(Guest Post) Knowledge Beyond Walls

by Susan Pogorzelski on April 12, 2011 · 11 comments

 

 

 The blogging bubble is going to burst (if it hasn’t already).

People are either consuming things for their artistic value or to consume knowledge. Whether it is on iPhones, iPads, computer screens or actual books and binders – consumption of knowledge and beauty won’t go away. These different consumptions satisfy the same need to fulfill intrinsic values.  

It’s all about whether these mediums satisfy those appetites properly. Blogging doesn’t necessarily do that, but good writing does. There’s a tendency to confuse the medium with the real thing it’s supposed to produce. Television doesn’t necessarily equal good entertainment, but good entertainment comes in all forms.

So, in the universe of the blogging revolution, is there an evolution towards paid content?  While everyone can get information, knowledge is becoming a privilege for the paying few.

Knowledge is no longer just access, but requires special connections. I may not pay for anything Guy Kawasaki writes, but I’ve already plunked down $25 to purchase Penelope Trunks’s book on soul searching.

Walls are going up. Is this a good thing? It granted everyone access to the information. But, were they discovering knowledge?

Now, we are going back to special kinds of access – the kind you may have to pay for. I think we are back where we started – when access was selfish.

So perhaps my career is stunted because I am selfish. And, to have a good career you cannot be selfish. I am not selfish all the time, however. I am generous in other ways, but perhaps with the wrong things. The F had to practically beg me to advertise my editing services. I tried that for a while, but it was unnecessary.

I don’t give copy editing advice. The tons of email I’ve received come from people despising their boss or wanting to know how to escape a horrible job. No one is asking me how to pitch freelance stories to magazines or when to use commas in a wordy sentence. My first and last gig doing editing work turned into a nightmare ghost writing job.

Does the value in your content start with how generous you are or how selfish you can be??

 

 

About the Author: Raven Moore is a writing and editing professional living in Chicago, IL. She blogs about lifestyle and career at The Writerbabe Series. You can find her on twitter or spending time correcting old typos in her blog posts.

 

Raven is taking part in a two-month guest series featuring writers across the blogosphere here on twenty(or)something while this blog takes a brief hiatus. Want to chat? Email me at twentyorsomething [at] gmail.com or say hi on Twitter!

 

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Tatiana April 12, 2011

I have mixed feelings in regards to paying for content online. Free information is a way to level the playing field, allowing people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to possess it. For me, personally, if I had to start paying to read my favorite blogs then I’d probably experience a strong disconnect with the internet because I already pay a monthly fee just to use the internet, and now I have to pay even more just to read what’s on it? Blogging, to me, is a way to give back to the community at large, and to pull people in. It’s a way to share ideas, to generate conversation about the things we care most about. To pay to read a blog is akin to having to pay a person to talk to them at a party. You can’t put a price on connectivity, but apparently some might try to.

Maybe deep down, I’m a Socialist, and I believe in free information. It’s not that I don’t believe in paying for services, but it reminds me a lot how multinational corporations go to impoverished countries and make them pay for clean water. Water is for everyone, you shouldn’t charge for it. And information is the same way – at least in terms of blogging.

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Raven April 12, 2011

I have mixed feelings as well. One would argue that you pay for magazine subscriptions on hand, why wouldn’t you pay for a blog subscription. But then, someone else could respond that they read the Sartorialist for inspiration on style or the free parts of BusinessWeek for information on the business market. It goes round and round.
Therefore, I think the starting point is what gives you the strongest connection. Like I said, if I don’t have a connection with the writer, I’m less apt to pay for access (if ever). Even less so if it’s something like a blog.

If you are creating something special like a book or a project – then I’m there.

Blogs are like little gifts to the community of knowledge. You use the blog to figure out and discover the world. And perhaps my imagination is small, but deciding that someone should pay to watch me investigate life as we know it…I just don’t think its fair.
It’s manipulation.

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Rebecca April 12, 2011

I didn’t fully understand the post, but definitely got your comment – ouch. A couple things –

If you were a paid subscriber ;) , you’d have read why it’s so important that we do move to a paid model – for some blogs (and other media). Certainly not everyone should be charging for content, that’s ridiculous. Most people are too lazy or not good enough to do so. But we do need to start valuing quality content and at the point of creation and not expecting creators to profit off peripheral offerings (primarily exposure in a blogger’s case – speaking appearances, large audiences, TV appearances, promises of a book deal, etc.), particularly when those rarely pan out into real value as increasingly everything is just for more exposure (or access if you prefer that word) so when does it stop?

