You might notice that I now have set up a donation / subscriber “paywall” on my blog. If you visit regularly enough, a message will pop up from time to time asking you to donate and subscribe. If you do, the messages won’t pop up again for your subscription’s time-frame.
This is a ‘donation’ paywall, meaning I’m not restricting you to any content in any way, I’m just asking you to subscribe at a cost if you want. By subscribing you will also receive a weekly Kindle periodical (delivered to your Kindle direct or to any other email you choose) that includes all my content for the week and free eBooks from time to time as they are made available, plus various other goodies when they become available.
So why have I done this?
1. I want to write more
Simply put, I want to write more on my blog, but I’m finding it hard to do that when the blog isn’t bringing in any liveable income. I started blogging in 2007 when I was still single and beginning my full-time writing career. I’m now in my 30’s with a family and have all the usual pressures that come with that. I don’t want to post only now and then, or lay it down entirely, because I know it’s been a very fruitful platform for many people. (I’ve received many emails from people who enjoy it and are encouraged through it).
I want to write more and there is, quite frankly, no support at all for Christian writers in South Africa. Publishers aren’t interested in investing in anyone who doesn’t have a large platform. Local publishers will rather distribute overseas writers – and even then, on a global scale, publishers are more keen on publishing writers with a public speaking ministry or who pastor big churches. Our local publications (magazines etc.), of which I can count on one hand, are not only unable to pay for content (and they insist on exclusive content, besides not being able to pay) but I generally don’t fit into their editorial needs. To put it bluntly, I find most of them shallow.
2. Someone has to do it
Moving from the point of payment above, writing has become a rather cheap trade these days, and this is not a good thing. This is because people believe that content should be free, in many cases, and on the other end, content has become – from a business perspective – nothing more than a way to get a good ranking on search engines. The actual content of content doesn’t matter, what matters is clicks to your website. So quality is no longer important, quantity has become important.
This is why, since I’ve put my writing business back into the market (after I quit my editorial job at Do Gaming), I’ve had a lot of potential clients offering to pay me anything from $1 to $5 per 500 words. I don’t just mean at places like Elance, but I’ve even received Facebook messages and emails from clients offering to pay those rates.
These are what we call “content mills” – they’re simply cluttering the Internet full of content, using search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques (this is about getting you a good ranking with search engines) to get you to visit their website, and as a result they can sell advertising or something else on the site. Advertising on the Internet isn’t very big business (at least, not most of the time) but it does present residual income opportunities, which is why content mills do what they do. An example of this kind of company is Demand Media, and this form of business is not sustainable for writers or for buyers. I believe its days can be numbered if writers stop working for nothing.
SEO firms are sometimes, but not always, a little better with their payment. If the SEO company is selling to bigger corporations, that is. Here they will hire you to write interviews or articles about a given topic, and often that content will go on their various partner websites, providing links to their client. (The more links you have to your website, the better ranking you get on Google.)
When writers started cottoning onto the Internet there was a lot of opportunity – companies needed our skills to create websites and blog for them, and publications needed to up the amount of content they could publish. But the need for quantity has now gone too far. Many businesses will just hire cheap overseas writers because they actually don’t know what good content looks like (and what good content can do) and frankly don’t care, because the numbers are what’s important. Writers and journalists are increasingly under pressure to sustain themselves through churnalism and hack writing. When you’re young and starting out, you can do that under the banner of “you’ve got to start somewhere.” But it’s not a sustainable career and when you get to my age, you can’t do that anymore.
As a writer I need to make a stand that I hope other writers will follow suite. Indeed, since thinking about this and doing research, I’ve found many bloggers are starting to institute hard paywalls on their sites. Andrew Sullivan is one such blogger. (I don’t follow Sullivan, I’m just pointing it out.) In July, he had over 27,000 subscribers, which means many people aren’t convinced that writers should do what they do with no real compensation.
3. Good writing has never been free
The Internet has made many things free and we all generally feel that it should be free. When the New York Times began experimenting with paywalls, many criticised their reasons for doing so. The reality is, all that journalism comes at a cost and you either sacrifice quality and move into churnalism (just basically publishing press releases), or you downgrade your whole operation, or you ask people to pay.
Paying for good writing has never been a contentious issue before. I know people like Martin Luther and John Wesley handed out free tracts for the Gospel in their day (blogging in the old days, essentially) but that would all be sponsored by some or other benefactor(s). Insisting that publications and writers constantly give out what they do for free is certainly a kind of abuse. I think that this needs to change and writers need to start saying, “Guys, this is honestly abusive.”
I don’t pirate music or movies for the same reason that I think we should all begin to pay for more on the Internet. I don’t mean to say I think anyone is deliberately abusing others (except in the case of those who try and circumvent paywalls at websites – that’s abuse no matter how you look at it). But I do think that if this culture is not challenged then abuses will continue.
4. I don’t want to advertise
Advertising ruins a website, creates noise, and takes time to get right. Sure, I can put up Google Adwords and that is easy enough (I’ve done this before) and then you have to be subjected to Madame Crystal offering you a free tarot reading every time you visit. Otherwise, I can approach local advertisers and I’ll be forced to often put up adverts of events / books etc. that I would never recommend. Plus, finding advertisers and keeping them happy (with stats reporting etc.) takes time – time I want to give to writing.
The future of publishing
Recently, Jeff Bezos (who owns Amazon.com) bought The Washington Post and this says, to me, that he has something up his sleeve when it comes to the Kindle as a news device. He has mentioned in several places that people will pay for “packaged” content. I think he’s right. As the Internet becomes more noisy and the distribution platforms increase even more (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest… the list continues) I find myself wanting to simplify my content consumption. I’m picking just a few platforms I like and picking mediums that take me away from distractions, like my Kindle. Websites with thousands of comments, adverts everywhere, and other news items begging for me to click them is starting to take needed hours from my day and, quite frankly, tiring me out. I want to read informative news and opinion on my Kindle more and more, because at least here there are less distractions. (I like the Kindle over a newspaper because I don’t have to struggle with all that folding!)
That’s why I’m offering a weekly delivery of my blog posts on Kindle.
It’s also why I’m starting a new project
All the above is why I’m starting a new project where I want to create opportunities for bloggers – particularly local bloggers – as best as I can. I’ll be releasing details of this soon, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear what you think of all the above. So drop a comment or two below.
Ryan Peter is a writer, journalist and ghostwriter from Johannesburg, South Africa. He writes fantasy, sci-fi, inspirational fiction, and on faith. Ryan is also part of the New Covenant Ministries International (NCMI) translocal team.