Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Blogging: Why on earth wouldn't I blog for free?

You may or may not have heard about the Huffington Post lawsuit. As I understand it, now that the Post has been sold for a big bag of money, all sorts of bloggers who have been contributing their words to the Post for free are saying, "Hey! Gimme!" Vanessa, aka Bonkers About Perfume, mentioned this some time ago, pointing to this article when she commented on my earlier blog rant post. But I'm a little slow.

The lawsuit seems to have started a web-wide discussion of the concept of blogging, or otherwise creatively contributing, for free. And I've picked a side: As far as I'm concerned, the problem isn't that some people are creating for free, but instead the expectation that amateur creative activity should be paid. At all.

Many people are arguing that the Post situation wasn't Wrong because the people who blogged for the Post did benefit financially, if not directly. They got exposure, they enhanced their reputation, they got hits on their websites, blah blah blah, and all of that led to money one way or another. And Wired had an article about "free" and how free product can result in money in various sideways ways. And an article on another site compared free blogging to open source software, and again mentioned other financial benefits resulting from contributing to open source projects--the facts that some companies are making money from it, and programmers are improving their reputation and careers.

And I say that, again, that's not the point. It's not about getting money directly, or indirectly, or now, or later, or through a paycheck, an ad click or a career enhancement. It is, I say, not about money. At all.

Now, I'm mis-stating the position of those articles a little bit. Some did touch on this idea, the idea that there can be motivations for creation that are unrelated to money. But every one that I've read so far, even the open source article, seems to glance sideways at this idea, nervously, and to rush back to the comforting "Look! Look! Later on there might be money!" argument. So far, only an article by Arianna Huffington herself (who can't really be considered a disinterested party) seems to dwell, at any length, on the purely nonprofit motivations. While also talking about the financial benefits to the writers, she talks about people wanting to "connect, share their passions, and have their opinions heard."

Well, yeah. Was that so hard? It's not about the money.

And, no, I'm not saying that someone who ends up making some money, a tiny bit or a lot, is bad, or less creative, or betraying their muse. I'm just saying that money is not the point. I'm saying that blogging without any hope or intention of making a single penny is a worthwhile pursuit, one that doesn't call for explanations or mumbles of, "...well, I thought it might be good for my career..." Creating without a paycheck does not make you a fool or a sucker. It does not require an excuse.

Image: By LosHawlos. Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Excellent points, all of them! I am wholeheartedly (and with my soul too) in agreement with you. Blogging is about community, creativity, catharsis, and lots of other c-words.

  2. You said this better than I could.

    I think expectations are the problem here. The writers are mad because theirs, i.e. money and exposure, weren't filled. I think they have a right to be upset, since they weren't anticipating the sellout. Whether they have a right to compensation or not is anybody's judgment.

  3. You have most eloquently stated the not-for-profit case - and thanks too for the namecheck at the top of the post!

    I would carry on blogging indefinitely even with no prospect of remuneration, for it is the creative end in itself which is my prime motivation. That said, if, some way down the line if and when I am bigger - and it is a big if, notwithstanding the crazy wedding spike I have been enjoying, which has multiplied my traffic by factors of 6-7! - I would be open to some discreet and tasteful static sidebar ads that I would actually consider as aesthetic enhancements. They would have to be as decorative and tasteful as any perfume related imagery I might select myself. So that narrows the field considerably, I know!

    Just this morning Mr Bonkers was trying to talk me into allowing Google adsense to roam freely on my blog, but I would rather waive the cash (if there was any) than have a font I didn't like popping up in a place I didn't want it to. The intrusive locations of Google ads bother me on some other blogs, so I wouldn't fancy them on mine. Or that is how I feel at the moment, anyway.

    So yes, I am a little further along the "monetising spectrum" in terms of my views, though nowhere yet as far as acting on those views. Well, I am still too small, as I say.

  4. When you write on your own blog, no one else is making money off your writings. You're doing it, as you say, for the community aspect, for the non-monetary benefits. But the Huffington Post *is* profiting off its bloggers -- it's bringing in revenue based on that writing, and the writers don't get a cut of that revenue. I think that is exploitative. If those bloggers just want to write, why wouldn't they do it on their own blogs?

  5. Hey, Carrie! Thanks! I think that it's unfortunate in many ways that it ever became possible to make money or further a business through blogs. Then again, I may be an extremist. :)

  6. Howdy, Joan! I have trouble making up my mind there. Successful sites being sold for big bags of money is common enough that it seems to me that the contributors should have anticipated the possibility. I'd actually have a lot more sympathy for them if their complaint was that the site that they helped to build is changing in character, and no longer serving them. But I'm not hearing that, so far.

  7. Yo, Vanessa! I'm quite confident that even if you start making a fortune from your blog, you'll still be a very fine inspired blogger. :)

  8. Howdy, Elisa! Well, if they wanted to write _and_ they wanted a larger audience than an individual's private blog is likely to provide, the Post gave them both. As I see it, they got "paid" in exposure.

    Now, if the site changes the bargain in that area - if, for example, they start giving the bloggers less freedom of expression than they used to, or start "firing" bloggers so that they suddenly lose that exposure - then I'll have a great deal more sympathy for the bloggers, though that may not extend to thinking that they should get money.

    But as I understand the facts - and I'm open to being told that I've missed one or more critical details - I don't see that the sale fundamentally changes the bargain.