There has historically been a bias against money-makers among intellectuals. Being an academic, I inherited this bias without really thinking about it. It’s only recently that I began thinking about it again – and as normal I got there via a weird route.
I’ll spare a lot of the historical details, but I’m not saying that intellectuals historically weren’t wealthy. In fact, they were. But they rarely made their wealth by actually working – they had land, family, or positions in society that paid for their lifestyle.
I can trace this intellectual bias all the way back to Plato – who proposed that good men, and by analogy, good cities, would fall by concerning themselves with making money, and Aristotle’s disdain for the working class is well documented.
So what? Plato and Aristotle are but two philosophers that no one reads. Wrong – Plato and Aristotle’s ideas has infused the intellectual climate for the last two millenia. It’s no accident that democracy only became respectable after the Enlightenment placed such a high value on the quality of the “average” person. The idea that the “average” person was fit to have any say in ruling a nation before then was unheard of.
The underlying fear that the intellectuals had was that the desirous elements of humanity is uncontrollable by reason and that this element is only concerned with pulling value from the world to the individual. As long as people ruled by their desires had power, their greed would continue to pull and pull value from the community such that the community would collapse. Communities require relatively reciprocal flows of value.
So much for the historical background. Trust me, it has a point.
When bloggers try to make money…
The blogosphere is a weird community. We’ve become so accustomed to getting valuable stuff for free from people that when someone tries to monetize their content, there’s a load uproar (probably just from a small minority) about it.
Vered wrote about this when she discussed Leo from Zen Habits monetizing his content. Yes, there was an uproar (again, probably just from a loud minority), but it’s interesting to see that people come to expect and demand that bloggers continually provide free content.
Let’s be real here: blogging takes a lot of time. Creating really valuable content that enriches peoples’ lives or knowledge requires knowledge, experience, and actual production time. Writing that type of content multiple times a week requires a lot of work.
At a certain point, a blogger must ask herself whether the entertainment value she gets from writing for the blog is worth the time. If it is, she can continue with the hobby and consider it just a time-intensive hobby.
If not, the blogger only has a few options. She can quit blogging (most do), scale back, or continue ahead and start trying to monetize. None of the options above sit well with readers.
What I find really interesting is that there are a few critical shifts that happen when people move from sharing freely to trying to make money off of the stuff they’ve been giving.
The most fundamental shift is that the blogger moves from spreading and creating value as their own ends to spreading and creating value while trying to get something valuable (i.e. money) back from her endeavors.
It’s that expectant part that starts getting in the way of sharing. Prior to the attempt to monetize, good ideas flow without abandon. Afterwards, words like “strategy””, “timing””, and “opportunity” start to become the operating words. Rather than just writing and sharing, she starts plotting and scheming the placement of ideas so that there’s the biggest return on investment.
The follow-on shift is that she’s now trying to figure out how she’s going to monetize. Should she write ebooks? Set up affiliates? PPC? PayPerPost? What’s going to be the best option?
Looking into those options takes a lot of time – time that would otherwise be spent creating valuable content. So, not only has her purpose for creating valuable content changed, but now her time and focus is split between creating said content and figuring out how to monetize it.
Lastly, her measures of success change considerably in the process. Rather than just sharing and interacting with her friends and readers, she’s now looking at how much money she’s made. Rather than hoping readers would just show up and have a good time, she’s hoping that they show up, have a good time, and click on something that makes her money.
Due to these shifts, there is a tendency for the quality of the content to drop or be spread out differently than before the decision to sell the content.
Selling, Sharing, and the Flow of Value
It’s now fairly clear to me why intellectuals have a bias against money-makers. The ideal intellectual spreads and plays with ideas without trying to sell those ideas.
Plato wanted his philosopher-kings detached from money so that they could pursue and spread the Good without trying to figure out how they could sell it. We want our religious leaders detached from money for similar reasons – when we have to question whether the holy water is worth the money we spent for it, something has gone wrong.
The Good and holy water should be free for those that want it.
The problem, of course, is that everyone wants as much free stuff as they can get while wanting to get as much as they can from what they’ve got. In other words, we want the maximum value to come from the world with little to no cost from us.
A few souls are lucky and hard-working enough such that they can do what they love and add value to the world and people will support them financially while they do it. The rest of us, however, have to sell our value – I’m pretty sure that the bank won’t accept my ideas as payment for the mortgage.
I’m not saying that bloggers who are trying to monetize on what they’re doing are all bad people, and I’m not saying that because monetization plays a part in what I do here at PF. What I’m saying is that sharing and selling have opposite flows of value.
This is also a call to those parts of the blogosphere that think and behave as if everything should be free. Before you get too righteous in your demands, justify why you expect value to exclusively flow your way. Your goodwill and enjoyment does not pay the rent, and as long as people have needs and bills to pay, they are going to have to find a way to get money to take care of those needs and bills.
Don’t like that your favorite blog has new ads? Send the author a dollar or sign up for some of the services they recommend. Maybe click on the ads in the sidebar more so that they continue to put stuff there and not in the content.
Rather than complain about not getting free stuff anymore, do something for the blogger that sends value her way.
And bloggers – understand that once you start attempting to monetize, you are no longer just playing with ideas. Understand that you will be expecting more from your readers and your readers will have different expectations from you.
