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.