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The money thing

Post #768 • April 5, 2006, 11:25 AM • 20 Comments

Jide, yesterday, thinking about the upcoming panel:

Can running a weblog provide any financial benefits to spending time in front of a computer writing about art (artists, galleries, museums, collectors, curators, webloggers, etc.) instead of getting paid doing other things for that income? That's an important question for me. This ain't no hobby. This is a passion, one that had waned in the face of mid-twentieth century racism, but continues in spite of past events. But, I like to cook and eat dinner in a comfortable setting. That doesn't require servants. It doesn't require imported beverages. It doesn't require exotic cuisine. It does require some monetary transaction to take place and if one thing that has become extremely clear is that people want a lot for free. Well, everything in this world has something to trade off and, and everything has value of some kind. ...a non-art person said that Miami Art Exchange was undervaluing its presence. ... If my service to this community, personal and public, is worth it, more than a pat on the back will sustain this project and the effort it requires to continue.

My reply, which ballooned to porportions unbecoming a comment in somebody's thread:

I've been looking at revenue models for Artblog.net and they all stink in some way. Furthermore, none of them will make anyone rich. Jason Kottke recently announced that his microsubscription model broke even, and kottke.org gets a lot more traffic than you and me. You may deserve compensation for your efforts, but I expect to get information for free, and so does every other user of the internet. Paul Krugman, John Tierny, and Thomas Friedman went behind the premium wall at nytimes.com, and I decided that I would live without them. The NYT has costs just like you and me, and has every right to ask me to bear some of them. I don't, because I'll find some adequate replacements for those writers or someone will cache their work elsewhere on the web.

That essentially leaves advertising and swag. Subscription models don't work well without the swag, as your local public radio station already knows when it sends you a coffee mug with your membership. Advertising carries with it a shiny set of hardcase baggage loaded with ethical and logistical concrete, and swag could as easily lose money as make it. That's just life among the grown-ups, I guess.

The non-art person who said that MAEx is undervaluing its presence spoke kindly, but if we're talking strictly about its monetary value, remember that we deal in information. Information is worth what people will pay for it. I recommend low expectations regarding the community's willingness, up front, to translate gratitude into remuneration. It hurt to walk away from the Miami Art Exchange site after starting the damn thing and putting fourteen months of my life into it, but I saw what was happening - people felt glad about its existence, but not glad enough to support it either with content or cash. Blogging, which I began doing afterwards in 2002, constituted a salary increase of sorts. I still wasn't making any money, but I shed my responsibilities to the community project and my workload dropped, so the intangible and indirect benefits didn't have as many opportunity costs.

Now, like you, I'd like to see if I can make some tangible, direct benefits happen with Artblog.net. Step one: move closer to the center of the art world and report from Boston, NYC, Philly, DC, and thereabouts, which will bring in more readers and give me more content to work with than if I report from Miami every week. Step two: swag, or swag plus some premium user perks that still leave all the content and participatory mechanisms available for free. As an artist, I can make really good swag. Step three, which makes me cringe so vigorously it may never happen: advertising - text-only, cherry-picked, and few in number, if at all. Underlying these steps, I'm nurturing my art career, because that's what I do, and I'll need the income. I strive to push the quality of the writing so that it can go up against any writing by anyone on any topic. I've redesigned for cleanliness and clarity, and will work to squash the remaining design bugs. I'm going to develop the code until it validates, deflects bullets, serves content in five flavors, and washes your socks for you. All of this together gives me slightly more than 50% surety that it will become a viable livelihood.

The bottom line, if you'll excuse me: nobody owes the bloggers anything, at least nothing we can pay the rent with. We're deluding ourselves if we think otherwise. I don't even feel like I owe the New York Times anything. No one except the pornographers have generated a reliable business model for content provision in the digital age. We have two options: to whup ass at this at unprecedented levels of asswhuppery, or do it for free.

Comment

1.

KH

April 5, 2006, 12:10 PM

I was really glad that Jide posted this. It made me realize that I've been conveniently ignoring the money issue--not because I have a ton of it, but actually because I have none of it! TNFH is kind of a refuge for me right now from those concerns, and sure, it's a refuge I pay for, but it's absolutely worth every penny/second. If I can use it to help anyone else out, so much the better.

