Whose Blog Would You Pay to Read?

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Around the same time I shared my thoughts on the New York Times’ decision to put up a paywall last week, Fred Wilson shared his thoughts:

I like the subscription model the FT (Financial Times) has been using for some time now. I may get the exact details wrong but its the idea that’s important anyway. You can visit the ft.com domain something like nine times per month for free. They cookie you and when you stop by the tenth time in a month, they ask you to pay. And many do.

This model recognizes a few fundamental facts about the internet. First, you need to make your content available for search engines and social media linking. That drives as much as half or more of the visits these days. And if you have an ad model at all, and most newspapers do, then you need those visits and that audience.

Its also true that the ‘drive by’ visits will bring new audiences, some of whom will become loyal and ultimately paid audience members.

The other thing I like about the FT’s model is that its an elegant implementation of freemium. The best freemium models allow anyone to use the service for free and then convert the most serious/frequent/power users to paying customers.

It’s an interesting model, too, because it sidesteps the near impossible task of allocating which content is good enough to be paid for and which should be given away free, basing payment not on content, but on usage.

But, it also made me wonder…

Could the FT paywall model ever work for a blog other than a mass news source?

So, my question FOR YOU is –

Is there any blog, whether run by an individual or team of contributors, that you believe offers such astonishingly good and unique content you’d actually be willing to pay to be able to visit it more than 9 times a month?

I love many of the blogs I read, but, sad to say, I don’t know if I’d pay to read any (attention brown-nosers, no need to name mine, I don’t even think I’d pay to read it, lol!). Not that they don’t add value, just not enough for me to pay for the privilege of opening my wallet after the ninth visit.

And, I wonder, too, what does that tell us about the state of the blogosphere?

What about you? Is there any blog you’d pay to be able to read every day?

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99 responses

99 responses to “Whose Blog Would You Pay to Read?”

  1. Jaimie Field says:


    There is no blog on the internet that I would pay to read. Nor would I ever expect anyone to pay for mine.

    There are enough ways to make money on the internet without charging for content. Additionally, there are enough free alternatives out there with the same or similar content that I can access.

    Just my opinion.

    Jaimie Field

  2. I’d be open to pay-per-post on certain sites, if not all the posts were like that. Most available for all, some set aside as pay-per-post.

    And you knew I’d come comment on this one… I’ve been mulling a lot about this blogging sweatshop we all got ourselves into lately. Wrote about it on the site, too!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      James – Pay per post is an interesting model, kind of gets you close to the paid ebook/info-product upsell, though.

      I love the freemium model, just sometimes really tough to decide what goes behind the wall

  3. My feeling is I wouldn’t pay for a blog but I might pay for, say, a weekly video blog that was targeted on a specific topic (and having seen Jonathan on video I would recommend he do more in that medium…. that’s not brown-nosing is it?) or something that was analysis rich (I guess like the FT) as opposed to opinion rich (which tends to be my view of most blogs)

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      I think you may have hit on something. The two successful paywall models I know of are FT and WSJ, both deliver financial anaylsis and tools that are shared at least under the guise of making money. And, the money we’re talking about makes the investment in the FT or WSJ seems utterly insignificant.

      So, maybe it’s about paying for highly-specific information that will allow you to accomplish something that has a vastly higher perceived value than the information.

      That’s the info-product model, but can a blog that’s more about ideas and conversation make that model work?

      Tough sell, I think

      • Thanks for adding to this Jonathan, been bothering me a lot too and I’m glad to see it continue to surface.

        What would I do to make my content $ worthy…especially when sometimes free isn’t good enough.

        • I have to agree with Adrian here. Some sort of premium content in the midst of what I want for free is much more appealing to me. In all honesty–and this could just be my bias–I wouldn’t use the NYT as my model for merchandising or money management. With declining readership, I’d attribute this move to a last ditch effort to add a revenue source, not cutting edge creativity. B/c not only is there not any blog I’d pay for, but there isn’t any newspaper either. ch:

          • LisaNewton says:

            Isn’t this where some ebooks come in, taking the blog to the next step by offering more, perhaps intensive content which you pay for?

  4. Debbie Ferm says:

    If it was the freemium model, I believe I would. It’s exactly how I end up buying a product from someone. There are some blogs I visit everyday, and I enjoy it every time, whether because of the style or because I get great information. (Photography tips for example)

    In that case, I really think I would pay something – although not much.

    Do you know how much it costs for a subscription to People Magazine? $116 a year!

  5. Talked about this over at Men With Pens quite a bit and on my blog as well.

    I could name quite a few, although I’ll refrain here in case I forget someone.

    I’ll be honest and say that I’m testing free/premium content models to see #1, how much people are really willing to support content, and #2 see how much time I need to devote to blogging (as opposed to other projects) in order to make it pay off from a ROI standpoint.

  6. Unfortunately, I think the term blog makes us think that it is not worthy paying for. We conjure up ideas of stay-at-home moms updating baby pictures (no offense) and wanna-be entrepreneurs (see my twitter bio for my own self label).

    I think in order for me to pay for something, I’d want it to be a little bit more. Information is so prolific and free now, that anyone charging for it frustrates me. There needs to be some additional service for my money.

    Just my thoughts. I’m sure there’ll be people who adamantly disagree though.

  7. Susie Bright says:

    I do read several blogs every day, and many news sites, and I already do support them, voluntarily. Maybe because I’m a blogger, I know how much they put into their work and seeing as they’ve got me “hooked,” it seems outrageous NOT to pay them.

    I’m more likely to send money right now to the individual bloggers whom I know get little or no advertising.

    But before the web, I subscribed to many newspapers and magazines, and I’d be in the same situation today if they all charged. I don’t feel so obligated about them, since I’ve written for most of them over the years and seen how they went from paying well to insisting on free content, that I would enjoy the “publicity.”

  8. Ann says:

    I read a lot of great blogs that span from business bloggers to preppy bloggers and I wouldn’t pay for any of them. There’s just way too much content out there and a lot of replication.

  9. I’m with you, I wouldn’t pay, even for the ones I love. As much as I love the NYT’s, I won’t pay there either.

    Of course, I’m known because I love to live high on a frugal budget that allows us to travel the world indefinitely, so perhaps I’m not typical.

