Information wants to be free. Writers want to be paid.

th6 Information wants to be free. Writers want to be paid.A post on my daughter’s website might get under some writers’ skins. Not mine – and not just because she’s my daughter.

Why I refuse to have a donate button” helped me clarify something that’s been twigging me lately: the proliferation of “please pay me” buttons on personal websites.

Newspapers and other sites are experimenting with paywalls to recoup at least some of the costs associated with professional writing (and, presumably, professional standards). So why not bloggers?

To my daughter, at least, the pay-to-read mentality comes across “as either grandiose (let’s face it, none of us is the NYT) or greedy.”

“Asking readers for money just seems crass,” Abby writes. In part that’s because she associates pay-me buttons with paid content, aka “sponsored posts,” aka “stuff some company pays you to run.” While she acknowledges that not everyone would feel this way, Abby says she’s less likely to return to a blog with a donate button unless “there is a good reason why the person actually needs help.”

To some extent I can see the purpose of a button: It’s like paying for a magazine subscription. Sites that put out great stuff have writers who put great effort into the posts.

Lots of sites don’t.

In fact, I can recall donating to only one such site, a fascinating time-suck called Captain Awkward. (“Advice. Staircase wit. Faux pas. Movies.”) At the time, the writer was in serious need of a new laptop and yeah, her advice is great: thoughtful, well-crafted and often incredibly funny when it isn’t being incredibly painful and incredibly insightful. Often it’s all three simultaneously.

I like reading the stuff. So I donated a small amount – I think it was $20 – so that I could keep reading it. Or, rather, to make it easier for her to continue providing it.

Another way to help

Please note: I am not saying that some people have a hell of a nerve asking to be paid because their work stinks. I’m saying it makes me uncomfortable. Fortunately, there’s an antidote to that discomfort: eschewing a donate button of my own.

Like Captain Awkward and so many others, I write because it’s in me to write. I am delighted when readers turn posts into conversations. But while this love gives me such a thrill, it don’t pay my bills.

That said, there’s another way to support writers you enjoy reading. It’s called shopping.

If you need something from Amazon and you clicked on the top of the widget on this page, you’d be taken there to buy what you need – and I’ll get a tiny kickback.

If you’re looking for an offbeat gift for an offbeat friend, by all means choose the Salvador Dali watch (with his mustache as the minute and hour hands — hilarious, amirite?) from the Mental Floss ad on my site.

Want to take a trip? Book through the CheapOair ad, located under the “Sponsors” grouping.

And so on.

Of course, you don’t have to do that. As I’ve noted, people don’t come here to shop. They come here to read. Besides, I’m always talking about how to save money, so is it any wonder that the folks who come to learn that will take the lessons to heart?

Why we do it

And of course, I don’t have to do this site. No one forces bloggers to write. We do it because we like doing it.

But it takes time. It takes reflection and, often, research. It takes energy. What we put into our blogs does affect our day jobs and/or the rest of our lives.

There’s no shame in wanting to make a little profit on a side hustle. Earning money for writing means being able to declare things like Internet costs and those weekly giveaways as business expenses. If nothing else, it means feeling OK about a strategic pizza every so often, since not having to cook means some free time to be spent writing things we think are worthy of putting in front of a reader’s eyes.

The current line of thinking is that “information wants to be free.” But you know what? Writers want to be paid, one way or another.

Readers: Do those “donate” buttons bug you, or did you never even notice them?

Related reading:


46 Comments

  1. “none of us is the NYT” that sentence made me chuckle, it should read none of us are the NYT.

    “If you need something from Amazon and you clicked on the top of the widget on this page, you’d be taken there to buy what you need – and I’ll get a tiny kickback.”

    How is this any different? If they used smile.amazon.com they’d be giving to charity. If they used a cash back portal they’d receive a rebate.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a donate button or a shopping portal, but to not acknowledge them as the same thing is ridiculous.

    • Donna Freedman

      “None of us is” and “none of us are” seem both to be correct, as odd as that sounds:
      http://motivatedgrammar.wordpress.com/2009/01/08/none-is-none-are-grammar-according-to-clarkson/

      As for the donate button vs. the ads, perhaps there is no difference. But seeing the “donate” displayed makes me uncomfortable.

