February 16, 2018

Just Keep Writing

Don’t let the melancholy get to you

This morning, I discovered a thought-provoking article.

I was excited to start following the blog that published it—new sources of great content are few and far between these days. Clicking through to the homepage, I found myself facing a headline that’s become all too familiar: The End.

What’s worse, that article was published three years ago. I’d stumbled upon a decaying relic of the old web, a memento mori of better times for blogging.

Performing Bloggish Acts

On the other hand, far from being dead, blogging is kind of everywhere,” Jason Kottke recently pointed out.

Everyone who’s updating their Facebook pages and tweeting and posting on Instagram and Pinterest is performing a bloggish act.

He describes a disconnect between the blogging of old and the golden age of blog publications: the former was personal, a view through the lens of a particular thinker; the latter was a more systemic curation, a joining of voices with similar timbre.

While the latter crumbles, the former lives on across Silicon Valley’s latest products and platforms.

But, as Derek Sivers wisely pointed out, these things come and go. Use the internet, not just companies,” he warns.

It seems the ideal approach to blogging entails hosting things yourself, and using the platforms of the day to distribute them to an increasingly fragmented audience. If you try to go where all the people are, you’ll end up trying to be in too many places at once.

But bringing them to you is harder and harder to do, as the expectation of each of these ephemeral platforms is that you give them your all—that you be truly present—in order to extract their maximum potential.

There’s a balance somewhere in all this.


The fly in the ointment remains monetization.

I’m not sure yet what the best approach to this is, but it probably isn’t ads. I’ve never liked them, never run them on my sites, and have watched with zero surprise as that entire part of the internet’s infrastructure has continued to eat itself alive.

Membership introduces a segregation of content that I’m not generally happy with, and platforms like Patreon are, well, platforms. They’ll move more and more toward being self-contained publishing spaces instead of just monetization layers.

There is one profound appeal to membership though, and that’s the directness of it. This is where even Medium’s take on it falters; a Medium member pays $5 for access to everything. Arguably a much better value, to be sure. But fundamentally, it’s a subscription fee to a crowd-sourced magazine.

If you’re paying for a site membership, you’re explicitly paying that money to the creator of the site. You’re pledging, in the most concrete terms, to support their work. It changes the relationship.

Kottke again:

I want to do this for them because they have been kind enough to support me. You don’t get that feeling about having advertising on your site. It’s not the same.

While it seems like the way forward for independent bloggers, there’s also a threshold for success. Only a small percentage of any audience will have the means and will to support the writers they love in this way (especially if they appreciate more than just one, which I expect is almost always the case).

That being the case, you have to have a sizeable audience to begin with before something like that becomes practical as a source of income.

The rest of us mostly use affiliate links via Amazon or iTunes to earn a few pennies. It’s an okay system. It relies on having a great deal of trust established, as you can quickly fall into the trap of seeming like a shill for every startup that sells on Amazon or has a new app.

I get multiple emails every week with product offers, app licenses, and more. As you may have noticed, I don’t write about too many of them. The reason is simple: if I don’t end up using, enjoying, and deriving genuine value from the thing, I won’t recommend it to you. And certainly not with an affiliate link.

That’s just the basic contract I have in my mind between you and me: if I recommend it on my site, I’d recommend it to you in person over coffee too—and have concrete reasons for doing so, grounded in my own real-world usage.

My rule of thumb is simple when it comes to monetization: err on the side of authenticity, even at the expense of income. It pays off in the long run.

Just Keep Writing

Blogging is on my mind recently because I love it and want to be able to keep doing more of it. I’m countering the prevailing melancholy with optimism, because I think it’s important.

It’s important because blogging is less about the information and more about its means of transmission. It’s not about the news, it’s about how your friend tells you about the news. Each blog is a re-framing of the world through the eyes of someone whose personality you’ve come to know, whose opinion you’ve come to trust, and whose views either challenge or support your own in constructive ways.

I firmly believe that’s a crucial part of any media consumption diet these days.

To my fellow independent, small-audience bloggers: you’re wonderful, necessary, and appreciated. So don’t let the melancholy get to you.

Just keep writing.

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