Content: Paid vs. Free [en]

[fr] Quelques réflexions sur le fait que produire du contenu n'est pas gratuit. En général, celui-ci est subventionné soit par des pubs, soit l'accès est payant, soit il fait office de "budget marketing", ou alors les canaux de distribution sont payants.

Zeldman just wrote that content wants to be paid for, sending us to read Erin Kissane’s Content is Expensive (followed by Paying for it, which examines the four ways in which content can generate revenue).

Although I’ve been writing online for free for over 10 years now, I agree with the premise that content — especially good content — is expensive to produce.

I have a few thoughts around that.

If I can do something, and people have a need for that particular skill (or what I produce), it does not mean that (a) they are ready to pay for it or (b) if they’re ready to pay for it, that they will be willing to pay enough for it to be worth my time/skill/effort/expertise.

For example, I can write blog posts. I’m not too bad at it (I’m not the best, but I’m better than most people). Some of my clients need content on their blogs. I can do it for them. BUT there is a problem: often, the money they are willing to invest for that content, and the value it has for them, sets the price way too low for it to be worth my while. If we actually do go through and reach an agreement, chances are that I’ll feel underpaid and they’ll feel they’re wasting money.

One of my blogging friends is currently in this situation with a client — and maybe in some cases (like ours) part of the problem is the client not realizing exactly how valuable this content can be to them. But the fact remains that it’s not because somebody is ready to hire you to do something that it is a viable commercial endeavour. Another example of this situation is home arts and crafts — Suw and I had a discussion about this a couple of years back on Fresh Lime Soda (remember the times?) for home-made lace she was making: people would simply not be willing to pay a high enough price for it to cover materials and work.

This is also true in the sense that if people want something for free and enjoy it, it doesn’t mean they’ll be willing to pay for it. In that respect, I think that people like Philippe Barraud and Thierry Crouzet aren’t being very realistic if they expect to make their blogs paid content in the future. The fact that people read their blogs (and enjoy them) for free is not an indication that they would be ready to pay for it. That would be misunderstanding the power of free.

Erin talks about the subscription model in her second post:

Subscriptions didn’t keep most print publications profitable even when print was doing well—classified and display ads did. Legal databases, academic databases, super-specialized content . . . that’s something a lot of people or institutions will pay for. News? Bloggy or magazine-style content? Not so much.

That’s the conventional wisdom, which seems to be validated by disasters like Newsday’s acquisition of 35 whole subscribers in its first three months of operating behind a paywall. Jack Shafer provides a nice summary of paid content woes in Slate:, listing the NYT’s TimesSelect, the LA Times’s CalendarLive, and Slate itself as publications that tried and failed to make subscriptions work.

[…]

So what’s the upshot? People will pay for content that is difficult or impossible to get elsewhere, either because:

  1. the information itself is unique, as with Consumer Reports, Cooks Illustrated, and the Gaming Industry Weekly Report, or
  2. the information is surrounded by obviously and uniquely valuable analysis and context, as with the financial newspapers.

The first is an easy sell; the second is a bitch and a half.

If your content meets either of the above criteria, you’ll also be attractive to advertisers. Funny, that.

Philippe and Thierry are both “writing professionals” before being bloggers — in my opinion, paywalling content (just like slapping ads on pages) is pretty much an “old media” way of doing things.

Now, does it mean that I believe we writers should not be compensated for our work? Not more than my stand on filesharing means I believe that musicians and other artists should not be compensated for theirs. Let’s go back to Erin’s article Content is Expensive and look at the two remaining “monetization” solutions for content (aside from paywalling and advertising). This is where things become interesting:

  • Marketing. A lot of “free” content is subsidized by its function as a marketing tool for the content producers or the people who pay them. Many, many blogs work this way. A List Apart now runs small ads, but long before it did, it worked as a marketing channel, establishing the expertise and credibility of its publishers and writers. Most non-fiction books are also subsidized by their value as marketing tools: they don’t pay well enough to be worth the effort for royalties alone. Most commercial content strategy work deals with this kind of content.

“Marketing” or some kind of self-promotion is the obvious. For more years than I care to count now, I have been answering the tired “so, how do you make money with your blog?” question with “I don’t. I make money because of my blog.” The time I invest in writing on my blog is my marketing budget.