      • And if you want to be more pedantic, it’s none is, not none are. None is singular and you’re supposed to ignore the (of us) part. The other usage is only correct because so many people used it incorrectly that language morphed, as it tends to do, linguists being all-inclusive hippies instead of gate-keepers.

      • Actually you are using the verb on the noun None. None is or None are?

        • Donna Freedman

          None is. Similar to “everyone should be on his best behavior” — although these days people insist on saying “their best behavior.”

    • CheapNLazy

      As a reader/recipient, I don’t/won’t buy items being pushed (girl scout cookies, magazines…), because it’s not something I need/want and doesn’t support my values of thrift and anti-consumerism.

      However I do consider donating money (100% of smaller amount) directly to the cause IF it’s worthwhile (supports my values and truly needed) and I can truly afford it.

      I do not fault the requesters’ methods; I can just choose to say “No thank you” and perhaps “But here’s a direct donation to your cause”.

      As a past (& future?) writer/blogger, I would place both the donate button and relevant ads that support the content, blog and my values. It’s the irrevelant random ads that makes me uncomfortable as a writer.

      • Donna Freedman

        Ditto on the purchases. I’d rather just give them $3 toward their cause than pay $5 for cards or wrapping paper.

      • Tina in NJ

        I will buy Girl Scout cookies, though. Love those Thin Mints! (Yes, I know I can buy Grasshoppers at the store, but that’s like buying out of season fruit.)

        • Donna Freedman

          “Out of season fruit” — ha! Love it.
          Have you tried the Dreyer’s Thin Mint Cookie ice cream? [[drools slightly]] Believe it’s available seasonally, i.e., during and near cookie time, but maybe they’ve expanded it.

    • Yeah, I was taught that the grammatically correct way is “none of us is.”
      As in, “none” is technically a shortened “not one” that’s been colloquialized in this case into “none”. So “Not one of us is the NYT” means that nary a single person, and the singular verb form would be “is.”

      Blame my mom for being aggressive about grammar. I still get a twinge every time I use “they” instead of “his or her” simply to cut down on sentence length.

  2. This is an interesting topic. When I started my blog, I contemplated adding a donate button on my blog for 2 reasons; I spend a lot of time working on my blog without income from another source, and our one income stream has been greatly diminished as of late. In the end, though, I decided that there are people out there who are struggling much more than we are. Also, I write because I love to write and because I want to encourage others. For these reasons, I chose not to have a donate button. Thanks for the post!

  3. Christine P

    Donate buttons don’t offend me in the least. If you want to support a blogger who you feel has helped you, i.e. return the favor, it’s an easy way to do it. You might not take the initiative to email and say, I want to send you something- and you also don’t want to look stalker-ish– I think this is a handy way for readers to do something they truly have an inclination to do. If you don’t sell information products or books on your site, how is a fan supposed to support you?? What if I don’t really order from Amazon?

    Many people want to reciprocate, pay it forward, be generous. There is nothing noble about giving and not receiving. It’s an exchange that requires two, right? So make it easy on people.

    • Donna Freedman

      Interesting viewpoint. I did want to support Captain Awkward for the reasons noted in the piece. At the time, I don’t know if I noticed any ads; just now I looked and saw several that didn’t apply to me as a consumer/shopper.
      One way to support the writer is if s/he has an e-book or hard-copy book for sale. Then again, how many books does one person need? I have been known to buy several copies of books by people I know or just local writers and give them as gifts. But again, there comes an end to how many books you can buy.
      Still, there’s something about that “donate” button that bugs me.
      Thanks for your feedback.

  4. Donate buttons don’t bother me at all. The last time we polled our readers they said they’d prefer a donate button to ads.

  5. Tina in NJ

    Most blogs I read have ads, which are usually for stuff I don’t want. One website sells patterns to make purses and it has a “tip jar” button. That seems like a more accurate description to me.

