Tobold's Blog
Friday, December 02, 2011
 
Paid for content creation

Tadhg Kelly of What Games Are is writing about The Maker's Lament, the idea that the age of the professional content creator is over, because too many amateurs create too much content for free, or too cheaply. Quote: "Or perhaps the maker’s lament is really about this: there is too much choice. Any market in which you can choose from a million works (such as ebooks, iPhone apps, albums, etc) is one where standing out is vastly harder than it used to be".

That is mainly a problem of barriers to entry. If the only way to distribute written words is printed on paper in a book or flyer, only those who feel strongly enough about an issue to pay for that flyer, or those who think they can sell that book enough to make a profit are going to write. But if you can distribute written words by signing up for a free blogging service, forum, or social network, many more people are going to write. Supply goes up, demand not necessarily so, and thus the monetary market value of the written word goes down.

Tadhg thinks that Free2Play games offer a business model which can deal with this, and would be just as applicable to other media. Quote: "You could possibly do the same thing with a comic, or an album, or a series of short films on Youtube. Or indeed a game. The idea is the same though: Get the customer over the choice question by making it a non-choice. Let them decide if they like your world before they pay for it. Then let them pay according to how far they want to, not a ticket price which is the same for everyone." I don't think that it is that easy in reality, because not all mediums have the structure required which make a Free2Play model viable.

Take for example this blog. There are thousands of people who like this blog enough to visit it repeatedly. They "decided they like my world", or my opinions, or the manner in which I write my opinions enough to check in regularly or add me to their newsreader. But very few of them are willing to pay for this content. I received a grand total of 17 "buy Tobold a coffee" donations this year. Those contributed a lot to me feeling appreciated, but if I was a professional content creator, I'd be starving by now. I don't think I could get people to pay for my content if I put in a "pay to read after the break" paywall on my blog. Although my blog already is Free2Read with an optional pay model, this isn't a money maker. Adding typical Free2Play store items to the blog (As in "Get a sparkly commenter's name for just $10!". NOT A REAL OFFER!) probably wouldn't work either. Unlike people paying for a Free2Play game, my readers simply aren't invested enough in my blog to make paying for it seem attractive. If given the choice between having to pay or leaving, nearly all would leave for other blogs.

In the book Tadhg is referring to, Free Ride, there is talk of the market value of anything dropping towards its "marginal production cost", unless the distribution is controlled. While that isn't valid for everything, it appears to be valid for content like written opinions. As everybody has an opinion, many people like to share theirs, and distributing them over the internet has become so easy, their marginal production cost and value trends towards zero. That is a problem for people trying to write their opinions for a living. I've recently read a lament about professional game reviewers, whose hourly pay is less than minimum wages if you consider both the time spent playing games and writing about them. That comes to no surprise to an economist, as there are obviously enough people around who are willing to perform the same work for free (and sometimes produce better reviews in the process).

But that doesn't mean that there is no future in being paid for creating content. It only means you can't get paid for creating content which isn't better than what any amateur is already creating. If you create content like Minecraft, you can still get paid millions. Lots of authors, musicians, and other content creators are still getting paid, and some of them rather well. That it is hard to make money with journalism is very much related to the fact that professional journalism is so hard to distinguish from amateur journalism, quality-wise. If gamers rather read blogs to hear whether a new game is any good than to buy a print magazine, it is because they feel they wouldn't get a better value (or more honest opinion) out of the professional games magazine. Where Tadhg is right is that this resembles the Free2Play business model: Free2Play games that aren't much good end up a financial failure as well. If a content creator has problems making a lot of money, he has to ask himself whether he is actually creating any added value.

Comments:
I think of your blog like a column in a newspaper...and like many these days that's how I use the internet. Like a newspaper a smarter way to monetize your content would be with advertising. Or, if you joined with KiaSA, K&G, Broken Toys...if the 20 best gaming bloggers got together I would subscribe to that content like a magazine.

The majority of the internet is so fragmented it becomes hard to find a business model to generate income from it. If it makes you feel better, I haven't sent The New York Times a dime and I visit them many times a day.

