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Quality online content: a lack of avenues?

By maleficent in Internet
Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 11:57:17 AM EST
Tags: Internet (all tags)

As someone who deeply enjoys writing as well as reading the writings of others, I'm hopelessly optimistic about the possibilities for good online content. Yet, when I surf around, my optimism is dampened by the lack of quality that I find.

I pondered the reason for this lack of quality for a period. It's clear that there is quality content to be found out there; unfortunately, they're often oases in a barren desert of vanity pages and the HTML renderings of people with nothing to say.

It's become clear to me that as an aspiring writer, there are only a few very narrow avenues for distributing my writings for others to read, and each avenue has its own drawbacks. This article looks at the available avenues for content distribution, discusses the drawbacks of each avenue and meditates on alternative ideas for future content distribution on the web.

I've been an active writer on the internet for five years now, and thus far I have only discovered a small number of avenues for distributing my writings to the masses. I've explored each of these avenues in turn and discovered that each one has a distinct flaw or two that prevents it from being a method for bringing together quality content.

The first method I chose was a personal web site. I have a firm understanding of perl, php, and databases, and using this knowledge I was able to assemble a very pleasant site that shared my writings with the world. After a time, I managed to get a small group of consistent visitors, but I was never really able to share my writings with a large audience.

The largest reason for this is that I simply had no way of attracting people to the site. I had no way, without spending my own money (not an option), of letting Joe Average know about my site. As an added kicker, I was unable to earn more than a trickle from advertisements, as I was adamant about not slathering my site in ads.

For a period, I attempted the "tip jar" concept that many sites are now using, and it was mostly a failure, too. I made at best a few dollars from it over a sizeable period. In fact, I have yet to hear of a success story from the "tip jar" model, and I don't hold much hope as it requires good will on behalf of the reader.

However, the freedom to write on any topic that I desired was a definite bonus. I was in complete control of every letter that appeared on the site; to me, this was a great reward on its own. What I really wanted, though, was a larger audience and some degree of financial gain from my writings.

After I realized that a personal web site was doomed to fail, I began to write frequently in the commentary section on Slashdot, reviewing products on Amazon, and writing on other well-known sites. I managed to gain something of an audience in this fashion, as I picked up a few acquaintances over e-mail and ICQ who enjoyed my writings, which was a definite plus. Another bonus in writing in such a public forum was the direct feedback I would receive; it pushed me to improve my writing and thought process.

The biggest pitfall in writing for such public sites, however, was the inability to earn any money at writing, not even a pittance. Admittedly, I am not a writer by trade, so this isn't a life-or-death matter; that doesn't mean that I am not out for no financial return whatsoever.

My search finally brought me to another approach, which was submissions to some of the well-known content distributors (like salon, slate, and red herring). I had a few things published here and there under a variety of pseudonyms; I felt that I was fairly successful. But, still, a few things were missing: I got no response and no feedback from my readers. There could be no continuous evolution in my writing style. Sure, there was money coming in, but how can one grow as a writer with no feedback?

Some people might criticize my approach for writing under pseudonyms. I maintained the same contact information across all of them, yet I received next to no feedback at all. Posting on user-created content sites like Slashdot made me a better writer; these paid me, but didn't improve my writing.

Eventually, I wound up writing a great deal on a web site called Epinions, which is an example of another model of content distribution. I got paid for writing there mostly based on my raw output, whether it was good or bad. At epinions, it is possible to earn more by begging for clicks (they pay per click) or by writing consistently well and gaining a following. They also had a commentary system that allowed users to follow up on articles and comment on the good and bad points. I was in the process of building a following and doing quite well financially when they completely destroyed what was there. They took the focus away from regular authors and instead put the focus directly on the products, nearly to the point of eliminating the need for the writers. I left the site, as my content was no longer really being focused on or shared.

I finally decided that, given the choices for sharing my writings to a mass audience, kuro5hin was my best choice. It has a very strong critiquing and feedback system for articles; the audience is intelligent, well spoken, and active; the topic selection covers a pretty wide spectrum; and the kicker is the diary section that allows me to try new things and discuss topics that really don't fit elsewhere. The only drawback is that one can't make any money from this site.

So, how can a web site be created that rewards the writer for quality content through both recognition and pay, creates a consistent community, and still manages to keep its head above water? I think there is a needed niche for a site that is something of a mix of the pre-product-oriented Epinions and kuro5hin, one in which there is a strict moderation system for acceptance of articles and that authors are financially rewarded for providing quality content that is able to survive the moderation system. The same could go for comments; a well-written comment should deserve a few pennies in the jar.

Another alternative is an mp3.com-style sharing method for other types of content creators. Everyone would distribute their content equally and would receive a cut from the pie per download. I believe that the model that mp3.com is using holds a lot of promise, particularly in the sense that it helps unknown artists to get noticed and to at least earn a small pittance. The drawback, however, is that it's really difficult to get feedback on a performance art through the internet; reading through mp3.com, you can rarely find a topical debate outside of "This band rules! This band sucks!" There is no real way for the artist to improve his or her work through mp3.com.

I'm sure that there are a great many other ways to share quality content and have both the facilitator and the content creator make money on the internet. The biggest promise the internet holds is the ability to help individuals share their information directly with others, cutting out the middle man and increasing the money made by people who can create good content (music, writing, and so forth). Unfortunately, the current internet doesn't support a model in which an aspiring content creator can really make himself known to a wider audience.