  6. Catseye

    I never notice donate buttons these days. I’ve seen them in the past, but I thought the majority of bloggers made a profit through advertising widgets now.
    I have no problem with any of these options. After all, we live in a capitalist society. Unfortunately, love really doesn’t pay the bills! ;o)

    • Donna Freedman

      “Profit” is a strong word. Some make a ton of money through sponsored posts, brand spokesperson gigs and affiliate stuff. I don’t know how many make a lot from ads as such. In my own experience, ads don’t work very well — again, people come to read and not to buy.
      At some point it will shake down, I think. Those who love writing but find it’s taking waaaay too much out of their daily lives will fade away. Crystal, at Budgeting in the Fun Stuff, once mentioned this to me: That the people whose blogs succeed tend to be the ones who simply hang in there year after year.
      But “succeed” is a strong word, too. I will likely keep writing no matter what, but I won’t be able to make a living from this site. I’m not even making much money from it. Freelance writing is what pays the bills.
      Thanks for being such a consistent reader and commenter.

  7. I’m actually a big believer in writers and other creatives getting paid – if they want to be. It makes it possible for them to make more art that I can then enjoy.

    What kind of bugs me is the word “donate,” in this situation. Writers aren’t a charity. If they want to get paid by their readers, it’s OK to say so.

    If they want to make it optional to provide payment, so that everyone can enjoy their work regardless of means, that’s wonderfully gracious: the use of the word “donate” however, just grates on me. It conjures images of artists sitting on broken down, dirty cardboard boxes while holding out a tin cup. That makes me angry because the work they do is not just enjoyable, but important.

    A “tip jar” or “pay here if you want to” button seems more dignified.

    Oh, dear, how did I end up here on this soap box?! Whoops …

    That said, I’m also a big believer in people doing what works for them; it’s just that my discomfort for the donate button comes from a different place.

    • Donna Freedman

      This is similar to what I feel. Except that tip jars in real life tend to bug me, too….! (Edited to add: However, I do in fact put money in them when I think it’s warranted.)
      Thanks for helping me think this issue through.

      • It’s kind of a new frontier in etiquette, as well as capitalism, I guess. I have been trying to think about what word or short phrase I would not cringe at, and I’m coming up short. I mean, “tip jar” suggests a small payment for something especially good, but it also seems like it’s extra and unimportant. “Donate” is right out the door, but “pay-per-view” suggests that the writer expects payment. “Subscribe” works, dignity-wise, for me but the connotations are all wrong from a practical standpoint.

        hmmm…

        • Donna Freedman

          I feel the same way. Although we want to be paid, we don’t want it to sound like begging or vulgar commerce.
          Paywalls don’t seem to be working well for newspapers, because there are free alternatives. They may not be as good, as balanced or as accurate, but they are free. Ditto bloggers: Someone who’s putting out mediocre (or downright bad) articles for free will likely continue to get readers, whereas someone who asks for a subscription fee is getting very little action.
          New frontier, indeed.
          Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  8. Donna, as I recall, at one point in an earlier post, you mentioned that you’d had a hard time asking for what you were worth as a writer. Maybe this is just a teensy bit related to that?

    • Donna Freedman

      Interesting point. But in this case I think it’s a case of my being slow to adapt to what everyone else considers the new normal, like “donate” buttons or paid spokesperson gigs. A writer of my acquaintance sees nothing wrong with being paid to review a product. I’m talking at least $500 per post.
      Others would say I’m missing out on decent money, and they’d be right, but it’s just not for me.
      Each of us has to do what he or she is comfortable doing. I will do affiliate links (e.g., Swagbucks) but I won’t do paid reviews. Or a “donate” button, although I’m intrigued by the perspectives in the comments. For example, Nicoleandmaggie say their readers would prefer a pay-me button to looking at ads. Someone else suggested thinking of it as a “tip jar.”
      I guess the new normal will continue to develop. Stay tuned.

  9. Personally I agree that “donate” buttons turn me off. I “donate” to charity, I “buy” from businesses. If writers want to run a for profit business, then by all means go ahead, sell products or content to me, but don’t ask me to “donate” to your business.

    • Donna Freedman

      This conversation is getting really interesting. Instead of donate or even “tip jar,” maybe the button should say “pay per view.”

  10. Blogs are great. Donations are fine. I don’t always feel like unknown links to donate are safe though.
    And some blogs start out every page with a request for donations…well…I also like to write. Does that mean I should also give up my day job & post a donate button? Where do you draw the line between the person begging with a sign by the street corner either in shambles or a nice looking pair of jeans vs a blog with a please donate sign? I’m having trouble differentiating the begging/charity vs income way to think about this. I love your blog over the years and am by no means saying this of your blog but I’ve seen it on other blogs and I really wish I could figure out how to delete them from my blog feed! I guess I’m also trying to sort out my feelings on all of this on blogs…maybe I’m not savvy to how blogging works in terms of finance/income.