It seems the ways we've found to monetize or create business models for content haven't kept up with the internet's ability to generate new ways to create or delivery it. The money will catch up, it always does.
 
Tobold promised me a sparkly commenter's name.
 
The problem with paid games journalism is that the new trusted source of reviews is other users.

Sites like Rock Paper Shotgun get good traffic not because they write reviews but because they have a good pipeline into games under development and they write a lot of previews.

Normal users don't get access to unfinished games, so RPS is able to deliver something to gamers they can't get from other gamers -- previews. I would bet that if RPS focused only on reviewing their traffic would drop considerably.

I enjoy your take on MMOs, Tobold, because you're an interesting writer. However, I wouldn't buy a magazine to get your writing. I value it enough to spend my time reading it now and then, but not enough to pay money for it. There are other free sources for MMO thoughts out there.
 
This is only true if you treat everything like a commodity. I don't know of anyone that does.

I value some opinions more than I value others. Newspapers from respected journalists are much more valuable than random blogs on the internet, although obviously free blogs from respected journalists are also more valuable than newspapers that cost something.

By that same note, "video games" are not a commodity. Certainly indie games can cut into the profit margin of big production games, but until they can replicate the results exactly, they occupy a different market.

It just seems incredibly silly to treat all content as universally replaceable by any other content.
 
Any market in which you can choose from a million works (such as ebooks, iPhone apps, albums, etc) is one where standing out is vastly harder than it used to be.

I read that as "it's harder for mediocre makers to stand out."

Ever watch Zero Punctuation game reviews? Professional game reviewer, likely makes a living releasing one review a week. Or if you want a more amateur example, look at the Epic Meal Time guys on Youtube. It's pretty clear that they "sold out," which indicates they have achieved enough notoriety to be in the position to sell something.

What I will grant is that it is difficult for even amazing products (games, reviewers, etc) to rise above the layers of filth sometimes, but that is more of an issue with the way content is curated. And honestly, if it is that important to a "maker," they should seek a sponsorship until they get the brand recognition to work independently, assuming the viral route does not work.
 
I'm under the impression that many are happy to offer content without being paid by their readers/consumers. Economists reply "without payment the quality of content will go down". But other motivations may work just as well. Wikipedia: created by people just so they can offer their insight to others.

The challenge for those that want to earn money is to be paranoid about what exactly will make whom exactly pay:

- I pay for a newspaper because searching for all this content over the internet would take too long and because the free newspapers don't offer me good enough quality;

- Skype used to finance itself by demanding payments from headset producers so they could sell with a skype-label;

- I never paid for a google search (and boy I would).

Tobold: sparkling commenter's name? First I want my sparkling pony delivered!
 
I make over $400 USD a year from my gaming blog through ads. That's no better than your $17 if it were my job, but as extra money from a hobby I enjoy it's great.

Donate links don't work. And unless you NEED the money I don't know why sites bother with that ploy. If I'm going to give money it'll be to a nonprofit or political campaign, not a faceless writer on the Internet who can afford subscription based MMOs for himself and his wife =/
 
That's no better than your $17 if it were my job

Not $17, but 17 donations. Still less than your $400 though.
 
Thanks very much for the detailed reply to my post Tobold.

You said:

"Take for example this blog. There are thousands of people who like this blog enough to visit it repeatedly. They "decided they like my world", or my opinions, or the manner in which I write my opinions enough to check in regularly or add me to their newsreader. But very few of them are willing to pay for this content. I received a grand total of 17 "buy Tobold a coffee" donations this year. "

That would be the same as taking the free novel that I mentioned in the post and asking people to pay for it, like a tip jar.

It wouldn't work. Simply asking for tips for the thing you're already giving away screams desperation and isn't really free to play.

The point of the free product is that it's a stepping stone to a different, paid-for, product. So if you created a book based on the ideas in your blog and a whole lot more, and sold it, then it would sell.
 
Do you or any of your readers know enough about economics to understand whether eliminating barriers to entry produces a net benefit overall. Does the work of a million bedroom programmers outweigh the benefits of a much smaller number of high priced but very high quality games?
 
Great comment about the free content Tobold.