And that doesn’t mean there is no love, or passion, and that this writing is narrow-mindedly self-promotional. I was a blogger before I became a social media professional, and will most probably continue being a blogger if I change my line of work. I am a thinker, and a sharer, and by genuinely providing content because I love writing and I hope I can be useful to others, I happen to also be promoting my business (business which, incidentally, grew out of this blog — and not the contrary).

This is a tough message to pass on to a client: “The money you’re paying me to write is actually marketing money. The content I provide will add value to your website for years to come, and help build your reputation and credibility. How much is that worth?” It’s not just words on a screen, disposable stuffing like so much of what is unfortunately filling our newspapers today. Scanned today, gone tomorrow. Great writing, online, has no expiry date.

Back to Erin:

  • Paid Delivery Channels (The New Hotness). The paid iPhone app is a way of getting people to cough up money for content that they normally wouldn’t dream of paying for so they can receive it in a convenient way. Kinda like how we used to pay for newspaper delivery instead of going to the library to read the paper for free. (Spoiler: there is nothing new under the publishing sun.) We’re going to see a lot more of this in the nearish future as publishers realize that the race to free has resulted in a pileup of bleeding, sad people with no income.

This, honestly, is something I find exciting. As a customer, I will definitely pay for convenience. I may not be inclined for the right to own a file which happens to be a song or an ebook (the slippery terrain of IP — my jury is still out on that one, to be honest) but I will without hesitation buy a song on iTunes, because it’s easy to look up, easy to pay for, unexpensive enough, lands directly on my iPhone and computer, is guaranteed good technical quality, and it comes with cover art. I’ll pay for an iPhone app if it makes it easier for me to access content that is precious for me. I’ll pay for a concert if it allows me to watch a song performed live 🙂 (I’m not sure that’s still in the “delivery channels” department, though…)

Ah well, this was supposed to be a short blog post with just a few links. Now look at me. No wonder I get blogging-anxiety when I haven’t written in a while.

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Feedly: More Than a Newsreader, Maybe Your Search Engine of Tomorrow? [en]

A bit over a year ago, I switched from Google Reader to Feedly. I have a troubled history with newsreaders: I tend to not use them, partly because I don’t really read blogs. But I used Google Reader for some time, and then Feedly. I really like Feedly. Really. (Plus, it saved 4 months of posts for CTTS after the dropped database disaster.)

All this to say that for many months, I have not really opened Feedly, and I feel kind of sad/bad about it. Twitter and Tumblr are my main sources of “new information”, and I’d love to find a way to use Feedly in a way that works for me. But it just doesn’t seem to happen.

A couple of weeks back, I saw this tweet from Ewan:

Twitter _ Ewan McIntosh: Over the hols I managed to ...

He says that he has sorted his feeds into “30 must-read-daily RSS feeds, with the other 2000 sitting behind as personal search engine”.

Whee! For some time now, I’ve been convinced that the future lies with allowing search in subsets of the web. There’s too much stuff out there, right? Also, in this era of partial attention (which I don’t consider to be a bad thing, in the “keeping a distracted eye on” sense), you often end up trying to “refind” something you know you’ve seen (but where?) — just like I had to dig out Ewan’s tweet ten days after I’d seen it in passing.

That’s why I like Lijit, for example (I’ve put the search box back here on CTTS, by the way): it allows me or my readers to do a search on “my stuff”, including CTTS, Digital Crumble, Twitter, del.icio.us… Sometimes I know I’ve said something, but I can’t for the life of me remember where (see this? having to search your own words…)

Feedly is pretty good at allowing you to search all the stuff you’ve subscribed to:

feedly | explore facebook

It offers a mix of a little bit of generally popular stuff with “your sources”. I like that. So, I like Ewan’s idea of feed subscription as “add this to my search sources” rather than “oooh, I’m going to read this every day”.

I have to say I’m interested in hearing about how you use Feedly or Google Reader (particularly the social aspects) if you’re not a “religious-daily” newsreader enthusiast. There has to be something between “keeping up with my feeds” and “never opening my feedreader”.

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De la lecture des blogs [fr]

[en] I'm not a regular blog reader. I check a small handful of blogs religiously, and that's (with one or two exceptions) because they belong to close friends. I go on blog-reading binges, either person-centred ("well, I wonder what such-and-such has written about lately, or how she is doing") or topic-centred (digging deeper into an issue, or trying to solve a problem I'm facing).