    • Donna Freedman

      I think bloggers are still trying to figure it out themselves. For a while you could make decent money but several Google algorithm changes later the folks who were raking it in and wondering whether to pack it in.
      If a blogger I read asked regularly for donations I think that like you I’d move on. And as another commenter points out, just having the “donate” button — ostensibly voluntary, right? — might start rubbing people the wrong way. (“I donated once this year. Should I keep giving money? Did I give enough the first time? Can I afford to give more?”) Ultimately this could turn some readers off from returning.
      I don’t know the answer myself. For now, no “donate” button. Probably never.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  11. Melissa F

    I don’t mind seeing donate buttons and have donated in the past. If people don’t like them, I would think they would just ignore them. I really can’t say it would deter me from coming back to the site. I realize the time and effort it takes to run a site and some people are appreciative of that and want to help in a small way if they are able. All in all, it’s a personal opinion and there are different strokes for different folks. There is no way to please everyone.

  12. I actually enjoy bloggers who say they make money if I click on a link they provided and do X Y Z. If I enjoy the content and need the product I would do it. I often forget to go back to the blogs I frequent and click on the ads they are toting around.

    I have donated to causes that include supporting bloggers. To me there is nothing wrong with supporting someone who is providing me information or entertainment. Plus, if the ask is really compelling such as one I donated to recently showed the cost of the servers I pitched in. The blogger did end up raising 100x more than what he was asking for but that shows the loyalty of his readerships.

  13. Aunt Leesie

    As I mentioned on Abby’s blog site, I don’t mind donate buttons or ads in the sidebars… so long as they aren’t the animated kind that slow down page loading. Sometimes I’ll click on an ad. Occasionally I’ll donate to a good cause. I’ve never seen it as a “must do”, and don’t feel guilty ignoring them. This is an interesting subject, though, because there are thousands upon thousands of blogs on the internet now. I have five or six I read every morning while sipping coffee. Half are from the UK. One is from Australia. It hasn’t seemed to me that any of the bloggers I regularly read are blogging as a main source of income. One blogger I follow writes books for an offshoot of Random House and you can order her books from a sidebar ad.

  14. Hi there! Since you linked to me, I’ll chime in.

    I feel zero shame about asking periodically for donations. It’s completely voluntary, the content will always be free to all who come, but the work I do writing posts, moderating the community, and curating thousands of letters behind the scenes is incredibly time-consuming. I run ads (also without shame), and soon I’ll sell swag once my designer finishes working on it (with zero shame). I was so grateful for the donations that allowed me to buy a computer and keep blogging, but I feel weirder about exposing personal financial circumstances and basing it on “need” like it’s charity than treating it like a twice-a-year voluntary subscription to a publication, like I have to be in a dire crisis to ask for anything. I think there is a classism in calling it “crass” or “greedy.” What I do isn’t a hobby, it’s work. And I’d personally much rather get support directly from fans, who often send fan-created art or really kind words along with their small gifts, in a way that pays me directly, than in tiny trickles from an affiliate marketing program like Amazon.

    I personally give to Kickstarters to support art and content that I like. I’ve been investigating a site called Patreon, started by Jack Conte of the band Pomplamoose, as a way to help fans support internet creators who produce work regularly (vs. a Kickstarter which is a big push for one particular project). Patreon’s model lets fans support artists by paying $1 per future post/song (you can set a total dollar amount limit so the person doesn’t immediately put out 1,000 posts), which is more of a subscription model. I’m also influenced by the book Fans, Friends, and Followers by Scott Kirchner and by Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work.

    I’ve had offers to have the blog hosted at other sites, who pay their writers, but it means that I would lose control of moderating the community and frankly it wouldn’t be as much money as my own ads + twice/yearly pledge drive. I’d rather keep my own little show on the internet, and if people want to support me, I’m very grateful, and if they can’t or don’t, I have no hard feelings. But I’d rather be “crass” and “greedy” than not have the revenue stream.

    Thanks for an interesting discussion!

