the content would have to be awfully brilliant to charge for it. Most successful bloggers put their all in to each and every post, to suggest we would turn out something less than brilliant is kind of, well, not a compliment.

So let’s discuss this…

Many bloggers work very hard to bring you good information every single day. You would pay money to read books saying what we say. You would pay money to take courses teaching what we teach.

Why wouldn’t you pay money to read a blog?

Deb Ng is a professional blogger and founder of the Freelance Writing Jobs network. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @debng.


Feedback

36
  • James Chartrand - Men with Pens

    My own post (or possibly even series of posts) on this very conversation and subject is going up next week. I don’t think people realize the mixed messages they’re giving out to the world, and I don’t think bloggers realize what they’re doing to themselves.

    Time for that to change. Case in point…

    “1$ an article! I would never accept that pay rate! That’s preposterous!… Oh, s’cuse me. Have to go write my free blog post now or my readers will be mad.”

    “Sweatshops should be banned. They’re horrible, taking advantage of people and mistreating them without fair wages. I protest!… right after I go to my favorite blog and read today’s latest free post.”

    “Charge for premium content? For a blog post? Hell no, I won’t pay if you do that. But I will sponge your knowledge and education then apply it to my freelancing so I can make more money…”

    Yeah. This is wrong, people. Period.

  • Lucy

    Deb, I was one of the people who said they might pay, via a subscription payment (because that’s easier to handle as a reader than micropayments each time). I’ve thought a bit more about this, having seen some of the responses to your tweets yesterday, and it is a tricky question.

    Like some of the other respondents: I wouldn’t pay for anything and everything, because not everything is equally valuable to me, or relevant to my needs at the moment. And – budget being what it is – no doubt I’d have to cut down on my reading if everything were pay-to-read.

    But how would I know whether something was worth subscribing to or not, other than by reading a free sample? And by ‘worth subscribing to’ I’m not meaning the quality of the writing, but the relevance of the blog to me at that time.

    Could one perhaps offer some free content and have a walled garden with premium content in?

    Or offer a free trial subscription of (say) 5-10 posts and then require payment to receive more? This model becomes more like subscribing to a magazine and receiving regular issues.

    But what about the circumstance when I had a particular topic to research, and just wanted temporary access to the material – perhaps 5-10 posts would be enough to provide me with the information I wanted, and then you wouldn’t get the recompense you’d be looking for. I’m not sure how you’d monetise that kind of visitor.

    And then there’d be an impact on the writers’ page-views, on their marketing strategies… Would they need to set up affiliate schemes to reward people who brought them subscribers? Does that then turn the blog into a true magazine?

    If a blog became this kind of magazine, I expect it would need to be produced by a group of bloggers, rather than by one. You’d need to identify that group and your target audience quite carefully to be sure that most of the work was relevant to the subscribers, to keep them engaged and subscribed. You’d probably need an editor to keep the direction focused.

    The nature of the work involved would change quite a bit, I suspect.

    Very interesting question you raise. I don’t have the answers, but I’m looking forward to reading the discussion.

  • Mary

    Very thought provoking, Deb. I’m not sure I have a concrete answer to the question, but I suppose many bloggers put out information for free to give previews of what their ebooks or other materials would contain. I think I may pay for content if it were, indeed, something I couldn’t otherwise find online, such as a class, mastermind, etc. I think maybe it has to do with the way the question or idea is phrased that has many thinking they wouldn’t pay for such material. I’m interested to see where this discussion goes.

  • Deb Ng

    @James – though my reaction wasn’t as heated as yours, we still shared a similar response in that the same people who don’t want writers to sell themselves short, don’t really want to pay for content either. I’ll be keeping a very close eye out for your blog posts and I’m also interested in learning the reaction of your community,

    @Lucy – If you’re a visitor to my blog every day and trust me to steer you in the right direction, would you trust me enough to pay? It’s one thing to not want to pay a blogger you don’t know, but what about a blogger you know and trust? What if it was Darren Rowse or Chris Brogan or Chris Garrett?

    @Mary – This is true, blogging can be a sneak preview for books and courses. However, do most bloggers who write ebooks tell you something new in their books or is it the same content packaged and presented in a convenient manner?

  • Lucy

    @Deb – would I trust you enough to pay for your content, or to recommend you to new readers? Yes, but I know you (and the others) and would trust you to give good value because I am already a regular reader. I was thinking more about new readers to any given blog – and I suppose new writers too – and how to get to there (premium) from here (free).