The struggle to earn a living is a total bitch, and people in the arts have a particularly nasty hazing period, which seems unending except in a very few cases.

I don't intend to ever associate TNFH with adverstising or subscriptions or whatnot, but I admit that it has already brought me some opportunities (paying, even) I would not otherwise have had. Maybe if I keep plugging along at it, more will come. In any case, it has made my world larger in many ways.

2.

whynot

April 5, 2006, 1:46 PM

Why not start by having a link that will donate $1 via paypal. Something like "If you liked this post - Donote". I am not suggesting that this will keep the rice on your plate, but every little bit helps.

3.

whynot

April 5, 2006, 1:48 PM

douh! that should be Donate in the quotes.

4.

Franklin

April 5, 2006, 2:20 PM

Or maybe just "Doughnut." I'd be happy with doughnuts.

I too have had a lot of opportunities come up from the blog and I said for years that I wasn't going to try to generate any income from it other than that. But now that I've retired from teaching ("retired from" sounds a lot classier than "quit"), I'm thinking, well, why not, as long as the quality doesn't suffer? As the MSM and non-MSM blend it may become unnecessary to use the blog as a loss leader for published writing. They could both provide revenue. In fact, even the MSM print media might be moving to a individual-driven model in imitation of TV, as you can see from the publicity that the NYT gives to, say, Nicholas Kristof. You may stop going to the paper for its own sake, but to read particular writers, like you would follow players on a sports team, with analogous implications about revenue streams.

5.

George

April 5, 2006, 3:52 PM

OT Franklin
this just hangs up my computer.
http://blogburst.com/Public/ValidationScript.aspx

bye till it's fixed

6.

Franklin

April 5, 2006, 3:59 PM

Thanks for letting me know, George. It's fixed.

7.

msquoted

April 5, 2006, 4:23 PM

or find a sugar mamma/daddy or the lottery or both.

8.

oldpro

April 5, 2006, 4:58 PM

Advertising is far and away the best solution. People will put up with advertising. Subscriptions discourage them.

9.

George

April 5, 2006, 6:01 PM

I agree with OP, Ads are ok. Subscriptions not.

So if you have ads you need site traffic to make any real money.
Hint: MySpace.com is #5 in hits and hasn't been around that long.

10.

George

April 5, 2006, 6:14 PM

Brain Strumming

Thinking out loud for a minute.
What does the audience want? Better reviews?

What the audience wants is contact, contact with other artists, or collectors or ….

They want something like the old "Cypress Bar" here in the 50"s
A place where they can drop in and find someone they know. Have a chat, discuss and argue over some artist or particular idea.

You could have "tables", threads with different philosophical bents so individuals could chase an idea down.

All participants (posters) would have to be members, with a member ID page, one per email address.

Modest moderating.

11.

Marc Country

April 5, 2006, 8:16 PM

I don't know if you consider "corporate sponsorship" the same as advertising, but it might be another option... it currently seems to work pretty well for galleries, museums, and other institutions.

Some small sponsor logos would be so much more tasteful than full blown, garish, advertising.

Whatever pays the bills though, I suppose.

12.

Hans

April 5, 2006, 9:00 PM

The value is the attention you get. Maybe to combine the artblog with another model of income, like f.e. guided studiovisits for people interested in art, wich have not the close connections to artists, and not the smart insights you have. Your blog could easily promote f.e. the SATERDAY NIGHT STUDIOVISIT, with 2 different artists, and a hangout in some cool bars afterwards. Probably there are folks (teachers etc.) who will pay for this exitement 59 or 69 or 79 or 89$. You combine all your skills (because you have been a teacher too, you are an artist and a great mediator of art issues). Or organizing special art travels of f.e. 7days to New York,Paris,Berlin,Tbilisi!! under your organization and guidance.
My blog on the Caucasus promotes my travel business too, although there are still not very much bloggers in Germany. Best regards.