Is such a model feasible, or even possible? I think that it is, but it's a question that merits discussion and investigation.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


What method of online content sharing do you support?
o Vanity web pages with <blink> tags (geocities) 9%
o Well-written personal sites (kottke.org) 20%
o "Tip jar" content sites (penny arcade) 2%
o No-pay content sites with heavy moderation (kuro5hin) 31%
o No-pay content sites with slight moderation (slashdot) 0%
o Pay-for-content sites that don't focus on the writing (epinions) 2%
o troll bait (goatse) 13%
o Another model 20%

Votes: 44
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Slashdot
o Kuro5hin
o "tip jar" concept
o Slashdot [2]
o Amazon
o salon
o slate
o red herring
o Epinions
o mp3.com
o Also by maleficent

Display: Sort:
Quality online content: a lack of avenues? | 47 comments (44 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
Content Based Websites Don't Make Money (3.75 / 4) (#1)
by Carnage4Life on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 02:37:39 PM EST

First of all, thanks for such a well written article.That said, I have to disagree with your basic premise that it is possible to make money on written content online.

Currently the only content based service that makes money of written contributions is the Wall Street Journal all others that have tried have failed. Recently some content based companies have tried to charge for content but only time will tell if this idea that failed to gain approval in the early years of the Web will be accepted now that a lot of dotcomms have simply ceased to exist.

People have gotten used to the idea of websites being free and unless the information is valuable (i.e. the info in the WSJ is worth $$$ to a lot of people) I cannot see why people would want to pay for content when there are so many places they can get it for free especially when this has been the trend for a while.

WSJ.com ain't profitable either (none / 0) (#14)
by The Cunctator on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 04:57:30 PM EST

From Are the Days of Free Over?, Wired News 3/30/2001 p.2:
The Wall Street Journal's site, which seems to be the one prominent exception to the rule that subscriptions don't work, has yet to make a profit. In fact, the company announced Thursday that it would be laying off some of its staff in an effort to cut costs.
(Note that Salon Sans Ads: It'll Cost You by the same author a week earlier asserts, 'The Wall Street Journal, which continues to charge for much of its online content, is one of the only major news sites that has made paid subscriptions work.')

The entire article has an overview of the current moves toward subscription. I'll reserve comment on the analyst commentary in the article.

[ Parent ]

Web publishing is easy.... (2.40 / 5) (#3)
by daystar on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 02:38:55 PM EST

... much easier to do than book publishing. So it looks to me that there are MORE avenues for online content. If less avenues meant less quality, then the internet should have better content than books. Right?

I figure that the real problem is that there aren't enough humans on the planet to fill up the content void that the internet represents. I mean, statistically, how many people have any ability to entertain with their writing? Not that many. Clearly, if we're gonna be entertained, we need more people. Okay everyone? Now get to your assigned, reproductive work.

There is no God, and I am his prophet.

Please read the article before commenting (none / 0) (#8)
by Carnage4Life on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 03:18:43 PM EST

... much easier to do than book publishing. So it looks to me that there are MORE avenues for online content. If less avenues meant less quality, then the internet should have better content than books. Right?

The article is about the fact that there are few avenues to make a living off of writing online.

The author is well aware of all the different ways to get his writings out there as can be gleaned from the fact that he has tried most of them including posting comments to slashdot, writing K5 articles, ePinions articles, personal web page and Amazon reviews

[ Parent ]
Oh, my mistake..... (3.00 / 2) (#13)
by daystar on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 04:49:40 PM EST

This part must have confused me.
As someone who deeply enjoys writing as well as reading the writings of others, I'm hopelessly optimistic about the possibilities for good online content. Yet, when I surf around, my optimism is dampened by the lack of quality that I find. I pondered the reason for this lack of quality for a period. It's clear that there is quality content to be found out there; unfortunately, they're often oases in a barren desert of vanity pages and the HTML renderings of people with nothing to say.
So, when you say:
The article is about the fact that there are few avenues to make a living off of writing online.
I respond that the article was about the lack of avenues of expression. The author is under the impression that if someone pays him for his content, the overall quality of writing on the web will improve. His attempt to prove this by giving away his writing for free is pretty entertaining....

There is no God, and I am his prophet.
[ Parent ]
Why write for free? (none / 0) (#38)
by maleficent on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 12:14:13 PM EST

I write on kuro5hin for a number of reasons. The biggest one is that it provides me an environment with strong peer review. Kuro5hin has quite simply improved my writing already.

Another reason is that the system is already in place and thus I can focus on the writing. A third reason is that ideas and writing coming from me is like water coming from a fire hose; it comes fast and furious. I write, on average, 15,000 words a day in my free time. I type at almost 120 words a minute nearly error free, so I can almost type at the speed of my thinking (not quite). Kuro5hin provides an outlet for some of it, particularly the parts I want to share publicly and improve.

I believe I am becoming a good writer. You may disagree of course, but I believe this because of one reason: others have enjoyed my writing and told me so without having any obligation to compliment my writing.

I have a dream of making a living from writing. I have made a bit of money, just enough to keep my dream alive. I write on kuro5hin because there are a lot of good people here with good thinking skills. Being a part of that community is an honor, simply because it provides a fantastic opportunity for me and a number of interesting viewpoints and people as readers.

It's not all about the money. It never has been, it never will be. I would just like to be able to write for a living.


[ Parent ]
Advertising, subscription (3.00 / 1) (#5)
by vectro on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 02:52:30 PM EST

These seem to be the two models prevalent on the web, but as a previous poster pointed out, only the WSJ has been able to make the subscription model work. Of course advertising rates are the pits right now.

It has been suggested earlier that advertising-based sites, such as what Kuro5hin is becoming, should offer an option to pay to subscribe instead of having to see ads. I know that I would sign up for such an option.

This does beg the question, however -- Should we provide a way for authors to get paid? Should authors recieve a cut of Rusty's Kuro5hin fortune? I think the answer is probably no, but it's an interesting idea.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
Pay each other? (4.60 / 10) (#7)
by rusty on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 03:08:16 PM EST

I'm really glad this article came along, because it's a question I've been thinking about a lot lately too. A few comments mention advertising vs. subscriptions, but that's not entirely the question here. Advertising or subscriptions can pay the site's basic operating costs (bandwith, hardware, and a couple people to make sure things run smoothly) but in the current market, they don't even come close to paying for people to actually create content.