    Respectfully,
    Jennifer

    • Donna Freedman

      I’m so happy that you headed over here, Jennifer. As noted in the piece, yours is the only site to which I’ve contributed and the writing contained therein is always, always thoughtful and well-written, and sometimes screamingly funny.
      So that’s why I’m conflicted: I do believe the writer is worthy of her hire, just not sure how to go about getting myself hired, so to speak. I have ads and some affiliate stuff but it makes relatively little money.
      I know — oh, how I know! — that writing is work. (Been making a living at it for 30 years now.) The better bloggers can’t keep giving it away for free. The Patreon site sounds interesting; here’s hoping it helps support those who work to produce good and thoughtful work.
      Re the classism aspect: My daughter is anything but classist, having lived below the poverty level for years due to a couple of disabilities. Fortunately she finally found a job that’s aggravating (customer service) but nonetheless a godsend because she can work from home at her own pace. Abby also has her own website in addition to working and putting out most financial fires (in a household of four adults she’s the only one with a job).
      She doesn’t think of writing as a hobby: It’s real work, and she wants to produce articles that matter. And of course she’d like to make some money at it. A “donate” button isn’t her style, but I will pass along the info you so kindly provided. Maybe it will benefit us both.
      For the record: I don’t think you’re either crass or greedy. I think you do great work and that’s why I punched your “donate” button, and probably will again.
      Thanks again for adding your voice to the discussion.

  15. I don’t think I’ve seen a blog with one before. However, when one blogger I read regularly talked about ways to make $, a reader suggested she add something like that, saying she enjoyed reading the blog way more than any magazine subscription.
    I don’t think I’d mind seeing a donate button, because they’re voluntary. Sort of like the theater that is “No charge. Voluntary donations only.” I think it’d be fine to have a caption of “Like what you’re reading? Support the writer”. However, if there were blog posts urging contributions, I’d stop reading the blog…too much like panhandling and I live in a big city where probably at least 10 people ask me for $ every day…I go online for a break from real life.
    Personally, I only pay for one online news subscription and when I click on a newspaper story somewhere else that requires a payment, I simply don’t get to read it — I don’t have the $.

    • Donna Freedman

      I’ve been thinking about everyone’s comments and yesterday the idea of a “support” button came to me. I don’t think I’ll do it any time soon, though.
      Thanks for weighing in. Thanks to all who have weighed in, in fact, since I’m getting all sorts of food for thought.

      • Also, although you printed that bloggers are “not the NYT”, I initially started reading your columns on MSN money because I recognized your name as a Chicago Tribune (past) writer. So…you are of the same caliber and I enjoy the quality of your writing. While I don’t have a Chicago Tribune digital subscription (I do subscribe to the paper Sunday edition), if I could pay a lesser amount (say $10 or $25/year) for just a subscription to my favorite Chicago Tribune columnist(s), I’d do it; if they had blogs that were subscription-only at that price point, I’d probably subscribe.

        • Donna Freedman

          Well, thanks for remembering me, and thanks for your kind words. Still not sure about a donate/support/whatever button. Perhaps my feelings will alter over the next few years.
          Oh, and thanks for reading me here, too.

  16. Christy

    A donate button on a website would not piss me off enough not to read your site or any site. I would just ignore the button and not donate if unless I chose to donate.

    However as a small business owner I can say that you choose your job(s) and level of involvement. So if writing is a hobby and you want to make some money at it blogging than all your affiliate links should be enough to “pay” you for the blogging. If they are not than a blogger needs to rethink how much time and effort blogging “makes” them and if they need to go back to a “real” paid job. Is the effort worth the gain or the drain? Either financially or in spirit.

    • Donna Freedman

      This. I don’t know of any studies, but personally I’d estimate that 95% or more of the bloggers out there are not making a living at it. Some of them would like to quit their day jobs. Others would just like to make enough to pay for their expenses; they’d probably write no matter what, but if you make a little money it eases the pain of the costs.
      Those who quit their day jobs may find that writing full-time is a little less exciting than they thought. It’s still work. Sometimes it’s very hard work indeed. Sometimes you think, “I can’t believe I’m being paid to do this.” Depends on the day.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. How spam is made. - Surviving and Thriving | Surviving and Thriving - […] Information wants to be free. Writers want to be paid […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>