In particular, I feel very strong about this for journalists and writers – many of whom risk their lives – and take the time to write amazing content. There is no reason that advertising and corporations should determine the quality and availability of knowledge. Knowledge is NOT free. The Internet is NOT free. Hell, it’s not even a free market. Stop deluding yourself. Even if you run no ads, a large company is still profiting from your content (that’s what search engines do, for example). Saying the internet allows knowledge to be accessible to everyone is like saying the GDP is a good measure of our economy . That is what the Internet has the potential to do, and indeed those were it’s original intentions, but it was corporatized and is increasingly becoming so. Now, you can get e-books for free because a company will sponsor it for instance (Seth Godin’s new project). The Kindle is cheaper because their are ads on the home screen. It’s disgusting. You know who loves free most? Large companies.

We’re LUCKY that artists and musicians and writers create the things that we increasingly value most (especially as materialism goes down) at such a low cost. I can assure you, however, that that is not a sustainable model, and the ideal of a tortured, poor artist really does no one any good.

We are moving into an experience economy where we prefer to live by our screens, not among objects, and so the knowledge economy is just that – in our minds (and on our iPads) and not in the revenue-generating sector of the economy. I also wrote about this extensively on Kontrary in one of my posts. What happens then is the more we move away from materialism and toward knowledge and experiences, the more we hurt the economy. Free! is not a natural outcropping of the Internet, but a reaction against corporatism. What will be innovative and most in line with the decentralization of the Internet is when we can take advantage of a peer to peer economy and the gift economy which bloggers seem to so revere, but I am increasingly figuring out, don’t fully understand. Le sigh… I could talk about this forever, but I have a feeling I have overstayed my welcome already.

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Susan Pogorzelski April 12, 2011

I’m going to put in my two cents worth now, though I don’t think it relates as much to the post and the evolution of knowledge itself as to this debate of free vs. paid content.

As a consumer, I want to get something out of what I pay for it – whether it be something tangible or an experience. In these instances, I’m relating the tangible to something like a book…or a house, and the experience to something like travel. All of these things are to the benefit of me (in the general sense, I could also be phrasing it as you’re spending money of these things for the benefit of you) – your enjoyment and entertainment, your experiences and learning.

Like Raven mentioned, personally, this blog that I write and those that I tend to read are focused on personal development and life stories. I can’t imagine charging someone for taking this journey with me if it remains in the form of a blog. Memoirs, biographies, as a physical book or a collective ebook, yes, of course, that’s fair game – because you’re upping the stakes and the value, you’ve done the work and created a greater whole with the reader in mind. Conversely, however, I can’t imagine paying to take part in that journey because it is a personal journey and it doesn’t become personal then, it feels like it becomes a business and, with that, everything changes.

However, that is the personal side of blogging. When it comes to other types of content, I think it’s different. Not easier to decipher, but different.

My thoughts on paid vs. free content in this landscape seem to constantly be wavering, and maybe it’s because it’s such uncharted territory. For that, I commend people like Rebecca – for better or for worse – for trying. In an initial discussion with Rebecca, my first thought was complete hesitation, not just for me, but for other potential readers. I mentioned alienation – people become a part of your community, a part of your readership, because of a mutual connection to your writing and to you as a person and, I believe, they stay because of the value that you continue to provide not just through your writing, but through you as a person (at least, that’s been my experience). Paid content, it seemed, would hinder that natural discovery. I imagine if I didn’t know Rebecca, I would be less inclined to pay for her content.

The same could be said for the other “bigger bloggers” in this sphere – the Seth Godins and Leo Babautas…I don’t read their writings simply because I don’t find value in them, and I don’t find value in them – not because what they have to say isn’t valuable – but because I don’t connect with them at this point in time. So, of course, should they mark their content paid, I would be less inclined to continue reading.

Rebecca, on the other hand, I have gotten to know on a personal level thanks to her previous website, thanks to Twitter and emails, and thanks to other networks. As such, I know the kind of content she would provide and the work she would put into it – thus, there is both the value AND the connection (and maybe all that is preventing me from having subscribed is I’ve had to consider my own finances). I agree with Raven — it’s all about the connection for me. I would be more concerned if the value didn’t go up – if what was once free now came at a cost, if thousands of others (perhaps less inclined to provide a higher standard of value) were to follow such a similar model. Then, instead of saturating the free thought-market, as blogging seems to have done, everything will have to be paid for and THAT will become over-saturated, leaving you digging through the rough to find the gems.