So how can people make money writing on the internet, where "information wants to be Free" (or "everyone wants everything to be free"). Here's the only idea I've got so far. Tell me if it's stupid.

Pay each other. Here's what I'm thinking. When you make an account here, you could optionally provide an e-gold account number and/or an email address for paypal. If you have provided either of these, and you post a story, there would be a little box at the end of the story with easy click-through links to pay the author directly. If you liked a story, you can pay the author, simple as that. The site would have nothing to do with this transaction at all-- it would be between you and the writer.

I doubt anyone would get rich doing this, but it could provide a little income for people, and it might provide some incentive for people who want to write, but need to have some chance of income for their writing to go to the effort.

It also would make it fairly easy for authors to implement street-performer-protocol. Write part one of your magnum opus, post it, and add a note saying "part two will appear when I have received $200.00". I'd really like to see how this would work out.

So, good idea? Stupid idea? Please tell me. I really am considering doing this, so if it's popular, we'll give it a try.

Not the real rusty

My take... (4.33 / 3) (#9)
by skim123 on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 03:57:23 PM EST

So, good idea? Stupid idea? Please tell me

I think the idea is good in theory but I think it will fall flat on its face. I think that you will spend a chunk of your (valuable) time implementing this system that won't be utilized, thereby making the time you worked on it wasted time. I liken this "tip the author/pay for part 2" to the tip jar model that has been dubiously touted as a way to make content sites profitable. Weren't we all supposed to pay you token amounts, Rusty, so that ads wouldn't appear. Hrmm...

Also on the Pay for Part 2, Stephen King tried this with <u>The Plant</u>, his online, pay for each chapter experiment. While the net profits look good (over $460k), this must be too small a piece of the pie for Stephen else why would he have stopped working on The Plant and why would he continue working for publishers instead of moving all future work to this model? (Granted, he says that there will be future installments and that he's busy with other projects, but those other projects must be much more profitable else why wouldn't he keep working on The Plant?)

In short, I think that this tip jar system is bound to fail: too few people will throw in a dime. Also, think about this: do you really want to be reading articles on k5 that you have to pay for (i.e., no part 2 until I get $x)? Do you want a flood of stories from people hoping to make a quick few bucks? (Granted, this would (hoperfully) taper off once a poster realized he wouldn't get tips for crap, but initially you might get some folks who just post a lot of stories, hoping to get a little bit for each story.)

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum

[ Parent ]
The Plant (3.50 / 2) (#21)
by spaceghoti on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 12:13:55 AM EST

According to the website and a few news articles I read about The Plant, King received an overwhelming response to his first chapter (well over US$100k), partly from people who were fans and would do that sort of thing anyway, and partly from people who were subscribing because they wanted the payment model to succeed. If Stephen King made it work, it would be recognized as a viable business model and a means for authors to publish directly.

By the sixth chapter, donations were down to a meager US$40k. People weren't interested anymore. Publishing companies are quick to declare it a "fad" that turned out to be unsupportable. Myself, I think it's because King is no longer capable of capturing an audience like he used to and keep them coming back. I didn't read The Plant and didn't donate for it because King's content doesn't have the same appeal it once had.

Which is sad, since I would love to use that business model for myself. If people told me they'd pay me for my writing, I'd quit my job and go full-time at it.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

[ Parent ]
Meager income? (3.00 / 1) (#24)
by Miniluv on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 04:17:42 AM EST

I seem to recall that the experiment with that model, for the Plant, spanned about 6 months or so. Assuming my memory sucks, we'll double it and I'll use 12 months as a working number for the following. I'll also be pessimistic and say only part one grossed above $40K/USD, and that part one grossed exactly $100K/USD.
In one month Mr. King generated $100K/USD for writing approx 20 pages of text. We'll approximate the monthly operating cost of the website, including distribution of the text, as $35K/USD. This is probably high, but it'll work. That means that net profit was $65K/USD for month 1.

Each subsequent month generated $40K for the same quantity of text, at the same cost. Again, probably high, as less people visited as the experiment unfolded, thus reducing bandwidth costs, etc. This means a net profit of $5K/mo, for 11 more months.

Total profit for one year? $120K/USD.

If this is a failure, I was born to fail.

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
[ Parent ]
Microfailure :-) (4.00 / 2) (#29)
by rusty on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 05:27:03 AM EST

That's just what I'm thinking. Removing the distribution cost means that a few small payments from a few people can actually add up to a meaningful amount of money for one person.

That is, the ads here don't pay much, but they do cover our cost of running the site. That is, my time and Inoshiro's time, basically. If we had to pay for bandwidth, yeah we could do that too.

But it won't come close to paying for writers. So, we keep the site supported (technically) by a few small ads, and let you pick and choose who you like as writers.

What do articles pay these days? Say I actually connive an editor into paying me for a short feature, and I'm not Stephen King or Bruce Sterling. $500.00? I'm guessing here... anyone in the business want to enlighten me?

So, to equal that, your article needs to be good enough to convince 100 people to send you $5. Or 500 to send you $1.

We have over 13,500 registered accounts. We average around 80K pageviews a day. In February, well over 100,000 unique IP's looked at K5 (March stats are screwy due to new server setup, so I don't know what our unique IP count was this month yet). Do you think it's totally implausible that a really good article could get $200, $300, $500?

Well, maybe it is. I'd really like to see though. :-)

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Damn you (4.00 / 1) (#30)
by Miniluv on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 05:34:49 AM EST

You had to take what was building up into calling the article author a whiny bitch in a positive direction.

How am I expected to be the mean, nasty, worthless individual I'm continually accused of being if my points are considered relevant?

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
[ Parent ]

The question it begs... (4.00 / 1) (#31)
by Miniluv on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 05:40:33 AM EST

Is has everyone overlooked the future of publishing because Steven King is a whiner, or does it indicate a larger trend of diminishing returns?