    The best things in life are free, so I’m VERY careful about what I spend my money on.

  10. I’m really intrigued by the question of would you pay to read your own blog?

    Because if not, what the hell are you doing?

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Michael –

      Yeah, obviously, I just ducked that one with a bit of snark, because there’s no way I could answer it objectively.

      But, trust me, it IS spinning in my head right now. And, if the answer I arrive at is eventually no, them my next question would be “what would I have to do to my own blog to make me willing to pay for it?”

      Lot’s of internal questioning going on at the moment, lol!

      • Lisis says:

        This is the part that is bugging me about this post (in a good, thought-provoking way). I don’t think I would pay for access to my own blog… which raises a whole lot of existential questions for me.

        But, unlike most people who commented, I WOULD pay to read a blog: Raptitude (by David Cain). It’s the one blog I could not live without. Raptitude is my “coffee shop in Paris” moment of the day.

        I might even pay to read Seth Godin, too, simply because I find his ideas interesting.

  11. Andrew D says:

    No, there’s not really any printed content website I’d pay for. There are just enough other ways to get the same info for free. I do pay to subscribe to some sites (e.g. chess site or guitar music) because the premium features are worth it. But information (news, opinion, commentary, how to, whatever) – there’s too much of it out there for free.

  12. There are plenty of blogs I’d pay to read and plenty I’d drop right away if I’d have to pay for them. With everything being free, it’s easy to subscribe to 100 blogs and filter out the best posts on a topic each day. If there’d be “premium blogs”, I’d have to choose more carefully which I’d read and would probably be more eager to unsubscribe if the premiums would not deliver

  13. Kenzie says:

    It’s difficult for me to keep up once a week, let alone every day, haha

  14. I am wondering about this: what if you could selectively put older posts that have already demonstrated and delivered value on the front end, behind a modest paywall or otherwise monetize them.

    I am fairly new to this world and I often stumble onto a blog where recent posts clearly show me this is someone worth paying attention to and learning from – and they have two or three hundred posts in the archives that are probably also full of value.

    Are we obligated by some hidden code I don’t know yet to keep them free forever? Will we be struck down if we take them offline and bundle them into a for-pay best-of ebook?

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Good q – tobias. No ethical obligation at all. In fact, an interesting monetization play for more established bloggers is to go back and take the top X posts that build around one topic or story, then edit and release them as a book.

      I confess to have spent some time looking at doing this myself. And, it still might happen.

      But, it’s interesting for me to note which of my own content I might be willing to pay for and which I would not.

      Honest answer – I’m loving the answer I’m getting right now.

      • Just did it myself with something I call Claiming Your Destiny.

      • Jeffrey Luke says:

        I would be tempted to do the reverse. The power of the net is its immediacy. I’m not sure how willing I would be to pay for dated content.

        However, if I’m using your content to make decisions in my business and personal life, I might be willing to pay for that immediacy.

        Perhaps you charge for fresh content. Then after 30 days it’s free.

        If your content is that strong and people are relying on it for decision making, then it may be worth it for them to have it right now.

        • Nathan says:

          That IS a neat idea. Non-paying users would still get a continuous stream of content, and paying users (I think) would feel like they were choosing to pay for something of value to *them*, rather than being forced to pony up to get the full benefit of the blog.

          Obviously wouldn’t work well for a current events blog or something, but for many established blogs it could be really good.

  15. Laura Roeder says:

    This brought up another question for me – similar to where Michael Martine is going I think.

    The reason I wouldn’t pay for most (any?) blogs is that they focus on posting often rather than everything being the highest quality. I wouldn’t call this a mistake – google has trained us to be little monkeys as to what to post about, how often, etc. And why should people stress about every post being pay-worthy when no one is paying?

    BUT that being said I can see how it has lead to an overall downgrade in quality. And that can’t be a good thing.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey L –

      No doubt, frequency can degrade quality, but then you have other blogs that run on a frequency model by paying contributors to create high value content.

      http://www.wisebread.com and http://www.lifehacker.com come to mind.

      But, no doubt, it’s an interesting burden to balance, trying to write daily and deliver exception value.

      • ChristiaanH says:

        A big issue I’m having with blogs these days is that there is so much fluff out there, even on the “better blogs”. There just isn’t a single one that I feel like reading every single post from.

        Some blogs come close, with me reading about half of what they write. Others I can’t be bothered to read more than 10% of what they churn out. Why I subscribe? Not to miss that 10% that has value to me.

        Quality is a big problem, consistency in quality is the finer issue. If there would be a blog that gives me an 80% ratio of articles I’d like to read, well, yes I would pay for that. But as it is these days almost every idea has been written about on one blog or the other and with some fancy googling (is that even a word?) you can find those things.

        On the plusside of being a google jocky you learn to distiguish what you think is quality from fluff, on the downside it takes time and especially in the department of personal development and lifestyle design (my niche) we’re always looking to find ways of spending less time on these things.

        So yeah, if one blog provides me with (almost) all my “needs” (wants actually), I’d gladly pay to save the time. As of yet though, the only timesaver I have is an RSS reader in an everlasting search for quality over quantity.

        • Cool site
          I would NOT pay to read anyone’s blog. That would be like me charging people to leave a comment on my do follow blog because of it’s value vs comments that aren’t do follow 😉
          Also I don’t get why people bother to read any sites that have no comments,registration etc.There’s so many people that are WAY over rated it’s amazing.
          Most blogs are Sales pages in disguise with products that the person KNOWS are worthless 🙂
          Ask one of those Guru’s that talk community 24/7 a ? or a favor and watch what happens ? Watch your walled LOL
          Stumbled cause I knew no one else did 😉 Peace
          Nice site glad I stopped by Thanks

        • Seth W says:

          A very interesting discussion.

          I find that i would not pay for opinion at all. What I would pay for are the resources that influential people use to get their opinions.

          For example, If I am in any niche where an influential blogger comes out with a very strong opinion that changes how my niche is perceived… I would not pay for the opinion but would pay for an in-depth case study or data set (visualized) that got them to their opinion.

          For me its all about the data. I would pay to see what Copyblogger knows through data analysis. #1 If it was in-depth and accurate and #2 if it was visualized.