    Do you think a blogger would need to have acquired regular readers before moving to a subscription model? Or could s/he make the subscription model work out of the gate? Perhaps it would actually be easier not to have to change your community’s mental map from free to premium… but they’d have to work hard at marketing.

    I suspect a new blog/blogger would have to gain some authority before people would be willing to pay, and without giving away some free content (perhaps a few posts, perhaps an ebook) it would be hard to see how they’d gain the authority.

    I think existing authorities – you! – wouldn’t have a problem gaining new readers because of the recommendation of the crowd. If lots of people are recommending bloggers X, Y and Z then people will pay. Though I suppose this relies on social networks and perhaps some blogs remaining free… which I think they will.

    We may have a chance to see how this goes if (when) newspapers start to charge for online content. Of course, they do have massive offline brands behind them, which will help convert people to subscribers.

  • Josh

    It would depend on the content. I’ve long said the only newspaper content I’d pay to read online is strong, primarily local enterprise reporting, and I wouldn’t do any different for blogs. I’d really have to want the information to pay for it.

    If I were making a living doing freelance writing work, I would absolutely pay a small monthly subscription fee for access to your job leads posts, but since I only do the occasional bit here and there, I’m not interested enough to pay for something like that. If you wanted to convince me it’s worth paying for, I’d have to get a lot out of your posts that aren’t behind a pay wall first.

    Take a look at ESPN.com Insider. It’s essentially the same pay wall system the Times tried putting up a couple of years ago for their columnists. You get a lot of good content for free, but if you want the best they have to offer (or what they SAY is their best), you have to pay a reasonable monthly fee.

  • Deb Ng

    @Lucy – One thing we learned from the Twitter discussion yesterday is that it’s about trust and reputation. So someone with a large community and following would probably do well with a paying model. However, someone new at this would probably have a hard time.

    But then, how do you not turn it into a big fat bait and switch? Read my blog for free for five years and then you have to pay?

    Lots to think about but I think with the right people and the right focus it could work.

  • James Chartrand - Men with Pens

    I don’t think anyone could ever do a full switch and expect to come out roses. People hate change. They’d revolt. Not happy. I think the change would have to be done very slowly and very carefully, teaching people in a very gradual way that bloggers shouldn’t work free of charge.

  • Dave Doolin

    I don’t believe there is any way to put this cat back into the bag.

    However, there is no reason to give away everything. Save some goodies for products that you can sell. Give away strategy, sell tactics.

  • Dave Doolin

    @deb – I wouldn’t pay for content previously free. Two reasons for me: I”ve been on the web since 94, so I’m way too used to free content through the browser.

    The other, more important reason: I’d just spend less time on the internet. And I think that would be a good thing.

  • Deb Ng

    I also wonder if it depends on the packaging. For example, if I was to say it’s a subscription based blog, folks might balk. But if I said it’s an ongoing course or online ebook with pages added daily, would that make a difference?

    Is it the idea that it’s a blog or web content that turns people off or the idea of paying money at all?

  • Jessie Fitzgerald

    I would pay. I think it is right. I know how hard a blogger works. I like the subscription idea, but I also would want a micropayment option, a la iTunes. If my favorite blog, AllFreelanceWriting.com, was no longer free I’d keep reading it. There’s nothing wrong with offering preview content and then asking for payment for premium. I just don’t know how receptive readers will be to this after getting so much content for free.

  • Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot

    Bloggers seem to have dug themselves into a hole by offering their best content free as a means of enticing people to their site. Where’s the money in that? As you mention, writers need to be paid. The model seems to be leverage products. Yawn. It’s a hard job but someone’s got to do it.

    If you crack this one let me know. I’m relying on you for full disclosure:) And I think I could even put my hand in my pocket for it too…

  • Rick

    By the way you need to keep in mind that at least 70% of the people who say they will pay for something actually wont do it.

  • Taylor Marek

    Diversification is one of the keys here.

    Have you ever read “Free: The Future of a Radical Price”? Might give you some interesting thoughts… πŸ˜‰

  • Jerret

    Ha. I was thinking about this same issue a few days ago. One of my favorite news sites is the Wall Street Journal. More and more of their articles are going into the paid section. It won’t be long before, yes, I will pay the subscription to get the content. It’s worth it.