The whole world knows Steven King fans, i.e. the people who paid their couple bucks for each edition of The Plant, are some of the most dedicated "literary" fanatics on the planet. If they showed a 60% decrease in a fairly short span of time, what does that indicate for the less obsessed amongst us?

Ultimately, I think that some system generally resembling what has been tried so far will work. I do not think anyone will write it down before hand, or talk about how they're doing it, or anything like that. It'll happen, suddenly people will realize a website is paying their bills and they don't have a physical product to sell. We'll all kick ourselves for not thinking of it beforehand, and never quite realize that it couldn't be divined with malice aforethought.

I say go for it rusty, and I promise to tip at least one person at least once. Please make it possible on comments as well as stories though, because I myself tend to find stories useless outside of the discussion they spawn. I've seen only a handful of stories I would've paid for, however I've seen dozens of threads and individual comments I wouldn't mind paying for.

That raises another point. How about allowing me to say, contribute $5 to a thread I found particularly worthwhile (humor, insight, erotic appeal, whatever) and it gets disbursed automagically in even quantities to everyone who participated before my micropayment.

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
[ Parent ]

king fucked up "the plant"! it doesn't p (3.50 / 2) (#33)
by sayke on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 06:05:55 AM EST

anything at all. it's no wonder "the plant" didn't work out as well as he wanted it to; he expected people to be honest when it wasn't in their best interest to do so! silly stephen king. anyway, i ranted about that here. i say the mark of a well designed system is that it doesn't require vast amounts of honesty from any of the parties involved. by that benchmark, the "the plant" experiment was decidedly not well-designed, so it failed. that it failed says nothing at all about the future of well-designed methods of rewarding pattern-weavers, and other creators of public goods.

in fact, in a very important sense, king's experiment may have done more harm then good. by poorly designing an experiment to test a method of rewarding creators of public goods, he caused an association to be formed in many people's minds along the lines of "it is impossible to reward creators of public goods without resorting to 'intellectual property', because stephen king tried and failed; and if he tried and failed, i have no chance in hell." this sucks, a lot, and really is not a fair representation of the situation... but, thanks to stephen king, it's a common perception. grrrrr.

sayke, v2.3.1 /* i am the middle finger of the invisible hand */
[ Parent ]

No , it's plausible, that's something (5.00 / 2) (#36)
by mami on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 11:52:59 AM EST

Ok, with that kind of readership, your suggestion makes sense.

If you write an article for a wire service (AP, UPI etc.) and you are a freelancer, you get normally paid around $1.50 per line. 90 to 120 lines is the maximum length for a feature article.

A wire service can provide statistics about how many newspapers, subscribed to the wire service, have actually used the article and printed it in their newspapers. If an author gets printed in more than 10 newspapers worldwide, it's considered a
a good result.

[ Parent ]
Flaws in the King protocol (3.66 / 3) (#46)
by dennis on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 09:39:40 AM EST

I think the reason the donations dwindled later is that King set it up that way. He said if he got 75% donations for the first two chapters, he would write the rest of the book, whatever the donations were later. People did contribute the money up front, but King didn't keep his end of the bargain.

All of which, I think, bodes well for Street Performer. S.P. adds a trust fund, so people can get their money back if the work is not released. This way it's clear that you're paying for future work, not existing work. That's the real foundation of artist compensation when copying is free, and the confusion between payment of existing vs. future work is the reason King's experiment is seen by some people as a failure. Half a million bucks sheer profit, when people aren't really used to doing business this way yet, looks pretty promising to me.

[ Parent ]

king designed the "the plant" experimen (4.00 / 1) (#23)
by sayke on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 04:15:21 AM EST

it's no wonder it didn't work out as well as he wanted it to; he expected people to be honest when it wasn't in their best interest to do so! silly stephen king. anyway, i went off about that here. silly, silly stephen king...

sayke, v2.3.1 /* i am the middle finger of the invisible hand */
[ Parent ]

Some risks (3.50 / 2) (#10)
by spacejack on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 04:09:34 PM EST

I'd just be a bit worried about infighting amongst the readers and writers; bad blood between those who pay and the freeloaders. You might want to keep the payments anonymous. Or let the author know who paid. Or not.. either way it could be tricky.

And what about people without credit cards?

One of the great benefits of selling an item at a fixed cost is that everyone pays the same amount; you don't pay, you don't get. :/

[ Parent ]
Clarifying payment process (4.00 / 1) (#28)
by rusty on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 05:16:28 AM EST

The payment I envision is a 100% private transaction between author and reader. That is, you want to pay? You click this paypal link, and fill out the form (on paypal's site) to send the author five bucks. When you're done, come back here. We (Kuro5hin) have no stake or role in this transaction. We couldn't accurately track them even if we wanted to.

So, I don't think bad blood would be a problem. There's no pressure on you to pay, and no shame for not paying. You pay when you feel you've gained value.

And it's pretty easy to set up an account with e-gold or paypal without having a credit card. I don't think this would seriously exclude anyone. And if anyone could point me to more accessable online payment systems, I'd gladly check those out too.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

less risk (4.00 / 1) (#40)
by spacejack on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 02:30:35 PM EST

Yeah that's not such a bad idea. Or maybe you could add a user preference setting that links to the writer's favourite payment system.

[ Parent ]
Stupid idea...here are some more. (3.75 / 4) (#12)
by The Cunctator on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 04:39:56 PM EST

I mean, it can't hurt, except for taking development time and resources away from something which works, but as the article asserts, the "tip jar" don't work. If people have to constantly choose whether or not to make voluntary payments an a per-story basis, they won't. Maybe if it's as simple as a checkbox.

Some randomly arranged, incomplete thoughts:

Getting paid for writing online is nigh impossible, unless you can get yourself on staff. The easiest option I can think of is to write a book, which is still a mediocre alternative, but at least the infrastructure for payment is there.

One problem is that k5 doesn't really have any revenue stream, essentially; the users don't buy anything from k5.