          The data would change the discussion for me because I would then have the ability to choose for myself how I would react using the same opinion. I also force myself psych. to commit to the decision and actually carry it out. Thus increasing my productivity.

          If you charged very little for a data set… $0.10 and had the readers that copyblogger did.. even with smaller conversion rates you’ve just paid yourself for all the hours you spent writing the post and forming the opinion.

  16. Amy Crook says:

    I would not pay to read any of the blogs I currently read for free, because none of them are actually targeted precisely at me. For instance, I read Men With Pens most of the time, but since I’m not a copy writer or professional blogger, I don’t find that all of the content applies. I read Ittybiz all the time, and pay for a lot of her premium content, but if it wasn’t for the free blog I’d never have shelled out a dime.

    I’ve always thought of business blogging as a marketing activity, not an end in and of itself — if you feel like you’re blogging yourself into a sweatshop, maybe you should be looking at why that is instead of trying to make people pay you to market your other products & services.

  17. sandiosandi says:

    I don’t know that I’d pay for any one blog site, but I could justify paying for a site that would aggregate a select group of blogs and could filter for specific content that’s relevant to me. No one blog ever speaks exactly to me every time, but there are certainly a handful of blogs that speak to me regularly enough for me to want to continue with them, even for a nominal fee.

    If the freemium model became a standard, I’d inevitably be more selective in reading the 1st – 9th posts if they’re early in a month and on a site that I predict I won’t want to pay for. The headlines would have to work even that much harder.

  18. I would pay to read a series of related posts. For example, if you go to the Copyblogger home page, there are several tutorials for topics like Content Marketing 101 and SEO Copywriting. Something like that, but perhaps a bit meatier, would be worth paying for. The posts must provide tons of value and actionable advice. Basically, it would be like a course or ebook split into blog posts.

    Although a lot of blog posts get me thinking, they don’t provide the in-depth advice that info products and courses do. I wouldn’t pay for a blog post that doesn’t provide anything more than food for thought.

  19. EdM says:

    I haven’t read your blog long enough to give you an honest yes…

    I would pay for these:

    Seth Godin
    Study Hacks
    Roissy in DC
    Cafe Hayek
    Marginal Revolution
    Kids Prefer Cheese

    Now how much is another matter… Couple of bucks a year… In a way, I already pay for them, I buy their books, and forward links…


  20. Richard says:

    I would not pay for anything. None of what I read in blogs is so important that I would pay.

  21. Jeffrey Luke says:

    What I value most about the current state of the blogosphere is the sense of community and the sense of sharing. Most people are incredibly open, transparent and genuine – perhaps because we are at the very beginning of something so very new. So no, I would pay for any blog out there right now. I think it would create a terrible case of us vs. them – just doesn’t exist yet.

    However, as we move out of our infancy, I do see that as our future. Not sure if that is good or bad – but it’s coming.

  22. Ivy says:

    I can’t imagine paying for any of the blogs I read. But if I think about the online content I have paid for or am currently considering paying for, I can see some commonalities. Sites like CooksIllustrated.com and ConsumerReports.com are valuable to me because they contain content a)that you can’t find elsewhere (researched recipes, product comparisons) b)that retains value (I’m always cooking and thinking about buying something) and c)that comes from highly trusted sources.

    There’s also content that I might pay for temporarily. Kelly Blue Book is very useful when buying or selling a car and, while it’s free, I could see paying for 30-days of access if it weren’t. If there were a trusted hotel or resort review site, one that I felt confident had no bias, I might pay for that while planning a vacation.

    Note that all these examples can save me money in practical application.

    The trouble with blogs is that the vast majority of the content isn’t unique or useful enough when compared to free alternatives. I can go all over the web to laugh at fail, absorb opinions, have my thoughts provoked, or read tips on saving money. That doesn’t mean that blogs can’t be monetized beyond advertising — obviously they can — but just that I don’t think online content is enough on its own.

    Now, I did think of one idea that I can see people actually paying for that I don’t think exists now… but you know, I think I’ll keep that one to myself. 🙂

  23. Jon says:

    I wouldn’t pay to read anyones blog at the moment. As right now there isn’t much today that hasn’t already been done or said before in one way or another. Just be honest. ( Oh and that includes mine 😉

  24. Mike CJ says:

    I’m not sure the FT model would work for regular blogs – most people would simply stop at the barrier and come back next month.

    In fact for generalist blogs, I don’t know that there is a “paid content” answer. But here’s one for niche or special interest blogs:

    An idea I have been thinking about is having a “Two layered” blog. Let me explain, using a car blog as an example.

    I’m a car nut – I want to know every detail of every car on the road. Let’s imagine you’re just a regular person who only visits a car website when you’re thinking of changing yours, and want some decent basic information.

    When you check out the road test of the new Bentley Continental, you get good information about the car, with all the key facts clearly presented to you.

    But I’m a subscriber – I don’t buy car magazines anymore – I’ve transferred that money to this new website. When I open the post I see the same as you do, but in each section there’s a red button I can click, which will give me access to lots more content. I can see a video of the engine in action, read an interview with the design team, look at the schematics of the suspension and get access to stats that would be of no interest to most people.

    You can apply the red button principle to any blog.

    I would pay for that. Happily.

  25. What’s interesting is that people buy recipe books… but won’t pay for a recipe site. Or buy business books… but not a business blog. Or a book on how to do something-or-other… but not a blog that offers the same.

    And, trust me, I have read some really shitty books this year, which I not only paid for ($9.99 to $49.99), but had to drive two hours to get (plus gas). And these crappy books aren’t rare. They’re *all over*.

    But I bought a subscription to Canadian Business. One to Jobboom. I bought ebooks. I bought text-based courses. Marketing studies. Psychology papers. I bought business materials. I paid for a lot of good stuff that gave me everything from entertainment to education. Without blinking.

    Why are we all so prejudiced about blogs? Is it just the assocation we have between the word “blog” and “not worth money?” We pay money for other stuff, but not for what’s offering us value? That bias is worth thinking about.

    Sure, there are tons of free material out there. Reliable? Credible? Trustworthy? Some yes. Some no. I don’t have the time to guess, and I wouldn’t want to learn something from just anywhere. (“Hey! I found out how to do X on Ezine Articles!”… Um… no.) I want credible resources from names I trust. I wouldn’t pay for all of it, but what I did want, I’d pay for. I already do.