My favourite current affair news site in Australia has introduced a "subscription" model whereby I have to pay to read past the first 8 lines of an article.

So I have chosen not only to not pay, but to not visit the site.

Raising entry barriers after something is free is definetly not a money making idea.
 
Since you're talking about it, what do you personally think your blog articles are each worth in a US dollar amount?
 
So if you created a book based on the ideas in your blog and a whole lot more, and sold it, then it would sell.

My point was that this might work with content which by nature is more coherent, e.g. a series of novels in the same fantasy world. My blog entries do not that obviously form a coherent whole. You can start reading in the middle. And for most readers it would be easier to switch to another blog with similar ideas than to pay for extra content for mine.

what do you personally think your blog articles are each worth in a US dollar amount?

Economically speaking, $0. Because if I considered them to be worth more, I wouldn't give them away for free. Statistically speaking, each of my blog entries this year is worth about 50 cents, if I divide my annual earning by the number of annual posts.

In a more nuanced view the worth of my blog entries is different for each reader. If I get somebody to think about an issue, or to understand a problem, that has "some" value. How much that value is in dollar terms depends both on how much the reader enjoys the post, and how much money he has. $1 is not worth the same to different people.
 
The problem isn't new. Housewifes have forever been struggling to receive a 'just' compensation for their efforts.

Our market system doesn't reward people in a just way but only balances supply and demand via a price. This has a lot of advantages. But it also has one disadvantage: The reward is not connected to things like 'morale'.

If you want to make a living by writing you have slightly better chances than getting rich by cleaning toilettes. Both are essential and stressful jobs. But since everybody can do it, the supply is extremely high compared to demand. If you were the only guy on the plamnet who is able to clean a toilette, you'd make millions!

This is, by the way, a main difference between the left and right side of the political spectrum. The right thinks that money is a justification. In their world, if you make lots of money you earned it morally.
The left considers balancing of supply and demand via a price a necessary evil. And they know that there is often no connection between making lots of money and a just reward.
 
Do you or any of your readers know enough about economics to understand whether eliminating barriers to entry produces a net benefit overall. Does the work of a million bedroom programmers outweigh the benefits of a much smaller number of high priced but very high quality games?

I think the standard economic thinking on that is that normally the million bedroom programmers can coexist with the smaller number of high priced but very high quality games. At that point there is a net benefit, because you have the price differentiation: People willing and able to pay for the high quality can still get it, while people unwilling or unable to pay get more than nothing.
 
The reason you made so little money has nothing to do with how much people would pay to read your blog - it is a matter of marketing and accesibility.

Just putting a little box in the corner does not motivate anyone to do so.

For example I would most certainly pay a say a cent per blog post that I read - and that multiplied by readers and posts would add up to substantially more for you. The problem is that there is no easy way for me to transfer a few cents from my account to yours.

I started my morning with a banana walnut bread and coffee both ran at $4.20 as I sit down to reading your blog I would not mind at all if you charged me another 5 cents.

This entire medium is still at its infancy - ads are really the way to pay someone small amounts of money, but I am convinced that micropayments (really-really micro) when implemented right will revolutionize content creation and distribution via the internet.
 
In my very long experience as a music fan I'd say that much of the best music I've ever heard has been from unsigned bands or artists, or those who have issued material only on self-funded labels. I have every confidence that were all remuneration of any kind to be removed entirely from all of the creative arts, top quality work would continue to be produced.

What we'd lose would be the vast quantity of product produced for reasons other than creator's pure need to create. And good riddance.

The problem of how to find the stuff that matches your own personal taste would remain, however.
 
If all the MMO blogs I read (twenty or so blogs) suddenly decided to merge and produce the same amount of content under a new brand for money, I'd most probably end up paying until the level of contact would in some way enrage me :)
If these were to spl into two groups both demanding money, I'd probably choose the better one, based on the frequency I read the blogs in the group.
If every author would want money for their blog alone, I can't see myself paying for it.

The content of a single blog would have to have a ridiculously low price, that would have to extend over a long time period for me to pay for it. A union of blogs forming a MMO magazine would be awesome, and I'd want to support it.
 
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