Sadly, free-market capitalism isn't a terribly good model for discussion sites or information transfer; the model which makes more sense is the post-capitalistic (or meta-capitalistic) noosphere model, in which participants compete over fame, which is a marvelously unlimited resource, taking the competition out of the (largely) zero-sum capitalist model of supply and demand.

If you don't monetize every transaction, then it's difficult to pick the right transaction to monetize, particularly when none of the transactions involve the exchange of goods. If a goal of k5 is to grow, then how come good writers don't get a cut when a member joins?

A fun model, probably unachievable, would be to set some contribution index that would take into account the volume and quality of participation, and then set a sliding pay scale with zero participation equalling high subscription cost and top participation equalling high salary. You could use a linear scale, where there'd be some critical point at which the member would stop paying and start getting paid, or a bell curve, such that the majority don't spend or receive money, but the bottom (freeloaders and spammers) have to pay, and the top (columnists and well-regarded writers) would get cash. (See also an interesting sliding-scale model involving public utility pricing from Intermediate Microeconomics: A Modern Approach (Fifth Edition), Hal R. Varian.)

Actually, in some sense that's the model we have, where only the very worst members, the advertisers, have to pay, and only the very best members, those who run the site, get paid.

But again, a better model to at least start with, before trying to solve the money problem, is the fame model. K5 is actually one of the better fame-building sites, as it allows people to build diaries etc., but it could be even better, especially with stats etc.

Here's a link, for those who are interested, to the Street Performer Protocol, which I feel is unfortunately poorly named. Street performers don't generally work under the "When I get $100,000 in donations, I will release the next novel in this series" paradigm. Street performers actually work under a peer-pressure paradigm; everybody can see if you're too cheap or not to support the artist which you visibly enjoyed.

[ Parent ]

Changing the face of K5 (4.33 / 3) (#16)
by Tatarigami on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 07:21:27 PM EST

Good or bad, implementing that idea is sure to change Kuro5hin on a fundamental level. At the moment, it's a community of people for whom participation is the payoff.

Introduce a scheme which allows people to pay for good content and I think the immediate effect would be a huge increase in the number of stories submitted, as word spreads and optimistic users who imagine themselves getting rich by generating content congregate on K5.

After a while, I expect this would maybe taper off when they realise that's not the case. A few of the participants might find that their ideas appeal to enough of the viewing audience to make the money significant, and it's worthwhile to keep posting.

Kuro5hin will be the online equivalent of Time magazine.

I haven't decided how I feel about that yet.

[ Parent ]
Hmmm (4.50 / 2) (#27)
by rusty on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 05:13:02 AM EST

Good or bad, implementing that idea is sure to change Kuro5hin on a fundamental level. At the moment, it's a community of people for whom participation is the payoff.

Yes, and no. I think the people for whom participation is the payoff would continue to thrive. As pointed out abovce, a lot of what we do is "commodity news", and there's almost always someone willing to weigh in on the big story of the day. What I'd like to see would be a few more people who write "seriously", that is, who are willing to go to the effort of putting together a real feature article now and then, doing original research, etc. We have several people now who do that, and I really wish they were getting some money for it. I mean, we've had articles that people could get paid for publishing, no question. Why shouldn't we be the ones to pay them ("we" meaning everyone-- anyone who appreciates good writing).

Introduce a scheme which allows people to pay for good content and I think the immediate effect would be a huge increase in the number of stories submitted, as word spreads and optimistic users who imagine themselves getting rich by generating content congregate on K5.

No doubt. I'd completely expect that. I think they'd find out quick though that you do have to do something really extraordinary to convince people to actually pay you. The majority of articles would, I have no doubt, still be unpaid.

A few of the participants might find that their ideas appeal to enough of the viewing audience to make the money significant, and it's worthwhile to keep posting.

Hopefully, if all went well.

Kuro5hin will be the online equivalent of Time magazine.

Now that, I'm not so sure about. By "the online Time magazine" do you mean "panders to celebrity gossip and tawdry romance"? Or... what?

I don't think people will pay for lowest-common-denominator type stuff. Anyone could write that. I think people might pay for articles that really affect them, teach them something, or just go above and beyond the call of duty.

I think more clarification about the Time magazine thing would be needed before I can respond. :-)

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Time (3.00 / 1) (#42)
by Tatarigami on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 12:52:26 AM EST

Now that, I'm not so sure about. By "the online Time magazine" do you mean "panders to celebrity gossip and tawdry romance"? Or... what?

Nah, I mean a magazine that tries to cover all the bases and appeal to every segment of the market by including articles on every topic that could conceivably be of interest.

Of course, my interaction with Time magazine has generally been in a desperate attempt to stave off boredom during lengthy periods of sitting in doctors' waiting rooms, and it's been a while since I did that. I seem to recall quite a bit of political commentary. The only other options were Womans Weekly or Home & Garden, so it was the lesser evil. This may have coloured my perception a bit.


[ Parent ]
I see (4.00 / 1) (#44)
by rusty on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 03:51:22 AM EST

tries to cover all the bases and appeal to every segment of the market by including articles on every topic that could conceivably be of interest.

Actually, that's not such a bad idea, I think. Basically, voting ensures that any article posted appeals to at least some fraction of the readership's interest. What we need to avoid being a morass of crap you're not interested in are better tools for filtering stuff you are interested in out of the general stream.

In a remarkable coincidence, I've been working on just that all weekend. Expect to see some cool stuff later this week.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Very, very interesting (5.00 / 1) (#19)
by slaytanic killer on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 10:52:35 PM EST

Very, very random thoughts that were likely anticipated:

1) Might break the voting system. Things which reach the FP will likely get more reward than section items. Therefore voting will be immediately suspect. If the cost of breaking the voting is lower than expected reward, then it could be done at some point. And others may vote things down to decrease the pool of possible competition.