    So to answer you, Michael… Yeah. I’d pay for my own content. Maybe not every post, because I don’t buy every book on the shelf, but if I was interested, intrigued and wanted to know more… I’d pay.

    Woo. I obviously need more wine or something. Let me step down off my soapbox now 😉

    • Great point James, that’s basically what I referred to a little way back up there – call it a book and the whole situation changes. There are numerous ebooks that I’ve happily paid for that say right on the tin that they’re repackaged old blog posts – that are actually still online!

      If you’ve given me solid value on the blog, I’m happy to pay for what you are telling me is worth a little extra – even if the added value is primarily editorial. If it’s reasonably priced, nicely presented, maybe edited and updated – if the content has proven value, in a way I think that’s going to influence me more than the bleeding edge.

      This is perhaps not a perfect system but it seems to be established at this point, if only for lack of any obviously better alternatives… so the first person to come up with one wins!

      • (Note: I think anyone named Tinker must be cool.)

        Good point about the repackaged blog posts into an ebook or even a printed book. “I won’t read blogs unless they’re free… Oh, did Seth just launch a new book of his posts? I HAVE to get that!”

        *blink* This makes no logical sense to me.

        (And yes, I’ve paid money for one of Seth’s books.)

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      James – I think you’re right about the fact that just because something is labeled a blog, we overlay a preset notion about what it SHOULD cost. And, my guess is it came largely out of the early culture in blogging, where notion of commercializing a blog with even a single ad was considered bastardizing the institution of blogdom.

      I know I was royally flamed in my early days (2 1/2 yrs ago, haha) for even suggesting a blogger should even consider doing anything other than writing to market their blog.

      But times, change, paradigms change, now it may be times for the business model to begin to change, too.

  26. I’m so glad you asked this question. It’s colossally important.

    Often, I buy a CD or song because of WHO the artist is. Of course, first and foremost the content – the music, has got to rock me. But I lean toward the whole package – the artist AND the information.

    So, I don’t need my bloggers to be giving me jammed packed strategic useful how-to precise quality every damn day. I need – and would “SUPPORT” – high minded inspiration and thinking. I’m down with the idea of supporting artists (and I count my favourite writers/bloggers as artists) as well as the more conetmporary equation of paying for information that’s going to improve my life or help me make money. We’re all more likely to do the latter.

    If, say, Seth Godin asked me for $20 bucks a month to access his work on a daily basis, I’d be glad to give, out of pure appreciation (not to be mistaken with a donation – the donation model creeps me out.) Would my expectations of the content change? No, because I know what to expect and I like what I get already. Would it make me pay closer attention to his material? Yep.

    Would I like people to pay for my blog content? I’m actually not so sure. Do I think what I put out every week or month is worth $10/person? Absolutley. But hmmm… what would change? Would it affect the freedom or voice of my “art?” Pressure to perform? Would more “how-to” articles start creeping in? I don’t know… Would I be bummed that I wasn’t reaching a broader audience because of more limited buy-in. Yes, that would hurt. I’d probably consider a freebie kind of content…which would bring me back to the beginning of keeping the art pure.

    So, to the 1000’s of bloggers who read Jonathan, how would being paid for your blog content change what you make and how you make it?


    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Danielle – Interesting point about paying to support the individual who blogs more than the content being shared. No doubt, when people like Chris Brogan (http://www.chrisbrogan.com) gave mercilessly for years for free, then asked readers to reciprocate by simply buying his book, people lined up to do so.

      But, I wonder if this reciprocity play works as well when it’s tied to a mandatory monthly payment for access to the blog itself. And, if so, how does that get structured?

      Dunno, but it’s so worth the discussion. 🙂

  27. This debate has been on my mind so much lately that I’m thinking about trying an “invite only” newsletter to see how the exclusive thing works out. If that works, then maybe some sort of premium content would as well.

  28. Duff says:

    It’s easy enough to delete cookies or even switch IP addresses, so the FT system sounds to me more like “please donate” than “you must pay for viewing 10 or more times.”

    That said, there’s no blog I’d pay to read. But I might pay to read some articles if they had real, solid information (not just personal development/productivity/lifehacking fluff). For instance, a course on simple video editing from a pro.

  29. Mary H Ruth says:

    What a fabulous discussion. I most agree with Amy Crook (thanks, Amy).

    We do pay for bloggers when they re-purpose their posts into products such as books. A good percent of Godin’s books are reprints of his blog posts. The blog, then is the first draft, and its readers are more a community of commentators than a paying public.

    A blog is a web log. We sometimes pay for logs, or journals, when they’re published posthumously. But by nature, a journal is off-hand, honest, and priceless. Paying for it only cheapens it, and is really unthinkable.

  30. John Geary says:

    As a fulltime, professional freelance travel writer, I’ve watched writing income decrease steadily over the last few years, as magazines and newspapers die, and more and more online writing sites and blogs show up. I need to point out, as a freelance writer, I’m not someone who blogs or writes to promote other products or services – my writing for radio, newspapers and magazines has kept me fed since 1984. Many people who post blogs online don’t quite understand this, as they’re often using their blogs to drive traffic to their sites to enhance other products and services they offer. Professional journalists are simply selling their words (this may have to change, BTW.)

    Would I pay to read a blog? Depends on the blog and the writer. There is a significant difference between a well-researched, written article produced by someone trained as a journalist and many of the blogs I’ve seen posted online. I’m not putting down bloggers – just saying writing 1500 word article for, say, Wildlife Conservation magazine is different than posting a blog. Right now, the web does not really distinguish between the two. The entire writing world is in transition right now; magazines have not died completely (yet), but most online sites, by and large, haven’t figured out how to generate enough revenue streams, yet. Part of the problem stems from the fact the Internet is free to readers. Eventually, to make money just for their content, sites will have to do what some surviving newspapers (like the FT) and magazines are doing – give you a one-paragraph tease online, but to read an entire article, even online, you’ll have to subscribe. Once that becomes common practice, online revenues should start to climb. And once online sites can actually show potential advertisers subscriber lists as well as click-throughs, it should help increase ad revenues. And online overhead costs are significantly less – you don’t need presses or newsprint, pressmen or delivery agents.

