Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Been following with interest the discussion on charging readers for personal poetry blog access. There's nothing wrong with trying to earn money/make a living off one's writing, one's art. If one can find willing customers, why not?

Of course, I don't consider a poet making her blog (either partially or fully) subscription-based to be feasible. While I don't doubt a handful of readers will pay, I don't think the numbers would make it worthwhile. Especially not for $6/year. You'd likely make more money keeping the traffic higher and doing Google AdSense. Or keeping the traffic higher and hope the exposure your blog brings will result in (albeit slightly) higher book and journal sales.

The problem is twofold. One, there are hundreds (more?) of poetry blogs. Yes, not all poetry blogs are created equal, not all enjoy the same number of readers, but there's a lot of options, even for the most discerning reader -- and these options are constantly expanding with more poets getting into the mix. A few of my favorite blogs have closed shop over the years, and yes I do miss them, but my blog-reading time easily and quickly transitioned to other blogs.

Online magazines like Slate and Salon come to mind. They implemented free-based subscriptions in varying ways to little success. They implemented subscriptions after they were established for several years and had a steady, large readership. I'm sure their business folks estimated what percentage of their readership they needed to subscribe to be viable. They must have thought it was realistic since they went through with it. Turns out it wasn't so realistic -- they never got the paying subscriber base they anticipated. Yes, their readers liked their content, enough to visit on a regular basis -- but not enough to pay. They could find other ways to pass their time online elsewhere and for free.

So the question is what type of content inspires people to pay money for an online subscription? The obvious answer is, of course, porn. Seriously, porn sites have a lot of subscribers. So do gambling sites.

OK, so aside from vice, what are people willing to pay for?

Well, it turns out a lot of people are willing to pay for the Wall Street Journal. These days they offer both free and subscriber content, but when they started out it was mostly (all?) paid-subscriber. People pay for a subscription because the WSJ provides information they believe they need, such as business and stock updates and analysis. There are literary industry websites, like Publishers Weekly Virtual Edition (for $180/yr) that certain professionals (like agents and publishers) gladly pay for.

This can be applied to what kinds of poetry (related) books sell the most. How-tos and directories. How many Poets Markets sell every year? I don't know, but thousands I'm sure. Compare the subscriber rates of Poets and Writers or Writers' Digest to say the Paris Review or American Poetry Review. How many people spend hundreds of dollars a year for poetry contests, but only a fraction of that on poetry books and journal subscriptions? Or beer instead of books? A whole bunch of poets.

In addition to the massive "competition" with other personal poetry blogs that are free, the second reason I don't see a personal poetry blog subscription garnering very many subscriptions is because people tend to pay for what personally gratifies them and what they perceive as helping/needing to achieve their own goals. People might pay to subscribe to a poetry blog that in some way helped them (with specific information or a service) or perhaps one that promised constant and very unique titillation that they couldn't get for free. It may not be the finest reflection on human tendencies, but it's what I've observed. Take it from me, I'm a gnarly, grizzled 35 year old. I've seen bunches.

Deep down I hope I'm shown to be totally and completely WRONG. Please somebody prove me wrong. I could use a much sunnier disposition these days.


At 11:09 PM, Blogger C. Dale said...

You have been paying for my blog for years! You just didn't realize it...

At 7:18 PM, Blogger Clare said...

Another way you can make money online from your writing is to enter the Bookhabit Unpublished Competition.There is a US$5000 prize for the winning book. The competition is free to enter and open to unpublished books, of any genre, with a minimum of 50,000 words. 6 winners are chosen every week until 11 May. It’s not quite your normal writing competition, so check it out. Good luck! Clare

At 1:11 PM, Blogger realitywrites said...

I really like the "teaser" content on online journals/online versions of print journals. For example, The Georgia Review shows a few poems, but you have to pay to see the rest (and get the print journal). I don't always go to bookstores before buying a book, so it's nice to be able to virtually flip through a journal or book before buying it. I purchased a subscription to The Atlantic after getting half way through an article they had online. The last few pages of the article were not free. I browsed a couple other free stories and poems on the site and realized the magazine (and the web version of it) was worth a paid subscription.

At 11:03 PM, Blogger JimK said...

Other poets are usually poor.
Need a committee to find people
with money.

At 2:20 PM, Blogger Collin said...

If Jessica can get folks to sign up for a subscription to her blog, them more power to her.

Maybe there needs to be some kind of poetry nudie mag. You know, you can read their poem for free, but you have to pay $15 a minute to see their x-rated photos and videos.


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