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?