    While there will still always be free sites, the ones with the best writing will be able to charge people to read them, and (the best) writers might (!) get paid more.

    So, to answer the million dollar question … If my city’s daily newspaper were to go entirely online, and stop printing on newsprint, I would certain pay a subscription fee, as I already do to read the hard copy version. I don’t know that I would subscribe to blogs. Depends what you like to read, I guess.

    Once people start having to pay for the majority of the stuff online, they might start to become more discernning about what they read online, choosing to spend their precious minutes reading what they’ve paid for. If we are more choosy about what we read, it might even help create a bit of extra free time for us! 🙂

    • Jonathan Fields says:


      I agree, I’ve written for publishers, magazines and the blogosphere and the standard of research for what I’d consider a full-blown article is very different. Not for all, but for most.

      And, no doubt, the freelance industry is changing ridiculously quickly. Not sure what the answer is quite yet, nobody does, but I do believe the more of a personal power base you can build, the more you become known for creating massive value content, the more doors it opens to both gets paid more for your articles, then maybe repackage what you write to earn more.

  31. Chris Dillon says:

    I agree with Danielle LaPorte. I pay to support the artist/author not necessarily to extract value from every post. Albums have songs that get dropped from my iPod and magazines have articles that don’t interest me – but I feel no disappointment over it, at least until it happens a 2nd or 3rd time. (U2 lost me post-Joshua Tree.)

    Perhaps the challenge we face as readers is changing the way we think about blogs in order to separate message from method. For example, I don’t read Seth Godin’s blog, I read his ideas that he publishes one page at a time.

    I capitalistically think a paywall would be beneficial because it would force craptastic blogs to get better or die, and it would keep the awesome bloggers bloggin’ on. Let the market decide.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Though, to be fair, how the hell do you ever top Joshua Tree? lol

      • They never tried to top it. Just did a series of lateral arabesques. Acthung Baby isn’t ‘better’ than Joshua Tree, it’s just so different that I don’t even compare them. Good for totally different reasons.

        That’s a business lesson, by the way . . .

  32. reese says:

    Mmmm Jonathan. You make the world think.
    What resonated for me was this notion of “how can I make content that people WOULD pay for?”

    I have a site in the works whose content I don’t plan on charging for. But I’m driven by this notion of wanting every piece on it to feel like something people would have happily paid for because of its high value.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      reese – Trust me, that very question is swirling around in my head in a major way.

      One outlet for me is definitely more print books and info-products, but I really wonder if there are avenues that exist in the blogosphere that just haven’t yet been explored the way they could be.

  33. Hayden Tompkins says:

    I miiight pay to read The Bloggess. Honestly, with as many times as I have snorted water up my noise because of her…yeah. The Bloggess.

  34. Nazima Ali says:

    If establishing a pay scale model how do you lay out who gets to charge what? Do new bloggers get to charge or do they offer freebies until they’ve built up the followers to be able to show the quality of the content. If you do this, how do you deal with the folks who’ve been reading your blog for free and now feel betrayed on some level at having to pay? North Americans like free, in my opinion.

    Can’t remember the saying about people appreciating what they have to pay for and thinking it’s better as opposed to if they rec’d something for free. If it’s all free the question doesn’t arise but…

    If I paid to read a blog, I’d feel obligated to keep on top of it regularily to get my money’s worth. It also means that those who put out books would have to up the ante as far as their content went. Alternatively, if you put out a best of blog book people would expect a bit more after having read the free content.

    Seth Godin marketed his new book Lynchpin today through this very non-traditional medium successfully. Imagine having limited readership/followers due to a pay system on your blog and trying this. I’ve gotten to ‘know’ him/his work through this medium and have considerable respect for both. If I was just reading his books I wouldn’t feel this sense of connection. Would he have been as successful if he hadn’t been offering his knowledge for free(blog) as well as in his books?

    Would I pay to read a blog? Yes, but I would be waaay more selective. Probably a good thing in terms of time management:)

    Great discussion question.

  35. Lianne says:

    I’ve never paid to read I blog, but a few years ago I did contribute to support a blogger in writing his blog. In 2005 Jason Kottke did and experiment in funding his blog work through micropatrons. I was one of those micropatrons. You may be interested to read about how it went down for him: http://www.kottke.org/05/04/micropatron-report

  36. […] shown on Jonathan Fields’ Awake at the Wheel today, there’s a lot of confusion about the nature and value of this particular kind of […]

  37. Seth
    JF (yeah, I would and I said so; so sue me)

    Although I love the scary scary idea of flipping this: casual readers pay. Devoted fans get in free.

    No clue how to work it technically, and it’s a short road to not making money, but it’s still the right choice: reward the faithful, marginalise the fences-sitters.

  38. I agree Jonathan. There are not many/any blogs I would pay to read. It’s all about tangible value:

    The blogosphere prides itself on being “web2.0” and a “conversation” … the problem is, talk is cheap… and it’ll be perceived that way for a long time yet.

    That said, I wouldn’t pay to read news from “professional journalists” either.

    I’ll be saving my dollars for something tangible. Perhaps Apple’s tablet will, via multimedia bells and whistles, make media seem tangible enough for us to fork out a few micro-payments.

  39. This is a really interesting question. If I’m being honest, there’s probably only one blog (other than my own) that I’d pay to read. Like most people, I just don’t feel the need to pay for content that’s similar to what’s freely available.

    But then, if something isn’t worth our money, how can it possibly be worth our time? Because we do pay to read blogs – sometimes dearly – with our time. Maybe having to pay for content wouldn’t be such a bad thing!

  40. Great convo.

    High-end info and specialized data works for pay a la Bloomberg, FT, and even Marketing Sherpa.

    Most writing in blogsphere isn’t “art,” it’s marketing. (Would people pay for PostSecret?) Lots of it is wonderful, needed, amusing, the right words at the right time, but hard to equate most blogs with music performers–and it’s not usually the intent.

    Words altogether have been hugely depressed in value with low point-of-entry of word processing, pdfs, POD and other technology innovations. If we had as many movies as we have books…

    Which leads to this question: What YouTube downloads, radio podcasts, would you pay for? There is so much duplication.