Do you find it paradoxical for a blogger to not have a "blog subscriber" profile?

Ça m’embarrasse parfois un peu qu’à cause de ma réputation en tant que blogueuse, on parte du principe que je suis une lectrice de blogs assidue.

Bien sûr, je lis des blogs. Mais pas comme certains.

Je n’ai pas une liste de blogs que je lis religieusement. J’ai un lecteur RSS (j’aime Google Reader, et encore mieux, feedly) mais depuis six à huit mois, j’avoue que je l’ai à peine ouvert.

Il y a une poignée de blogs appartenant à des amis proches que je lis régulièrement. Ce sera peut-être vexant pour certains, mais les blogs que je lis, je les lis plus parce que j’ai une relation personnelle avec leur auteur, que parce que leur contenu me faisait revenir (quelques exceptions notables: Kathy Sierra, Zeldman, Tom Reynolds).

Pourtant, je lis des blogs. Mais comment?

De temps en temps je fais une crise de lecture. Il y en a deux sortes:

  • les thématiques
  • les personnelles.

Les crises de lectures “personnelles” (ou centrées sur la personne) sont de l’ordre de “oh, je me demande ce que devient tel et tel, ou ce qu’il a écrit récemment, hop, un petit tour sur son blog”.

Le problème avec les blogs (enfin, je dis ça, mais c’est une de leurs qualités) c’est qu’une fois qu’on commence à lire, on n’en finit pas. On suit un lien qui nous emmène ailleurs, on plonge dans les archives, bref, parfois, une heure plus tard, je lis encore.

Ou bien du coup, je me mets à rédiger un billet sur un sujet qui m’aura interpellé.

Quant aux crises de lecture “thématiques”, je pars sur un sujet qui m’intéresse (souvent lié à un problème à résoudre ou un enjeu concret dans mon présent, mais pas forcément), et je fais du blog-hopping pour en faire le tour. Google, Technorati, articles en rapport, tout y passe.

En résumé, je n’ai pas le profil “abonné” ou “lecteur fidèle”, mais plutôt “butineuse” voire “boulimique”. Twitter a en grande partie remplacé mon lecteur RSS, même si celui-ci n’est pas mort.

Et vous, comment lisez-vous les blogs? Trouvez-vous paradoxal qu’on soit blogueur mais non lecteur régulier d’autres blogs? A plus forte raison si l’on prêche, comme c’est mon cas, que la lecture de blogs est indispensable à leur écriture? Est-ce que je nage en plein paradoxe?

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Netvibes Widget of my Shared Items [en]

If you read this blog “on the blog”, and look at my very cluttered sidebar, you probably noticed there is a feed of my [“shared items”](http://www.google.com/reader/shared/09081754150283874260) from Google Reader hidden in there ([grab the feed!](http://www.google.com/reader/public/atom/user/09081754150283874260/state/com.google/broadcast)). “Sharing” is [the reason I switched to Google Reader](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2006/10/13/i-might-be-switching-to-google-reader/) over a year ago.

I’m sitting in a workshop about [UWA widgets](http://dev.netvibes.com/doc/) at [Paris Web](http://2007.paris-web.fr/), which had me looking at [netvibes](http://www.netvibes.com/) again. Even though it never clicked for me, I know lots of you use it (I check my stats, yes I do).

So, here we go. One thing leading to another, I created a widget with my shared items in it. It’s more for fun than because it’s really useful, as you netvibes users can create it really easily — but hey, here it is:

Add to Netvibes

**Update:** how disappointing! I thought it was going to look like this in the blog post:

My Shared Items Netvibes Widget

Not there yet, it seems.

**Update 2:** something I’ve been wanting to do with netvibes (not sure how feasible it is, actually): create a tab with “my stuff” in it. See, I’m [scattered online](http://sbooth.jaiku.com/ “De-scattering with Jaiku, thanks.”). And the stuff I “share” is also scattered. If I found it through my feed reader, it’ll appear as [a whole post in my shared items](http://www.google.com/reader/shared/09081754150283874260). If I was randomly browsing around, it’ll be in [my del.icio.us links](http://del.icio.us/steph/). If it was a video I watched on YouTube, it’ll end up in [my VLog](http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=A16F4B078F1B6E1F). If I wanted to share a quote, it’ll be [in my Tumblr](http://steph.tumblr.com/). Creating something to collect all these “things of others that I consider worth passing on” would be really nice. I wonder if a netvibes tab would be a solution — and if people would use it at all.