There are a number of ideas in this case, from capping max money earned (ugh), to restructuring K5. Perhaps these submissions should be in some separate section. After all, if the acrimony of moderation is bad, imagine the difficulty of dealing with people who feel shortchanged and foolishly depend to some extent on this system.

2) On the upside, it would increase the amount of non-commodity information. Those articles which would be rewarded would tend to be teaching people novel things, difficult reporting, etc.

3) I don't think abuse of the Street Performer Protocol will be the main issue. People likely will pay if they gain satisfaction for that article. The system keeps state with the audience, so people are unlikely to fall for too many scams... and there is always a danger that someone in the audience will come up with free information (so that Part ][ is pointless) that moots the abuse.

Other things come to mind, which are probably obvious. In any case, anything that doesn't change, dies. Wish you luck.

[ Parent ]
Good points (4.00 / 1) (#26)
by rusty on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 05:02:21 AM EST

About number one, I hadn't really thought of that. I wonder though... payment ios contingent on someone liking what you wrote enough to actually take the time and cash to send you money for it. Something on the front page would get more readers, and thus have a better chance of finding those few people who like it enough to pay, but do you think rigging the voting would help much? It's something to think about, anyway...

2) That's what I really have in mind with the whole thing. Basically, trying to encourage unique writing. We get a lot of that already (we are very very lucky) but anything I can do to encourage this more, I want to explore.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

how about a weekly contest (none / 0) (#22)
by mami on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 03:27:22 AM EST

People just won't pay deliberately, mainly because you can read about a subject at the same time on so many sites. There is no scarcety of articles about any subject online.

One of the most annoying things to me is to observe how one news item, once it has been mentioned by a wire service or CNN, is repeated all over the place. For technical news it's pretty much the same, too. So, why would someone pay for the news item on k5 or /. or anywhere else if you can choose from so many sites to read about the same thing ?

On little thing one could do on a site like k5 might be a weekly contest. May be the regular readers of K5 might be willing to donate something which will add up to $50.00 price for the best story of the week. That might incite more effort to research and write out material more seriously.

In addition one might also have a contest for the best comment of the week. Because one does not come to k5 or /. for the story, but also for intelligent and knowledgable comments of the readership.

Then you either let the audience vote who should get the price.

[ Parent ]
No, not quite... (5.00 / 2) (#25)
by rusty on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 04:59:15 AM EST

People just won't pay deliberately, mainly because you can read about a subject at the same time on so many sites.... So, why would someone pay for the news item on k5 or /. or anywhere else if you can choose from so many sites to read about the same thing ?

Two important points: we're not talking about charging for articles. We're talking about providing a way for you to pay the author. If the story wasn't worth money to you, don't pay. Simple supply and demand, as you point out. But a lot of what we have here is not general news-- it's original writing that you don't get elsewhere. That, to me, would be worth paying for occasionally.

I don't like the contest idea, for two reasons: first, it's yet another encouragement for whoring. Karma contests have become de rigeur these days, led by the Joey "Beavis" Anuff at plastic.com, but I still think they're the Jerry Springer version of collaborative media, and I really want to stay well away from that. And two, because it involves the site in the transaction. The idea was that we would have nothing to do with it. If you liked an article, encourage the author to write more with cash.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

you are right (4.00 / 1) (#35)
by mami on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 11:26:52 AM EST

I have seen contests on a site with no self-rating mechanisms by the readership. Authors submitted articles and only one was chosen each day by the editor-at-large. After a week the best one was chosen for winning a price. This site was not news related, more a collection of e-zines. It worked, but the banner ads didn't generate enough money to keep up the contest.

I did understand your suggestion to deliberately paying the author only if one likes his article a lot. I simply still doubt that people would do it often. But it's worth a try.

[ Parent ]
go with it! (none / 0) (#32)
by sayke on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 05:53:28 AM EST

man... this site would be rolling in publicity. whether that's a good thing or not, i don't know, but i think it would be inevitable... hm. the payment scripts would be part of scoop, right?

i found this to be useful when, several months back, i was trying to decide what electronic payment system to play with. the author recommends e-gold and ezcmoney. he does not recommend paypal or credit cards.

sayke, v2.3.1 /* i am the middle finger of the invisible hand */
[ Parent ]

I like this idea (none / 0) (#34)
by TheLaser on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 08:35:04 AM EST

This sounds like a very good idea to me, but you have to keep it as simple as possible to actually do. If it takes 20 seconds to actually perform the donation it won't work. People are lazier than they are cheap.

I suggest putting a button/check-box/enter-amount-box somewhere on the page for the article, and perhaps next to the rating dropdown for comments. Putting something into the box then clicking "Rate and Tip All" or "Tip All" or whatever just sticks the amounts into a queue associated with the user's account. Then, at the user's convienence, he or she can click a "Pay Tips" link on the user page or wherever and input the payment info once for the whole batch.

The idea here is to spread the time cost of tipping someone (which I believe is at least as high as the monetary cost) over as many transactions as possible.

[ Parent ]
Great idea, Rusty! (none / 0) (#37)
by maleficent on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 12:05:53 PM EST

I have a few dollars in my PayPal account that I would use just for this purpose, and I think I'm not alone on this. If I read an article that I feel is good and it survives within the moderation system, I'd be glad to reward the author with a "tip" through PayPal.

Just, please, don't make it a system that requires a credit card. I personally do not use credit cards for anything at all (yes, I know that means my hopes for online buying are nil) because of my privacy concerns. I have money in my PayPal account as a payment for a service, and I used some of it on an E*Bay auction, so that's how I got money into the account.


[ Parent ]
OT: There are other options you know (none / 0) (#39)
by TheLaser on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 02:17:36 PM EST

In particular e-gold. You can get the stuff easily enough by sending very information-sparse money orders. There are even a few services out there that will interface it to a few of the more popular online retailers.

[ Parent ]
This won't make me any IW2BF friends (3.00 / 1) (#11)
by spacejack on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 04:34:57 PM EST

but it'll take off when (if) they ever figure out serious content-protection technologies that work.