    I’m riffing here, but I’ll close with:

    I like contributing to (paying for) NPR and listening to Planet Money and The Moth and Morning Edition, etc.

    While on the one hand I believe in the power of words and writing (and that’s my profession), I also don’t think it’s sustainable for everyone to write, and produce, and profit from content and info. Just like only so many brands of gourmet jams can sell at Whole Foods. (FYI, my newish and meager blog is really a casual, sometimes fun, sometimes useful, sometimes promotional bulletin board–the kinds of things I tack up in my office or stick on my door with a magnet.)

    Last, some people here might be interested in Day 2 of Digital Book World #dbw on Twitter 1/26/10. It’s not the same discussion as this one, but it overlaps. For example:

    RT @KatMeyer: 293 newspapers closed in 2009. 8 magazines w/ 1mil or more closed in 2009. the way we generate buzz about [book]titles is changing. #dbwtools #dbw

    Hugs, j

  41. Niklas says:

    The best blogs I know are about personal growth or tech. But the only blog I would probably pay to read is the the happiness project. It sounds corny, but it offers good insight on many topics and you actually learn and reflect from it.

  42. patrick says:

    You shouldn’t charge for the new content. You should charge for the archives. If the new stuff is worth reading, a serious reader will want to look through the archives. Charge them for it. potentially have only a few free posts which are older than two months old so that people can check out your flagship content. Then charge to access the rest of it. Perhaps keep your biggest traffic drivers free. Or give people 4 or 5 free posts they can read again and again for free, but charge for the rest. anybody who is willing to actually read this old stuff is probably the market who is most likely to pay for it anyway.

    I don’t know if anybody’s considered this before, I just came up with it. What do you think?

  43. Stian says:

    Personally, I think I am already paying for the blogs that I read. I pay with my time and attention. I give you a chance to get into my mind and make a change.

    If you want my money on top of that you would have to be pretty special. I wouldn’t pay money for your blog, Jonathan. You ask good questions but it’s not enough. There are a couple I might have paid for. Seth Godin has been mentioned. Kathy Sierra is another, if she started blogging again.
    Actually I don’t think there are any others I would bother paying for…

  44. […] video by John Mayer performing Free Fallin'. (c) 2008 Sony Music Entertainment 2 Likes Whose Blog Would You Pay to Read? Around the same time I shared my thoughts on the New York Times' decision to put up a paywall […]

  45. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Great discussion. There are ideas presented I’ve never seen before–some I might even consider giving my dime:

    Paying to get exclusive information (Red Button)
    Paying to support the artist
    Paying to be part of a community (like joining a club)
    Paying to get archived information
    Paying for the eighth hit in a month
    Paying for great content, advice, stories
    Paying to follow “thought leaders”
    Paying to be a micropatron
    Paying to support some new idea (Seth’s new marketing,
    Problogger’s Forum…)

    That said, there are thousands of blogs I don’t read–even if they are FREE.

  46. Ramkarthik says:

    My guess is that when we see this from the outside, we might think it is not worth paying for content in blogs. But when you bring it down to passion, to read/listen/see what we love the most, I guess many won’t think twice before paying.

    I’m very much interested in football/soccer. I play with my friends on weekends and also in college. So if there is a blog that is based on the Freemium model, where there are lots of good free tutorial videos and also a section where advanced skills can be learned for a small amount, I wouldn’t mind paying.

    Its mainly because I love soccer more than anything.

    I want to impress my friends and I wouldn’t mind paying to learn advanced skills.

    I think most people wouldn’t mind to shell out a few dollars to learn in depth what they love.

    But yes, I would only pay if the free videos are very good.

    It will be interesting to see how this idea goes.

    – Ramkarthik

  47. drhowell says:

    Seth’s Blog
    And this post is a great answer to this question.

  48. Keith says:

    I think the FT has come up with a brilliant idea and I think their audience wouldn’t mind paying to read their content at all – most corporates/financials probably have subscriptions to the FT anyway, and paying for FT’s online content would probably be cheaper than a newspaper subscription, especially if bought in bulk.

    I think that I would pay for very good blog content, especially of the ‘tips’ variety. However, I suspect that the blog’s niche may also be a factor – I’m guessing that readers (i.e. me) may be more willing to pay for financial/technical information/advice than say for travel tips/ideas (my niche..), though I may be wrong.

    What I’ve considered doing is packaging my content (say for a certain destination) into an ebook and charge for that – a small charge for the convenience of a simple download instead of searching for/bookmarking everything separately.

    Emmm.. wonder if that’ll work. Would I pay for that convenience? I think I would.

  49. Ed Gandia says:

    Jonathan – Something I heard Bob Bly and Fred Gleek say one time really stuck with me. They said to make your free content as good (or even better) than your paid stuff. I try to keep that in mind as I write blog posts and articles for our e-newsletter. I can honestly say that I’d pay for my own stuff if I were a member of my audience. Not beating my own chest here. Just saying that things changed for me when I started writing with that in mind.

    I feel the same way about Tim Ferriss’ stuff as well as Michael Stelzner’s Social Media Examiner. There are a few others, but on a limited budget, I’d probably pay for 3 or 4 max.

  50. Milo says:

    If RSS was a paid service things would be different.

    I personally would pay for the convenience of subscribing by RSS as opposed to visiting each site individually.

    As I rely on Google Reader to capture the feeds for the 200+ blogs I subscribe to, I’d be happier paying a subscription to use it than to only be able to afford to read 10 or so blogs, (from which I don’t necessarily want to read every single post).

    In an ideal world Google would then pay the content providers a percentage depending on how many times their posts were read.

    Of course as this is unlikely (or impossible?) I’ll shut up now..

  51. Werner says:

    I’d pay for well thought out and easy to follow instructional content that would provide a direct benefit from using those instructions.

    For instance there’s a guy on YouTube who has over 900 short technical videos. The video quality is good – but the instructional content is fantastic. These time saving tutorials have helped me on numerous occasions.

    I’m astounded that he provides these for free. I would definitely pay to view them.

