“Writers deserve to get paid for their work” says a popular blogger in defense of putting her blog behind a paywall. The arguments and comments made by her fans and detractors alike fascinate me because they touch on several important issues such as what work is and what we use money for.
While some online forums, resource webpages and newspapers do use paywalls, the majority of us are unused to paying for blogs. Yet we are willing to pay money for books and magazines, so why not blogs? One could imagine an internet where five or ten cents is automatically deducted from a person’s online bank account for every page one visits online. Or perhaps where people buy subscriptions to syndicates allowing them unlimited access to collections of blogs, with the money divided between the bloggers. Of could if those were the way we want to go, we might want to take on the Star Trek Ferengi’s route and start charging people for everything. You want to use the elevator? Two strips of latinum please. Sit on a park bench? That will be two strips. I can understand people objecting to paying for blogs. I hate the idea. Who wants one more thing for people to worry about whether or not they can afford?
As a thought-experiment I picture two different possibilities. In one the currency of the internet would have no connection to real life money. People pay to visit webpages and receive payment in exchange for others visiting their webpage. The system would fail in that those with the desire to visit the most websites wouldn’t necessarily be the ones capable of producing content that draws others in to theirs, and those who could create the best material wouldn’t necessarily be interested in spending all their currency. Everyone has different skills and such a system would not reward different types of skills adequately. So if the system of payment was transferable to the real world, was just one more way in which people can earn or spend real life cash, what would be the implications? What if the majority of the internet was not free?
Should internet content producers accept a lack of payment as a necessity so that the internet can remain what it is? To some extent advertisements can compensate the content producers while avoiding the need to charge users but only to an extent. From what I’ve seen online it seems that few bloggers can make significant money through advertisements. A huge number of content producers on the web do it out of interest, as a hobby.
We come to the question of what is work. Is it work to maintain a blog? Certainly it takes time and effort but is that effort done in order to produce something to sell (either to readers or advertisers) or is it done for the blogger’s own sake? As a newish blogger I hope that I am doing a service to my readers but I feel they are doing a favor to me as well. When I worry over how best to shape an idea, I think, it is work and occasionally I feel a moment of resentfulness that what I write is “just blogging” with all the insignificance that brings. I wonder why ebooks count as something worth paying for but blogs not?
Paying for access to blogs is a crazy idea. When fans of the blogger I mentioned started complaining about how it would effect low-income women I doubt they are making the argument that the blog is incredibly vital to low-income women. Instead they are pointing out that bringing paywalls into the blogosphere creates more doors between the haves and the have-nots. When the other blogger says she doesn’t owe anyone her blog I agree, but to say it will be there for those who have the money and not for those who don’t is obnoxious. It is turning something that could be a relationship between readers and writers, bloggers and other bloggers and commentors, into a product that people consume.