Thursday, July 09, 2015

Paying for the Things I Enjoy

I have been thinking a lot lately about how I pay for the things I like online- i.e., how I pay for the content I consume. I'm thinking about it for the obvious reason that my decision to start up a micropress makes me very interested in what convinces people to pay for content. After all, one of the things I'm competing with is the free stories people can read online.

But I've had the interest in content and who pays for it (and how) for quite awhile. I've written about this at Tungsten Hippo. The internet is set up so that the people who make it worthwhile, namely the people that produce the information that it provides, are the last to get paid. You certainly pay for the hardware you use to access the internet. You probably also pay for the bandwidth, unless you're at a university or using a public library where someone else pays for it for you. You are much less likely to pay actual money to the individual sites whose content you access, even though without those sites, you probably wouldn't care whether or not you had bandwidth, and may not even be so fussed about having certain types of hardware.

Ah, but you pay in ads or information, right? What happens to the money from those? If you look at the sites you access, chances are the distribution of money follows the same weird inversion. The people who host the site certainly get paid. The people who wrote the code that runs the site probably get paid, although a lot of sites do run off of open source tools. The people who provide the content- i.e., the writers? That's less certain. There are a lot of opportunities to write for free out there. If you don't believe me on that, I can forward you some of the pitches I get, telling me I should write a "guest post" for some site, and how they'll pay me with a link back to this site. And then, of course, there are the big sites like Huffington Post, where you can submit for the slim chance of being published and paid nothing except "exposure."

I do not know the solution to this, but in last week's Weekend Reading post I said the following, about addictive systems: "the systems we build are the results of our decisions, whether conscious or not, and we always have the option to try to make better decisions."

So, I'm going to try to make some different decisions. I have decided to think about my favorite things online and figure out how to pay the people who make them.

A lot of my favorite sites are personal blogs that don't run ads. In those cases, there is not really anyway to send them any money, unless I track them down and write them a check. (Bloggers I read- consider this a standing invitation to hit me up for a lunch next time you're in San Diego!)

But there are a lot of other things I love that I can pay for. Here's my list so far:

I love the History of the English Language podcast, and I've gotten Pumpkin hooked on it, too. So I donated via the donation button on the website, and I plan to buy the History of the Alphabet audiobook as soon as I figure out the best way to do that for how I'm going to listen to it.

I used Coffee Break French to brush up my French before our recent vacation, and I'm using Coffee Break Spanish now to try to ensure that Pumpkin and Petunia can't have entire conversations that I will not understand. Both are produced by Radio Lingua. My intention is to become a subscriber to Coffee Break Spanish, but that costs more than I can justify spending right now, so I bought the One Minute Spanish for Latin America series instead.

I already buy a lot of books for my Kindle for Amazon- I have to keep the flow of short ebooks going to supply Tungsten Hippo, I have book club books to get, there are random other things I want to read (I'll be buying Between the World and Me,Ta-Nehisi Coates' latest book, for instance).

I'm just getting started on this little project. I want to go slow, so that I can pay attention to what makes me decide to pay, and how much I'm willing to pay for different things. So far, the things I've decided to pay for are things I've really loved, but had been enjoying for free. I don't think that is the usual behavior for people, and it probably isn't even the norm for me. But who knows? Maybe I should set up a "donate" button on Tungsten Hippo.

What about you? What things that you get from the internet do you pay for? What makes you decide to buy?

13 comments:

  1. Really thought provoking...I need to spend some time contemplating this. I say that as a writer who believes in the purchasing of books and lit mags and such, who donates to libraries, etc.

    My sense is that the writers whose work I read online are either blogging for a hobby or get paid for the articles they've written (i.e. NYT). But I'm sure that's not always the case...I need to think about it some more. Thanks.

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    1. The part of the "who pays writers" issue that really disturbs me is the way no one seems to know how to make quality investigative journalism a sustainable business right now. To be honest, Buzzfeed might be the people who have come closest to figuring it out, and I don't know if they're actually profitable. I also don't know whether they've hit on something that can be replicated or if in fact each different outlet will have to figure it out their own unique way to make money. It just seems so precarious.

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  2. This is a good reminder for me. My philosophy is like yours - I try to pay something for sites that I really enjoy but get for free, sort of like public radio. I love the Gist podcast so I subscribe/donate there. I also read Lots of personal blogs which is a bit harder. I do try to comment, which is at least one way of showing appreciation. And for those folks who also produce paid content, I buy books (you & Laura Vandekam). I think you can donate via PayPal to anyone with an email address? But I haven't tried this.

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    1. I, too, consider commenting on blog posts a way to show appreciation and try to do so on blogs I enjoy.

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    2. Comments are definitely a way to show appreciation!

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  3. Your post came at a perfect time. I was considering paying for an online subscription to the New York Times. I always hit the free 10 article per month limit. It's not that expensive and I want to support quality journalism. I'm a bit fearful that low-pay and proliferation of free content will decimate investigative journalism to the point that politicians / corporations/ governments are held less accountable and get away with more things.

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    1. Yes, see my comment on @gwinne's post above! Already, I think that the viewpoints we get are more limited than I'd like.

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  4. As someone who works in software, I have no problem paying for software and websites I find useful. Some sites have a freemium business model, but often it's not the perks I'm interested in paying for, but rather I just want to encourage development on the project. Some sites I pay to use include LastPass, NewsBlur, Wikipedia, and Toodledo. I will say, though, that perks seem to matter to some people, so if I were going to try to monetize a site, I would probably try to incentivize payment by making some content or features only available to subscribers.

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    1. Funnily enough, I just read a blog post discussing using heuristics in web design. The scarcity heuristic is behind the success of freemium models apparently: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2015/07/02/using-heuristics-to-increase-use-of-your-product/

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    2. Thanks! I'll check that link out. I do try to pay for software, too. The freemium model seems to be pretty standard these days, but I hear that the conversion rate from free to paid can be heartbreakingly low.

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  5. What great food for thought. I suppose I come at this from my background which as someone who has a ton of online coaching, time management and organising courses, and 3 books, I'm aware that people could (and probably some do) pass my stuff to friends for free. I want to have as much "good karma" so I never do this with e-books, etc. I also happily click through on bloggers' affiliate links because WHY NOT? Modern Mrs Darcy is usually the person who refers many books that I end up buying and I'm very happy to use her links to buy most of my Amazon Kindle and Audible books.

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    1. Yes, I'm releasing the books I publish DRM free. Mostly, I figure people will be honest and "do the right thing." And if they aren't going to be honest, DRM is trivially easy to break... so why annoy my honest customers with it?

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  6. Pay your taxes, and I will keep writing about the things I learn from data. Since I wrote http://badmomgoodmom.blogspot.com/2007/04/thank-you-to-american-taxpayer.html, my funding has changed from DoD to NSF, but I still depend on taxpayers.

    I try to give good value. I'm at a meeting this week where many government agencies are working hard to make our data play nice with each other so that you, taxpayers, can use all of the data that you fund.

    http://esipfed.org/

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