  52. Dragos Roua says:

    I will definitely pay. And I would definitely expect somebody else to pay for reading my blog. The only problem in your question is that you didn’t mention the currency. If you think for a while, there’s always an associated cost of doing something, in business this is called “the cost of opportunity”. More precisely: “how much do I lose because I do this (reading the blog) and don’t do that (whatever you may make money with, etc)”. This cost of opportunity will always exist.

    So, the readers are already paying with their time. From here on, the sky is the limit, if you know what I mean. If you start thinking at an online currency, there’s really no limit in what can be done.

    I created a virtual currency as an online entrepreneur and launched into a community of 100k users, but in a few months I sold the business entirely and the buyer discontinued it (in order to merge the users with his bigger user base). But from this experience, I can totally confirm that parallel currencies, if properly established, can work.

    I won’t say a word more about this, because that’s my brilliant idea and someday the whole Interne will use it :-))))

    Seriously, I think it’s much possible using an intermediary currency at the moment, something that could be conerted into real money. You need a big ecosystem, a proper infrastructure and good support from merchants (who will want to conert that currency into goods) but it can be done.

  53. Rhea says:

    You pose a great question. I think I would pay to read Robert Reich’s blog. And the Housing Bubble Blog (I actually have made a donation to this site already). And maybe a few others, depending on how much I had to pay.

  54. Miranda says:

    This article about how Newsday’s doing behind a paywall (not well…)is interesting in lihgt of this discussion:


  55. Jonathan,

    You’ve hit on another intriguing question.

    I’ve gained lots of information and inspiration from a number of quality blogs, but I don’t think I would pay to read them. I don’t read any one blog daily, although it’s my intent for some, and some posts are more helpful or useful to me than others.

    I would consider donating to a blog if the owner created such an option. That way when I was particularly moved by a post I could donate whatever I wanted. But I wouldn’t pay a set subscription amount for the blog.

    On the other hand, when the posts are compiled as an ebook or book, I’d be inclined to buy it if I was convinced it would change my life in some way.

    But the nature of most blogs is informal and inspirational, not at all like the FT where readers are looking for hard-hitting information in a niche.

  56. Sini says:

    I’d see people possibly paying for the golden words of somebody who had “made it” already in their area of specialty. Like some nationally known political commentator or big time lifestyle guru. I suppose that’s just one more example of how fame begets money.

  57. There are lots of blogs I find useful and enjoy reading, but only a handful that I would consider paying for (The Fluent Self, Copyblogger, and Problogger come to mind). If I paid even a dollar a month for each blog I read, it would quickly become cost prohibitive.

    However, the blogs I’d be most willing to pay for can almost guarantee that I will buy any product they put out.

    I also try to “payback” other blogs by linking to them in my own posts and sharing them with friends/colleagues.

  58. Brandon W says:

    I wouldn’t pay to read any of the blogs I’m currently aware of. And I’ll tell you why:

    If a blog had content worth paying for, the author would have to be charging for it in order to survive. If they’re not, they are 1) idiots, and/or 2) disappearing very soon.

    I am enormously critical of this “freemium” concept, and of the entire idea of “Free”. In fact, I started a group on Facebook called the “Content Creation Guild” (feel free to check it out and join).

    The only sustainable – and I repeat *sustainable* – way to utilize a blog is to use it as a place for commentary on current events as it relates to your area of interest/specialization. If your commentary provokes interest in the information, products, or services you sell then it can be a tool for generating business. Otherwise, you should be selling that information you’re writing in your blog.

    I’ll quote from the Content Creation Guild page:
    “We are repeatedly told that the new economy is the Information economy. That is, what is most valuable to produce is information – intellectual property…. In the information economy, your most valuable asset is your ability to create. Your best chance at a livelihood and a successful life revolves around your ability to think, innovate, and express your creation. Don’t give it away. A car mechanic won’t repair your car for free. An accountant won’t do your taxes for free. Expect and demand fair compensation for your talents.”

  59. Personally i feel that people who are Blogging, love Blogging. They are passionate about it. And hence for them (not all ), money would be secondary. Also Knowledge shared is valuable, but who will decide at what rate can it be sold.

  60. I would never pay just to visit and read daily content on the blog. It’s just not worth my time.

    I really don’t think this is an issue as many bloggers have found ways to make money from blogging. They offer great content for free and then release paid products that target a specific issue.

    I have seen many bloggers doing. The list goes from progblogger to iwillteachyouhowtoberich.

    iwillteachyouhowtoberich is actually worthy of paying attention, because Ramit just recently released his Earn1k product, which solves an issue: How to make 1k on the side?

    I get great free content when I go to his site, but I get specifics if I subscribe to his paid Earn1k service.

    So, in reality, I think those that do provide great content have already found of ways to charge for it.

    Just my two cents.


  61. Rebecca says:

    I think what gets missed in these discussions is *ability* to pay directly for access to a blog. I can reel off close to a dozen blogs in personal development, business, finance, and health/fitness that provide content that I would unhesitatingly say would be worth paying for.

    But it’s a moot point, because unless they all charged very low subscription costs, I would be unable to continue reading most of them. Someone here tossed off a number– $20/month. If that’s what blogs charged, I would have to pick ONE to read. That’s it. Only one. Not because the others aren’t worth it, but because that’s what my very-tight budget could sustain at that cost.

    (I also suspect that blog readers view blogs more like specialty magazines than daily newspapers, and would balk less at paying a subscription fee on an annual basis than at paying a monthly access fee. I also think there’s a barrier to having a paid standard because there are so many people who blog as a serious hobby and will continue to, because they make their money at a day job and never expected to do otherwise.)

    The thing that I think has made the blogging world so passionate about keeping stuff free– and I will say that sometimes that attitude is way too rigid or is a symptom of an inflated sense of entitlement– is that there is less economic discrimination than there would be in a strictly paid model. Sure, having a computer and access to the internet is still a luxury, but free quality content on blogs means that low-income office workers who can surf the web at their desk over lunch are able to benefit from the ideas and coaching of a Seth Godin or a Ramit Sethi or a Pam Slim. They can learn things that, if applied, might tangibly improve their skill set or their financial situation or their career, and that’s the kind of advantage that’s hard to get if you don’t start out with economic privilege.