13.

gigi

April 5, 2006, 9:33 PM

Great ideas, Hans!
What about some art tutorials that people could download?
Or, if some artist wants specific information regarding some issue, maybe a
personal discussion between the two of you could be arranged AFTER you
receive a check.
What about an "emergency art department," e.g., if someone needed "emergency
advice" they could contact you???
Art hot line?

Or, like Oldpro said, advertising is better than subscription. Most artists are broke.
Broke, but maybe desperate enough to pay once or twice for an art hot line service.

Just a few ideas.

14.

Franklin

April 5, 2006, 10:33 PM

Happily, the sugar momma model is out.

I really like the Artblog.net Tours idea. Tbilisi, here we come! Or Italy. I could totally do Italy.

Gigi - we could do a 900 number. $3.99/minute gets you unflinching advice, a shot in the arm, the cure for what ails your art. Actually, I do want to do some tutorials, but I was planning on making them free too, so, oh well...

George's "tables" idea is excellent, and would be the point of registration - an optional thing that would allow you to create an account for those kinds of long-term or self-generated discussions. I wouldn't do registration to close off content - I think the premium content model a la the NYT is a bad idea.

15.

George

April 5, 2006, 10:53 PM

Franklin, Yes the idea of registration allows a commentor to have a stable identity (alias), In addition, it could provide other additional info somewhat like Blogger profiles. The idea is that visitors would know who they are talking to, which is a critical element of any serious discussion.

I did not mean content registration, or the need to register to read any postings, only for the discussion groups. I've been watching PainterNYC.blogspot.com for several months. Most if it is a mish mash, but the underlying tone I am picking up is that people wish they could really have a deeper discussion. The format is not quite right for this but it could be done using an approach more like what's found here.

I started a physical group like this, we met weekly and drank, and talked. I was surprised by how much interest there was for it and I think the same situation exists today.

The idea of "tables" would allow functionality in spite of strong differences of opinion.

If you think about how many artists there are scattered across the country/world who might just be looking for a little contact, a way to plug their practice (BTW real artists don't practice, they play) discuss various topics etc with people anywhere. I know from actual experience that semi moderated discussion group(s) can be quite successful. (registration to comment is what I mean by semi-moderation, it cuts down the noise)

16.

Hans

April 6, 2006, 6:21 PM

You should consider to publish your best posts with the edited comments and lots of images and paintings as a book !!!

17.

Marc Country

April 6, 2006, 10:03 PM

I've thought some of these threads would make an interesting script for a stage play... instead of a blog, all this 'dialogue' could be occuring between people at an art gallery.
Artblog on Broadway...think about it.

18.

Jack

April 6, 2006, 10:16 PM

Marc, please, control yourself. Next we'll be having an Artblog reality show.

19.

oldpro

April 6, 2006, 11:10 PM

Good idea, Jack.

Where are those contestants of yesteryear, anyway?

20.

Hans

April 13, 2006, 2:11 PM

Hi Franklin,

I just found an example for possible thematic tours, just to compare or to think, how could that easily changed into any other topic of guided short travel:

Its at the German Weekly DIE ZEIT (Time) and they organize regulary so called Zeit Reisen (Time Travels) and this one is a 3day trip with the name:
DESIGN MAY (DESIGN in BERLIN)
see the intineary here: http://tinyurl.com/f8rph

The transfer to Berlin is not included, thus everybody goes there individually

3 Nights in a "hip" Design Hotel

1.day
attendance at the NEW BERLIN FILM AWARD and afterwards festival party

2.day
Special city tour on the topics Design Fashion Photography
-visiting studios and showrooms of young designers
-visiting a forum of contemp. Berlin photography
- "Get-together" in a lounge with champagne, guests may meet and talk to designers and vice versa
- Visit of a hip Restaurant

3.day
-Attendance of festival DESIGN MAY
-free time in the Afternoon
- Evening: "GASTRO RALLYE"- visit of 4 hip restaurants and bars

-surprise
Visit a "sort of secret" top location bar

Price per Person: 590.00 EUR what is appr. USD 708.00

Groupsize here: minimal 10 and max. 20 persons

This example of ZeitReisen is close to what I wanted to think about in that comment. Best regards, Hans

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