This post was inspired by Niall Doherty, who this morning announced a paid subscription option on his blog. Also inspired by meeting with and talking to quite a few people who make most of their money online, and the ongoing debate of free, freemium and paid blogs. To help us walk the tightrope that is earning an income online, staying authentic, scalability, marketing versus writing and the value of an online audience I’ll be using three case studies.
The unsuspecting victims are in no particular order: Raam Dev1, Niall Doherty2 and Earl Baron3, with a special guest appearance towards the end to keep you in suspense. I’m jumping the gun by writing this post and firing the first shot at those who may raise an eyebrow when a blog or any service they’ve been receiving for free turns into a paid subscription, for use of a better buzzword – “Selling out”.
This post is for the freemiums, the free, the cheapskates, leechers, moochers, arse kissers and tag-along-for-free-fanboys.
Raam Dev is a permanent nomad, philosopher and thinker. I met him earlier this year at Daytona Beach in Florida. There’s nothing that’ll give you a severe case of minimal packing anxiety than meeting someone carrying a small backpack containing all their belongings. If you’ve not read any of Raam’s work I’d suggest starting at part one of his Income Ethics Series.4
Earl Baron has been travelling continuously for the past decade and is out to prove that a life of travel is a genuine lifestyle choice available for anyone. Normal travel folk recommend you venture to Thailand to try the mango sticky rice in Chiang Mai; after meeting with Earl he suggested I visit Iraqi Kurdistan. I can confirm that although I stayed on the Turkish side of the border, it was lovely this time of year. Thanks Earl.
Niall Doherty wages war on thoughtless living, has a personal development style blog he runs while travelling overland around the world from Ireland. I’m yet to meet Niall but hopefully will in India later this year. He may (or may not have) caused a small online riot this morning by announcing a paid subscription on his blog.
I am going to use our case studies in this post to look at the economics and scalability of blogging, authenticity and building a social media presence.
The opinions and cynicism in this post are my own, none of the unsuspecting case studies had a say; the poor basterds.
To successfully earn an income online you have to be able to either have tangible skills that can be provided as a service, be able to market yourself or those skills, be able to write well, have a story to tell or a combination of all of these. To be more successful online, and for the purpose of the exercise let’s define success as making the most money from your endeavours, it would seem that marketing should be the skill that you fine tune and execute well.
I feel that our case studies lack that scheming marketing element; and while I wish them all the success in the world which will eventually come their way via an authentic, organic engaged audience, a tip of the cap that they forgoe the instant bank balance top-up of a 72 hour sale, an eBook pre-launch launch, a 24 hour pre-launch and then the final painfully drawn out launch.
When Freemium moves to Premium
The deep thinker, traveller, philosopher, blogger etc. can only write for so long for free. 10,000 twitter followers or blog subscribers might seem great, but as I’ll explain later they won’t necessarily put food on the table. Without a product to hawk or a paid subscription model, blogging exists as nothing but an unproductive time sapping broadcasting hobby. Being on an adventure, having something to say, writing the idea down, editing, formatting, video post, publishing, all time consuming.
Let’s break-down the cost of blogging using our beloved Irish pal as an example:
Niall blogs at Disrupting the Rabblement (DtR), as previously mentioned he’s introducing a paid subscription but will still publish one post per week for free, and all previous blog posts will remain available on his site.
At the time of writing this post, DtR has 2,191 twitter followers, 2,060 email subscribers and 850 fans on Facebook. For the sake of simplicity we’ll assume the twitter followers are the same people as the email subscribers. My friendly google reader tells me that Niall posts 2.1 times per week. If you’ve not read or watched any of his posts, they’re usually quite lengthy, well written, thought provoking and contain a video.
The latest post on DtR is around 750 words but from memory I think the posts are sometimes a lot larger. I know after writing two posts a week you’d assume someone would become quite proficient, but I think allowing 4-5 hours of writing, editing, shooting the video, editing the video and publishing is fair.
A Bit of Maths, Hang in There…
Time for some simple maths. Now, our pal Niall makes his money online via website design and I’ll add that he’s quite good at it!5 For the purpose of the exercise, I’m going to use a very thrifty rate of $50 per hour.
277 articles in total on DtR, 5 hours to produce each blog post, $50 per hour that he could have been web designing. 277 x 5 x 50 = $69,250.
In the above calculation I’ve ignored time spent on twitter, curating a Facebook fan page, or a google+ page, replying to blog comments, commenting on other blogs etc. Simply because I’m a bit startled and don’t want to see the total exceed $100,000.
This gets interesting to look at the number of blog subscribers (a blog which you’ve been able to subscribe to for free); $69,250 / 2,060 subscribers = $33.60 per subscriber. So instead of asking you to pay to subscribe to his blog from the get-go, it’s cost Niall in time and resources $34 per subscriber to share his journey with you, the freemium reader.
My point here is that when an authentic online writer/blogger offers a paid subscription option or a paid product, there’s usually a small riot that ensues. Several online writers/bloggers have felt the need to justify implementing a paid option; we live in a welfare mentality world where we become accustomed to receiving things for free. So now there’s a paid option for a blog that we’ve been enjoying for free for the last year, the nerve!
I’m not finished waging war! You can read part 2 of Waging War on Cheapskate Audiences here. You can follow me on twitter here or check out my 365 Photo Project as I travel the world this year over here.
- Raam Dev makes me think and his writing challenges me, you can read more at http://www.raamdev.com ↩
- Niall Doherty wages war on thoughtless living, as he travels overland and blogs at http://www.ndoherty.com ↩
- Earl has been travelling the world for a decade and is still going strong, he writes about his adventures at http://www.wanderingearl.com ↩
- Raam Dev’s Income Ethics Series. ↩
- If you haven’t already, swing by my new online home at http://andrewcaldwell.info which Niall coded for me. ↩