(On a side note: Rebecca, I don’t mean to make this personally about your blog – it seems like you’ve unfortunately become the prime example when it comes to paid vs. free content.)

All of that said, I’ll go back to my original point. I have a hard time paying for something that was originally free, especially if there is no value in it. But value is incredibly personal – while someone might like to read about marketing, I may favor life stories and personal development; while someone may easily pay XX thousands of dollars for a car, I might be more inclined to put that money towards a house or a trip.

So maybe the question isn’t about free vs. paid anymore. And maybe it isn’t even about content itself. Maybe it’s about taking a closer look and figuring out what it is we value and how THAT will begin to change everything going forward.

PS: On another note, this blog is treated like a home to me — everyone, every area of thought, is welcomed here no matter what. Unless it’s disrespectful. That’s when I kick ya’ll out.

So you’re all good :)

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Rebecca April 12, 2011

Loved your comment, Susan, and thanks for the encouragement to come back in :)

I also wanted to mention that purely on a personal level, when we discussed Kontrary, I mentioned that I wanted to differentiate Kontrary from the rest of the crappy content out there and putting a value on that content immediately does that. I also mentioned, and I state this on my kontrary.com/why-charge page, that charging also raises expectations, on both sides, which you mention as well. I thrive on that. In the short time I’ve been doing this, it’s been incredibly empowering. For me. I understand it’s not for everyone.

If it is the connection that you value most, obviously people can connect with me on Twitter and Facebook and emails etc and I obviously read a wide variety of other blogs. But I didn’t want Kontrary to just be about the connection, and particularly didn’t want it to be a personal connection. I did that with Modite and I didn’t want people to relate to me in that same manner (primarily so I could be taken more seriously). Of course, as a writer, you DO want people to connect with you and your writing, no matter what the topic, and I still do that well by virtue of my writing voice and all the care I put into my posts. So I think your point about the differentiation of blogs is important.

And also figuring out what we value is extremely important as well. Because right now that connection you talk about is part of the gift economy, but companies are doing everything they can to monetize that (“where there is community, there is commerce.”) I’m not saying that’s all bad all the time, but that we should be aware of the fact. And also question, should that monetization happen in the hands of large companies or could it happen in more of a peer-to-peer economy like in the olden days? Obviously I favor the latter, which is precisely why I charge for Kontrary.

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Tatiana April 12, 2011

Yay. Susan – you definitely captured a lot of everything I couldn’t say. Or didn’t know how to. So, I agree, that when it comes to paying for something, it’s an issue of personal values versus if the thing has an instrinic value making it worth paying for. Does that make sense?

And part of my concern with paid content is what Susan said – that everyone will end up doing it and then it’ll be a painful experience to find a blog worthwhile. On that note, Rebecca, I’ve checked out Kontrary and I do think it’s really awesome and something I’d definitely pay for. I haven’t yet, but I really love the topics you’ve chosen for your new blog. :D

But as much as I enjoy blogging, I can’t imagine having to pay for every single blog I read, because I’d rather spend my money on movies, books or whatever.

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Raven April 13, 2011

Perhaps this is a failing in my role as a writer since the subject we’re currently on, paid content vs. free content, is only the tip of the iceberg of what I really wanted to discuss. I use Rebecca’s Kontrary as the most recent example (that could readily come to mind) as an example of paying special access for knowledge.

There is knowledge and there is information. The internet contains plenty of information. But there are also people out there generating bits and pieces of knowledge.
Those are the bits of content that become highly valued – and people will pay for it. I value these bits of content because since there is so much information and so little knowledge, learning something new (and therefore, valuable) is at a premium. However, I’m not just talking about connection, paid content versus free content, peer to peer economies, gift economies or whatever. It’s all a part of this bigger conundrum of exploring knowledge, learning new ideas and how we choose to access them (or not).