    So, I think if someone finds value in your blog, they’ll pay for it. Kind of like a friendship. If they’re not willing to “invest” in it, they weren’t really a friend anyway, right?

  • Deb

    I do not blog, but I read quite a few. I feel fortunate to live in a time when copious amounts of information are given freely by qualified and interesting people. I understand that this is short lived. It must, otherwise quality content will disappear.

  • Diane Corriette

    It has been said that all truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. I am sure the person who came up with the idea of bottled water was laughed at! If paid blog posts is a passion of yours I say go for it – even if everyone says NO WAY! Sometimes we have to take a risk and be willing to stand by what we believe in until it works or kill us πŸ˜›

    I must confess to feeling annoyed when I read a post and after a few paragraphs it says “to read the rest subscribe as a member” – I just refuse and that is because if it is my first time reading your blog I don’t know you so I just won’t but for those who love your writing and they know how well you write, if they get a lot out of your work – I can’t imagine they wouldn’t be willing to pay and if they are that’s just shame on them!

    When I think about the people that I love to read I would definitely consider paying if their paid stuff was going to be even better than their free stuff! I need to know that by paying I am getting something more than a person who decides just to read the free stuff.

    I personally think this is excellent – it could change the whole blogging world – I am going to look at implementing paid blog posts while my blog is still unknown and I am a noboday πŸ™‚
    Even if it takes me the next 10 years to succeed with it or I only have 5 paid subscribers it will still be worth it to say I dared to be different.

    Isn’t a paid blog post the same as calling it a membership site? Isn’t a membership site a place with loads of great content? Its a paid area full of your great stuff. Nothing wrong with that. Maybe calling it a membership site might make it easier on you – I personally just love saying “pay to read my blog post” – just to annoy a few people who always want something for nothing πŸ™‚

  • James Chartrand - Men with Pens

    @Diane – Interesting point about feeling irritated when you get to the “read more” and realize you have to pay. I feel the same, irritated. And I usually click away.

    But I’m wondering. Is this because we as readers feel we’ve been caught in a bait and switch? We’ve been hooked, we start to read, we’re interested… AUGH! NO! BUGGER!

    What if we had a little descriptive resume instead of that bait and switch? “This article covers XYZ and if you want ABC, then it’s for you. Pony up.” That gives us choice, instead.

    What do you think?

  • Deb Ng

    Interesting thoughts here. There a few things I know:

    1. If I all of a sudden start charing folks to read my blog, I’ll lose the bulk of my community.

    2. If a bunch of respected bloggers got together and created an information membership site with articles, courses, webinars and more, people will pay. Not as many as who visit the free sites, but perhaps enough to justify looking into it.

    3. I have another theory about the future of content, but I’m saving it for my next post.

  • Diane Corriette

    @ James Chartrand – Men with Pens

    A little resume instead will definitely make a difference, but again, mainly if I already know who you are. So I guess there has to be free content for those looking to get to know you and more paid stuff.

    Status is important to people – the thought that “this is premium content only for those who are in the small percentage of people willing to invest in their knowledge because they understand that is what winners do!”

    Now I consider myself a winner and definitely don’t want to think about not being part of that crowd so that will tempt me.

    The though of being part of an elite group of people – all of whom are successful before the are paying to read the information that you provide.

    Plus of course eventually you start collecting social validation – “yes, I pay to read the premium content provided by James and thanks to one of his posts I managed to earn an extra $5,000 in freelancing fees in one month” – a few testimonials of what people are getting will help

    Reading premium content is like being part of the inner circle, the elite – the people who get more attention from James than the ordinary reader.

    Now if I know I get your attention I will definitely pay up πŸ™‚

    @Deb Ng – this is of course just my opinion but if people leave because you charge you have to wonder whether you only had tyre kickers who will read your content but never buy in the first place. Plus is that just an imagined fear? What if you charged and the majority said “yes please” – the only way to know is to ask.

    It is my belief that if the offer is attractive enough people will go for it – like I say, it really is more like having a membership site that contains great blog content.

    None of us can truly know whether it will work until a few people decide to try it out an see what happens.

  • Diane Corriette

    Sorry….. the line that says

    “The though of being part of an elite group of people – all of whom are successful before the are paying to read the information that you provide.”

    meant to say

    “The thought of being part of an elite group of people – all of whom are successful because they are paying to read the information that you provide”

    Hit add comment before reading it through again! Feel free to edit the comment and add that line in πŸ™‚

  • James Chartrand - Men with Pens

    @Diane – Those are interesting points, and I appreciate you writing them out. I’m enjoying the discussion and my mind’s contemplating every side of the stone.