Until then, the best you can hope for is to see work from those who publish stuff for free as a stepping stone on the way to something that does pay (most likely traditional media that defies easy redistribution).

As it is, the "information wants to be free" mantra has led us to a situation where the web is overpopulated by frames and frame-makers with hardly any pictures.

But people pay for pretty frames, not pictures! (none / 0) (#20)
by maleficent on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 11:16:39 PM EST

That seems to be the sorry state of web content. People hire web developers that develop the backbone of a site, but they don't hire content developers to put the meat on the skeleton.


[ Parent ]
You pay for quality (2.00 / 2) (#15)
by khallow on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 05:00:17 PM EST

This is just another instance that you get what you pay for. Newpapers, magazines, CDs, etc can deliver quality because people pay for them. Instead, the interesting question is why can some media forms deliver junk for a price?

Stating the obvious since 1969.

in a similar situation (4.00 / 3) (#17)
by danny on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 07:28:20 PM EST

I'm in a similar situation with dannyreviews.com, my book review collection.

I never expect to make money from the site and probably never will, but it does attract a reasonable readership (maybe 2000 users and 5000 page accesses a day) even if that's been pretty static for the last few years.

But I don't see anything wrong with sites like that being run as hobbies - and while it may be hard to find them, there are some great hobby/non-commercial sites out there. Just in the book review area, take a look at

So good hobbiest content is far more than a few oases, and I'd argue that it's often better than the commercial sites.

[900 book reviews and other stuff]

a penny for your html (3.60 / 5) (#18)
by eLuddite on Sat Mar 31, 2001 at 09:20:21 PM EST

Honestly, if you want to make money off your writing, you will have to figure out a way of immortalizing it on dead trees.

People will tell you that you need to have something compelling to say before anyone on the web will pay to listen. I agree with that sentiment and also wonder why anyone with something compelling to say would allow that something to be penny anted to death in an ocean of fickle readers. Because there are no barriers to entry (it costs nothing to publish on the web and everyone has more nothing than worthwhile opinions, as you have observed) the web is very firmly a buyer's market, price tag 0$, and nothing you write will change that fact. Myself, I thought the dot com crash was quite eloquent in its own obituary: "Hot to Reinvent Market Laws in 21 Days. Not."

If you want to seriously pursue an income, haul your ass out of that buyer's market completely except to use it as an advertising medium or resume fodder. Buzz for your work will not created when you put it online, it will be created when you make it a scarce offline commodity.

God hates human rights.

The very idea of "content" (4.00 / 1) (#41)
by crank42 on Sun Apr 01, 2001 at 03:06:13 PM EST

One of the mistakes, I think, that a lot of people have started making is to talk about "content" and "content providers".

It might be that people talk that way because any information can be encoded as bits; and so you need to have something encoded which people want to get. In other words, the specific content might be prose, or poetry, or photographs, or music (and so on). But talking this way overlooks the importance of what we might call the content consumers.

The Wall Street Journal is a good example: what they are not selling is undifferentiated content. They're in the newspaper business, and they're trying to get their dead-trees consumers to move to the electronic version of the newspaper. But if you like newspapers, it's unlikely you'll want to read them online: it's no fun, and video clips aren't what you want (or you'd watch television news). Maybe the WSJ can get its readers to move over because of the ease of searching for old articles, or something. And the WSJ already has an advantage that many other papers don't have: it was always primarily about (stock) data. Most newspapers are only about the stories. I'll bet that's why the WSJ can get people to pay, and no-one else can.

The author talks a lot about how he wants his writing to improve, and wants to make a living from it. But talking about it as though it's just content (that is, as though it could just as well be, say, mp3s) betrays a lack of understanding of what many people who want to read desire[1]. It's not content, but words (ideally, words put together well and expressing something novel). Of course, he talks about his writing, also; but I think the references to "content" reveal a deep problem in how we understand the various forms in which we can express a thought. (I also think that talking about intellectual property in the abstract reveals the same sort of problem.)

Imagining that there is some sort of content-provision economic model simply overlooks the real conditions under which the various kinds of content are consumed. Such a position buys into the biz-speak which imagines the Internet primarily as a profit centre, rather than a kind of cultural milieu in which, perhaps, someone can make some money. If online writing is ever going to make anyone money (and I doubt that very much), it's going to have to do it by respecting the readers, not the content consumers.

[1]This also is probably too general. The "people who want to read" are, in many cases, too heterogeneous to classify as one group. Romance novel readers, RFC readers, and medical journal readers are probably not sufficiently the same to say anything about what they all want when they read.

Publishing vs. Self-Publishing (4.00 / 5) (#43)
by gandrews on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 02:21:44 AM EST

I am pleased to see this topic on Kuro5hin. I hadn't realized it until I read the post, but as a writer this question is becoming an organizing one in my life.

I was advised by one of my writing professors, a veteran magazine journalist, never to write without getting paid for it. I took that to heart. Starting out as a freelancer, I turned up my nose at anything that paid less than Salon (it's been a while since I've written for them, but I think they pay about 30 cents a word, which is more than you can expect from most magazines).

Recently, I took a yearlong break from freelancing due to constraints of my job. I started using Blogger to publish a personal site in the meantime.

I'm reconsidering my professor's advice. Being published by someone else is much less appealing since I have started self-publishing. (Somehow I only recently began thinking of self-publishing as "writing without getting paid.") Writing for my site makes me very, very happy. People I've never met write and tell me they're enjoying and even following what I write. I get to write what I care about, experiment with my style, and track the hits I'm getting.

Pitching freelancing articles, by contrast, is a raving bitch. Waiting for an editor to respond to a pitch, the desire to write an article loses its urgency. Being turned down delivers a powerful slap to the ego. The kind of emotional pressure front this creates interferes with my ability to write. It's not lost on me that the one non-self-published piece I feel truly great about started out as an email to some very close friends.