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Tracking Keywords: PubSub and Technorati [en]

[fr] Comparaison de PubSub et Technorati pour surveiller des mots-clés dans la blogosphère. Aucun des deux vraiment satisfaisant.

One thing I came back with from LIFT’06 is that what one should monitor is more keyword watchlists, rather than blogs. I used to have a few hundred blogs in an aggregator, but gave up using it ages ago. Too much to sift through, considering it isn’t my day job to do so.

During [his talk](http://www.freestudios.tv/?cdroite=tablo_lift06 “Link to video of Robert Scoble’s talk.”), Robert mentioned that he used [PubSub](http://www.pubsub.com/) to track keywords like “Microsoft” or his name. Of course, it makes sense. Tracking topics that are of interest to you. I created a PubSub account and set up a few subscriptions to try to track things like mentions of my hometown, Lausanne, teenagers and weblogs, and of course my name. Tracking your name makes a lot of sense if you’re looking out for conversations. Think of highlighting in IRC: if everybody tracks their name in blogs, then you can just call out to them. Hi, Robert, by the way!

Now, this name thing. I guess tracking your surname with PubSub is all right if you’re named [Scoble](http://www.google.com/search?q=scoble “Google for Scoble.”), but if you’re named [Booth](http://www.google.com/search?q=booth “Google for Booth.”) it makes things much trickier. I added my first name, but that didn’t help much if I omitted the quotes. And as people are likely to refer to me as “Stephanie Booth”, “Stéphanie Booth”, “Steph Booth” or even “Stéph Booth” that’s a bunch to track, but let’s say it’s manageable. But it rules out people who refer to me as “bunny” or even “Tara” (yeah, and if I start tracking those too, it’s not going to make things less messy).

What I really liked about PubSub is that it offers me an out-of-the-box sidebar for firefox. I can get a list of the recent posts containing my keywords in there, browse them, click, check, move on. It has highlighting too, and that’s really nice — helps me see straight away if the Stephanie Booth on the page is me or some homonym. (For some reason it’s not working anymore, but it was nice while it lasted.)

What I didn’t like is that it didn’t seem to be returning as many results as Technorati. Also, I wasn’t always sure if it was responding or not (I guess the current conversation around my name isn’t very busy ;-)). And the “Latest Messages” option only gave me the last three posts in each subscription. It gave me the impression of being a little incomplete in the results it returned. I suspect it isn’t really incomplete, but I can’t really nail what gives me the impression. In any case, [PubSub and Technorati give different results for a search on “cocomment”](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/97340694/ “View screenshot on Flickr.”)

The slight unsatisfaction with PubSub made me go back to Technorati watchlists, which I had never really used. I like the idea of tracking URLs in posts. If somebody links to me, then it doesn’t matter if the person called me “Stéph Booth” or “Tara” or “[la Mère Denis](http://pascalrossini.blogspot.com/2005/12/advertising-20.html)”, I’ll see it. I can also track [links to my Flickr account](http://technorati.com/search.php?s=flickr.com%2Fphotos%2Fbunny) and [other blogs](http://technorati.com/search.php?s=steph.wordpress.com) and [stuff](http://technorati.com/search.php?s=dailymotion.com/Steph/) easily. Keyword searches work too. So, neat, I now have a [watchlist page on Technorati](http://www.technorati.com/watchlist/ “See yours.”) with all my monitoring material. I can subscribe to each of them by RSS.

Gripes, however. And for the sake of it, let’s assume I’m hoping my watchlists will replace my NewsReader, and not go and live in it:

– I can only expand one watchlist at a time.
– Expanding a watchlist shows only the three last results.
– I don’t have a compilation page with the latest results from all/any of my watchlists.
– I’d like a sidebar!
– Blogroll links keep showing up in Technorati search results. It’s nice to know you’ve been blogrolled, but you don’t need to be reminded of it each time you do a search.
– No highlighting!

What it boils down to: I’d like a Technorati Watchlist sidebar for FireFox and highlighting of search terms or URL in the pages which are loaded from it.

Do you monitor keywords, URLs or search terms? Do you use PubSub or Technorati? Do you stick the results in your feed reader to keep track of them?

Update: of course, I’m much more familiar with Technorati, so there might be something about PubSub I’m missing completely. Feel free to educate me.

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