Don’t build up a mountain of great content and let it slide into mediocrity because you’re now trying to make money from what you’re doing. Don’t leverage the goodwill you’ve created just for a quick buck.
If we all are upfront and share value, selling doesn’t have to trump sharing. The rule is as simple as keeping the beer stocked in the fridge: if you take it (value) out, put another (thing of value) back in.
Following this one simple rule will make sure that the blogosphere doesn’t collapse under our greed.
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I wonder if quality always has to suffer when people try to make money. Surely there are examples – outside of blogging – of great content that is being sold and is of high quality? i.e. best-selling book authors, who wrote their first book not thinking about making money, yet manage to continue to write quality books even though writing has become a business for them.
Thank you for the link.
Vereds last blog post..The Blurry Line Between Online and Real-Life Relationships
@ Vered: I think there’s merely a tendency for quality to drop, as wearing both hats can be a bit much for a lot of people to wear. I also think that at some point these people either have someone else manage the business affairs or spend time thinking only about the product and time only about selling said product. It can be done if handled properly, though – at least I think.
Tell you what. If I ever make it big while wearing both hats, I’ll share how I did it. Don’t hold your breath, though: :p
Naomi Dunford says
I’m an ass. Remember when we emailed about this post the other day, and I said I’d come and read it? Remember how I didn’t do it?
Well, I am avoiding going to bed and figured I’d stumble for a bit, and this was the very first post I got. I figure God is telling me two things:
1. Read the post.
2. Go to bed, for Christ’s sake.
Naomi Dunfords last blog post..Random Home Business Thoughts – Who is DINHO?
This is an interesting read Charlie and you’ve brought up some great points. I wonder if the problem with monetisation and blogging comes in when the blog starts out offering high quality content for nothing and then changes the rules. I’m not saying this is bad, I’m just saying I think this is where the problem is caused.
It is indeed a difficult task to reconcile the purity of doing something for love with the need to be commercial. I know I originally thought I’d do this with my blog, but I soon changed my mind. When push comes to shove, monetisation is a creative challenge I am just not interested in expending my energy on. It doesn’t sit well with me and as you know I’m a gal who runs on instincts.
Maybe if you start a business at the same time as the blog, or you add monetised content to subscribers while keeping the old blog going the backlash is reduced. But that’s a lot of work you’ve got to want to do…
Must go. have so much reading to catch up on and still waiting for my brain to get back from Paris so I can write a post.
Kelly@SHE-POWERs last blog post..Coming Home
Andre Kibbe says
The type of backlash that Leo got was more the exception than the rule. I don’t think that most readers really care whether or not a blogger makes money. Zen Habits has a monastic undercurrent that allows certain readers to feel sanctimonious, which is an end in itself, not a matter of principle. The money issue allow those readers to validate themselves by invalidating their guru.
On most blogs, readers’ only real concern is placement. Thoughtful bloggers are always trying to strike an ad balance between the noticeable and the unobtrusive, and thoughtful readers prefer not to be annoyed but understand the compensation issue.
I’m inclined to agree with Kelly. I only recently started putting ads on my blog, and even though there’s been zero backlash (easy when there’s almost zero traffic 😉 , I’m not sure it’s worth splitting my attention between sharing my insights and exploring revenue streams. Right now I’m treating it as an experiment and a learning opportunity.
You’ve definitely touched on the conflicts that bloggers go through with this issue, though. Most bloggers are more self-conscious than average, so monetization is an especially touchy subject.
I think if one is careful, the value can be there right with the monitization. Or perhaps I should say perceived value. I’ve seen some very interesting and seemingly valuable blogs monetized in some pretty unethical ways.
I think if one is going to write magazine style (and quality) content, that person should get paid for it. Personal ramblings are another thing…
Michelles last blog post..Deep Thinking
Evelyn Lim says
Great points you brought up here, Charlie. I’m with the idea that there is nothing wrong with monetizing your blog. But like you pointed out, there can be a drop in the quality of the postings. So the blogger will have to thread well and not turn readers off in the process.
Evelyn Lims last blog post..Five Hindrances To A Successful Meditation
I’m trying to strike a balance on Precision Change by advertising something highly related (Life Coaching by the host and producer of the podcast). Hopefully it will work without alienating the audience, as I see Naomi Dunford’s blog http://ittybiz.com doing well.
Duffs last blog post..A Methodology for Being
@ Naomi: A little late, but go to bed! :p Oh, and you’re not an ass – at least not for that.
@ Andre: Excellent insights, my friend. I agree that many people where responding to Leo’s monastic undercurrent. Plus, he’s got like a gazillion readers, so it’s going to appear out of proportion just because he has so many people reading his blog.
I struggle with the “is it worth the effort” question a lot. Sometimes, it seems to be just a distraction. But when someone actually clicks on something, it seems worth it.
@ Michelle: Dead on! When I do happen upon a personal rambling blog that’s attempting to monetize, I usually am a bit frustrated. Now, if it’s a really good personal ramble, that’s another matter…
@ Evelyn: When attention is divided, the content has a tendency to drop. It’s an interesting dance, though…
@ Duff: You’re strategy is a bit different, and I think it can work well. You’re not offering side stuff, so it’s kind of a way of saying “if you like this and want more personalized help, hire me” – which is a lot different than showing up to a site that has off-theme advertisements because they monetize well. So I don’t see much alienation potential from your model.