But as you say, knowledge isn’t free, nothing is free. Free is most loved by some crazy, money-grubbing corporate enterprise and we’re all better off becoming (paid) artisans of knowledge in some peer to peer economy. Not peddlers of useless information or salesmen of crap content.
The information/knowledge that at one time was supposedly democratized by the internet (well, at least access to it – who knows if people were really connecting to the information first hand) now needs to be made valuable again. In fact, free knowledge is a farce. So if knowledge was never free, why do we need to make it valuable again? Was it not valuable in the first place? Weren’t folks paying for it anyway?

So my question hasn’t changed, are we right back where we started? Did we really go anywhere at all? Is the knowledge more valuable if we keep it to ourselves and pay for access or spread it to others so it can take on a life of its own beyond the pay walls, gatekeepers and subscriptions? If knowledge has never been free – then are bloggers brainwashed into believing that they can dole out true knowledge for “free”? Is blogging just a joke if you think you are doing it for free?

I’m guessing I must be deluding myself because since I don’t run ads, Bluehost still profits from my blog existing and my readers must not get anything out of perusing my ad-free content (because they don’t pay for it). And since they aren’t paying for it then their expectations are possibly lowered.

Dear god, I hope that is not the case. And if it is, then that is a challenge to me as a writer/blogger to up the stakes on my own terms.

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Akhila April 13, 2011

The reason I read blogs is so I can connect with people on a personal level. That is what differentiates blogging from news websites – there is a person, and a personality behind it. Personally, I think Rebecca’s move might work for her because she has already built up an audience around her blog and her wonderful writing. However, I doubt this model would work on a broader scale because my goal in reading blogs is to get to know the person behind the blog. If I was to stumble across a new blog charging for content, without knowing the author I would not give a second glance or consider subscribing.

At a personal level, I could never charge for content (though I do have a few ads up) because I feel a connection to writing. My goal is to reach the broadest audience possible. My interests are constantly changing and I want to write to reach people who may not have considered human rights issues before. I want to constantly meet new people. I would not be able to do that if I put my work behind a paywall.

Second, I write because I love writing. I do not write to make money or to profit or even to become well known or build a brand. No, I write because I love writing and it is a natural outgrowth of what it means to be me. I write because I am passionate and want to contribute to the debate. I write because I love human rights, women’s rights, and consider my writing and opining to be part of my activist self. Charging a fee would be against this, especially since in trying to alleviate poverty, one must consider the digital divide. Charging a fee is against social justice (in my opinion) because it causes your writing and ideas and knowledge and conversation to be limited only to the elite audience, the upper middle class, the top 1% of the world.

No. I want my colleagues in Afghanistan (with the non-profit I volunteer with) to continue reading my blog. They cannot afford $5 a month when their salary is low and additionally, Afghanistan is a cash economy where no one has a credit card to pay for services online. By charging a fee I would be exacerbating the digital divide and people across the globe in poorer countries would NOT be able to read this or provide me with their thoughts or feedback. This is fundamentally against my values.

Rebecca’s reasoning makes sense for her, but it may not work for everyone. And I don’t think she is arguing it would. But I look forward to seeing how her experiment works out and if this new model takes root elsewhere!

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Marc April 22, 2011

@Akhila
I can definitely understand the merit of not wanting to contribute to the digital divide. Have you considered the possibility of having a paid version for more wealthy countries such as the U.S. but having a special ‘free’ version for more impoverished areas? In much the same way the US tax system is (supposedly) setup, those who can afford to pay more do, while those who can’t afford it pay either nothing or less. I believe this would be a more balanced approach rather than black and white pay or don’t pay.

While I write as well, the motives for my writing change depending on my website/blog (can anyone tell the difference anymore?). On my linked website above, I have absolutely no means of monetization while I build an audience. However, on my first website, I’ve keep the lights on in my house, eat food, live and die by the monetizing it. There, I provide mountains of information in a way that people simply can’t find anywhere else. Because of the tech/telecom niche, Google Adsense and affiliate sales do particularly well there allowing me to provide information or ‘knowledge’ as it’s been referred to her for free. While I tried a donation model, I’d have quickly ended up on the street. Like Google and many TV media outlets, I found it easiest to have advertisers essentially pay the cost of the website while the audience could enjoy the value of it for free. So far (2 years), so good.

I don’t think blogging is dead by any means.

What is and always has been is low quality blogging that provides no value to anyone. Value can easily be defined as something that provides a solution to a problem someone’s having. If it’s not solving a problem, even if that problem is simply boredom, it’s probably not providing value. When you provide value, then you’ve got a realistic chance at monetization.

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