    @ Deb – I do think if someone said, “You have to pay now” that no one would. People hate loss of what they had, so that would backfire. But, if they get to keep what they had, and then something extra on the side (that could be pay-for), then they have no sense of loss, really.

    @ Diane – I think that at first, no one would buy. I think it’s as you said, that people need to start to adapt, get used to and be convinced this is good. So there’d be a period of no money, but eventually, that would turn as people start accepting the concept.

    And yes – if after a year you still have no payers, then there’s a problem. Buh-bye!

  • Carl Coryell-Martin

    I think it’s very important to understand what you are selling when you think about selling blog posts. In my particular case, what you are selling me is the secretion of certain chemicals in my brain that feel great, and it only happens when I seek out and discover new and interesting ideas.

    If you start charging for blog posts, it enormously raises the cost of reading your content, even discounting the money invovled. Now I have to figure out where my credit card is, how much is left on my account w/ you, is it likely to be worth it compared to all the other ways that I could spend that money, etc etc etc. Also your not likely to be competing with other suppliers of the unique insight that you provide (and people pay you for in your classes) but for all the other vendors of brain stimulating information on the internet (of which there are many) all priced at a few clicks in twitter, google, netnewswire etc etc etc.

    I think you need to sell other products that I would be willing to pay for (like classes, consulting services, iphone apps, audio books, tools etc) or find advertisers who are willing to pay for a chance at my attention.

    I think that you are unlikely to be *the* innovator who figures out how to sell articles on the interwebs unless you figure out something more valuable to sell than brain candy and I’m someone who *paid* for access to salon.com back in the day.

    love,

    Carl Coryell-Martin

  • James Dalman

    I could write a book on this topic as I’ve been down this road many times before. It all starts because people have been preaching you should give it away for “free” … but this is great advice on paper and easy to do if you’re independently wealthy or sold your web company for a mint. The reality is however, we have to make money with our expertise/knowledge/training.

    What people don’t usually know is the background – the training, time, and investment we (writers, designers, etc) have put into their craft in order to earn a living. And when we follow advice to give it all away for nothing, it only helps devalue what we do. I saw this in the screenprinting industry in the 80’s. Most of those shops are now gone.

    For bloggers this is going to be a hell of a battle! It is going to take time to educate readers why they should place a value on your craft and invest in it financially. And they will need help to understand why you are hocking your wares online – can’t write well from a cardboard box.

    Sorry for the book but that’s why I am a huge opponent of free.

  • Diane Corriette

    James I have to agree with you.

    The thing is it may only be those who follow you and love what you stand for that join in at first but I still believe the more people who visit and enjoy what you write the more people you will attract towards investing in premium content.

    That is why people love blogging, it gives them an opportunity to “speak” to and reach out to their market and allow that market to get to know the real person behind the business. This then encourages that person to go on and buy CDs, classes, learning material, teleseminars and a host of other things so why not premium content?

    The new person who lands on your site and who has no clue who you are may not be interested. Even those who follow you for years may not be interested – but in among those long and loyal followers I truly believe will be people happy to buy.

    It is all about perceived value and meeting a need.

    I would say that it was impossible to charge for the NEWS with all the news sites on the internet but here it is…….

    “Britain’s most prolific newspaper publisher began charging yesterday for some of its online content, in a closely watched move that could be copied across the country.”

    http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/media/article6938267.ece

  • Nicole

    What if you, as a blogger could subscribe for free to a service that deliver brief content about only 5 selected topics and will pay you when you posted about something that you are passionate about that leads to a sale of somebody else’s goods or services. Let’s say you are an environmentalist and a solar panel company just found a way to make solar panel window shades for your car that would power your car and if your reader did choose to buy a window shade, you made a small sum. Would you want to know the latest about your new passions and be able to choose to tell your community about it? Would you choose to be paid or not?

  • Lucy

    I would pay depending on the amount and the person. I have found a few blogs that contain so much valuable info. I visit all the time to stay up to date on how to keep my blog going. If I had to pay that blogger a little to help out I would. After all their imformation is helping me. The info would always have to be fresh though.

    Lucy

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