There are other disadvantages to writing for someone else. When I write for my own site, or send email to friends, or comment on Kuro5hin, I can promote my own work with links to my own projects. In doing so I contribute to the strength of my site as a meme (or, to be more cynical about it, I broaden advertising for my brand).

By contrast, even Salon does not extend the benefit of promotion to me when I write for them. I asked them if I could put a link to my own site in the bio after my wrestling article, and they said No. Signing away rights to future licensing of your work, as many freelance writing contracts ask you to do, also feels like less of a good idea when you can keep articles on your own site in perpetuity.

One thing I miss is having an editor. Not any editor, mind you; I have had editors make my writing clunky. Actually, while I've had editors who did an excellent job of introducing me to the business of writing, I've never had an editor who I felt was really challenging me to write better. I've started to suspect that maybe that isn't an editor's job, at least not today. I still hold out a secret hope that a writer I admire will find my site, decide I show promise, and offer to mentor me. (Is Gay Talese out there? Or Joan Didion? Does John McPhee read Kuro5hin?) Sometimes I think going for a graduate degree would be a way to find a mentor. Other times I think it would be the fastest route towards debt and away from the bleeding edge.

Before maleficent mentioned it I hadn't thought about having readers of my site comment on my writing style. (I think most people don't think about that when they visit a site; most of us have gotten accustomed to the Internet as a content-feed tube and a visual art form, not a literary artwork.) I imagine taking cues from an unknown readership would lead to self-doubt, or mediocrity if every comment was taken into account. I would be dubious about taking advice from people I did not know and respect.

I am rattled by the lack of long-term precedent for working as a self-publishing writer. Journalism is field with an established professional trajectory that doesn't differ too greatly from journalist to journalist. The same can be said for book publishing. I get paralyzed by the idea that I might make a misstep and find myself penniless and unread in my old age. (Then again, with precedent set by the likes of Zora Neale Hurston, that's a time-honored writerly trajectory, too.)

I'm not sure which basket I should put my eggs in. I want to refer potential editors and employers to my web journal, but on any given day I may post nothing but stupid links to video game sites or confessions about my personal failings, which I don't want them to see. (I think the compromise will be a static page of the writing I feel best about.)

I am also not sure how editors regard personal websites. Will they think I am unable to write under direction? The New Yorker published a somewhat unflattering article about Blogger sites a little while ago. Do editors think maintaining your own site is a narcissistic waste of time? Heaven knows most Blogger sites are full of rubbish about daily purchases and sitcom gossip and inside jokes and single-emoticon posts. (I wish there was a better way of finding and networking blogs with consistently intelligent content, but the folks at Pyra haven't created a "Intellectual Blogs Only" search engine yet.)

I am not convinced that freelancing is the way to go, however. Every unaccepted pitch means hours of work for which you're not getting paid. From what I have heard, journalism employers also want to see that you have long-term experience on the staff of a regularly-published newspaper or magazine. I feel clueless about how one breaks into that kind of work. I never see job listings for journalists, and the possibility of taking a copy editing position when there's no guarantee of advancement is troubling.

Sometimes I think the best way to go would be to take a job doing something else entirely, and perhaps try to pull in a few bucks on the street-performer model with my site. This would leave me in the aggravating position I'm in again tonight -- finishing a screed at two in the morning knowing I have to get up at seven to go to work, and probably never getting time to write a long well-researched piece, which I would love to do. But my conscience sometimes kicks in and says, So what makes you think you should be able to support yourself by speaking and thinking, when that's something everyone can do? I go to bed then; I get up, I go to work.

There's certainly precedent for the writing-on-the-side model; if I remember correctly, Montaigne, Baudelaire, Ben Franklin, Wallace Stevens, and any number of historical writers kept up work in other fields. Perhaps it's for the best. You certainly never lack for things to write about when you have other work.
The Dancing Sausage Web Journal - Radio Free Hold Music

Free as in love (4.00 / 2) (#45)
by Beorn on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 07:26:48 AM EST

As someone who deeply enjoys writing as well as reading the writings of others, I'm hopelessly optimistic about the possibilities for good online content. Yet, when I surf around, my optimism is dampened by the lack of quality that I find.

90% of everything is crud. I'm an optimist too, on behalf of the web and on behalf of humanity in general, but not in the sense that I ever hope to find a medium that breaks that rule. My optimism is more like a deep-seated belief that one day I will have found all the good stuff. Mediums like Blogger and Mp3.com are revolutionary, but doesn't make anyone better a better writer or musician.

They don't give you an audience either, which is very frustrating. After I toned down my kuro5hin writing to focus on a weblog, I've slowly worked my way up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty in terms of readers. But unless you're lucky or rich, or willing to write for editors, there is no alternative to the ultra-slow word-of-mouth/link/search method of spreading your URL. I'm not trying to make any money off writing for the web, (this would possibly be the worst moment ever to try that anyway), so it doesn't bother me.

I guess I'm not answering your question. Don't have any. But I do love all these new mediums that are popping up, and I'm very lucky being here to watch this happen. Money isn't that fundamental for the content part of the net anyway, that's the great thing about it really. Professional writers have always been able to work for money, only the web lets regular people write and publish for free.

- Beorn

[ Threepwood '01 ]

K5 as conversation (3.00 / 1) (#47)
by dennis on Mon Apr 02, 2001 at 09:48:02 AM EST

Personally I see K5 as more of a conversation that a publishing medium. I don't ask for tips when I make a good point in a conversation, I'm just participating for the fun of it.

If I wanted to write more seriously and experiment with tipping, what I might do is publish articles on a personal website, and make sure my posts to sites like K5 include links to the homepage. However I don't think tipping will really be successful until it's convenient--If I can just click once and contribute a dime, I can see doing that, but if it takes a couple minutes of hassle I just never get around to it, even when I mean to.

Quality online content: a lack of avenues? | 47 comments (44 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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