    Yes, there are always ways for industrious people to find the information they need or to find the means to get that info if they work hard enough (but note that the time investment becomes another element of economic disparity). It’s just that it’s been a beautiful thing that as blogging has grown and flourished, it was a source of information that you didn’t have to have a gold card or an old-boy network or a student loan to access. Do bloggers want to provide their information to readers simply based on whether they have money? I don’t know. A lot of the bloggers I read seem to care as much or more about reaching smart people, or people who are at X point in their lives, or for that matter people who couldn’t afford to pay but who are serious about using the information to change their lives. Those things would probably be considerations for a lot of bloggers in deciding whether or how much to charge.

    I don’t know…I think the question is more complicated than “paid or free?” I do think that creative, smart people deserve to make a living from their ideas and intellectual property. But I think the question of fair compensation for bloggers is going to result in a new answer, not an answer that fits newspapers, magazines, television, or other industries.

  62. Claire Covington says:

    I’m afraid I an in the “I don’t know if I’d pay to read any” camp. Too much info out there anyway. BEing someone who doesn’t pay for TV probably cinches my attitude.

  63. Carol B. says:

    I am willing to pay lump-sum $1/week ($52 voluntary, self-chosen fee subscription) “support of the artist/author” fees for James Lileks blog lileks.com

    I have enjoyed his creative writing, colorful turns of phrase, and slightly-skewed point of view observations on life, politics, and the upper Midwest for more than 10 years. I’d say about 90% of his posts capture my interest and I visit about 3 times weekly to catch up on the latest.

    He infrequently and intermittently posts a link for what he terms a “tip jar” that accepts Pay Pal/credit cards.

    His normal content is so good that I feel guilty that this latest round includes access to a special section for those of us who paid in — the whole point was to be sure that he’s able to carve out time for the usual blog without jeapordizing his book schedule and day job.

    What makes this work for me: a) familiarity with content; known/proven value b) voluntary and self-chosen rate-setting c) easy, trustworthy financial transaction process d) not a nickel & dime / pay per click approach – once & done (for a while).

  64. Karanime says:

    Wouldn’t it be awful for most of the bloggers, though? The pressure… imagine! If you make them pay for content, and you disappoint them, you could be losing an outstanding amount of readers every time you post!

    Since reading blogs is free, it’s no big deal if you find a post you don’t really care for. Just wait for the next one. But if you have to pay, EVERY POST has to suit your needs.

    Unless we start creating blogs with ridiculously small niches, I don’t think it’ll work so well.

    As for the NYT, it actually seems to make sense, since print subscribers have free access to the site. As I think it should be.


  65. RE: My comment (I’m afraid I an in the “I don’t know if I’d pay to read any” camp. Too much info out there anyway. BEing someone who doesn’t pay for TV probably cinches my attitude.)

    and your response (Interesting correlation there though. Many, many people do pay for TV.)

    You have a definite point. It is something to ponder.

  66. caitlyn says:

    I confess, I didn’t finish reading all the comments. The ones I read (more than half of them) were excellent in the discussion/thought-provoking dept.

    I was thinking that I might pay for a blog that delights me – I love words & if the person has a way with words I want to come to see “how” they say it as much as to see what they say.

    Currently, I feel overwhelmed trying to read all that I would like to read. If I invested even a few dollars to subscribe to a site, I would be pledging my loyalty. While this would potential be good for the blogger, psychologically, it would be good for me. The 2 or 3 blogs that I could keep up with regularly (like subscribing to the newspaper) would direct my browsing. I would follow the recommended links from those blogs when I had a bit of time & curiosity.

    In our metropolis, there are 3 major newspapers to choose from when subscribing. People remain loyal for decades, shunning the others. In spite of the enormous amount of choice, I think people are looking for ways to limit that choice. Putting down a few dollars might just be the way.

  67. Nikki says:

    I am reminded of when cable TV first started. They touted it as a service you paid for, and you get extra channels for free with no advertising.
    Guess what? Now we pay for cable AND extra per channel AND extra for HD…and we still see ads.

    I pay my ISP to access the internet. At first, everything was free and there were no ads…

  68. jay says:

    i would pay to read for blog contents i mean why dont u if u think that they provide the latest stuff n it beats even news or magazines in providing information u need why not? it shows the work of the author and seriously all work should be paid whether it is on a freelance or permanent
    it doesnt need to be a lot but at least appreciation for anyones effort is just basic courtesy.

    as for my own blog i do re read it all over again as such of my own brain ruminations tat i sometimes forget what i was thinking just a few seconds ago! so blogs are useful and its the trend now

  69. FT Paywall system might never work for bloggers. For readers of FT are accustomed to pay for content (FT) but blog readers are not.

    • The trick, of course, is to convince people it’s worthwhile doing something they’re not, as you say, used to doing.

      Dunno how old you are, but when people first tried selling water, there were jokes all over TV and radio about how next they’d be selling bottled air. Nobody in the developed world bought water except business offices and the 5-gallon glass bottle on the water cooler.

      Now, you can’t walk through a public space without knocking over someone’s imported tropical all natural filtered infused and UV protected custom water.

      No doubt about it, it doesn’t matter what folks are used to paying for; if they see value, they’ll buy it. (People don’t buy needs, they buy wants. Make them want it, and money is no object.)

  70. Peaches says:

    I like the idea of a tip jar. Sometimes, one article can shift your whole outlook and allow you to make huge leaps in your life. That would be worth a ‘tip’ and many people would be willing to contribute when and where they know they have benefited. Also, someone who can’t pay now, may make changes using the new insight and find they now have the means to come back and tip later. I know that there are sites that have been very helpful to me that I regret the only way to support them is to buy ‘products’ (which I do) but I wish they had a way to ‘tip’ them and acknowledge their true intrinsic value to me: FlyLady for example.

    What I am seeing recently is a trend toward high-pressure sales or shills. I may subscribe to a free newsletter that initially has a small amount of promotional or marketing content but mostly useful insights, but see over time it becomes more slanted toward sales or commission-based referrals. As this income-demanding content goes up, the quality of the free content usually goes down and starts to have a desparate tone to it. At this point I am unsubscribing because it feels so yucky.

    If you are a blogger, how would you know if this sort of transformation isn’t what’s choking off your revnue stream?

    I really appreciate all the intelligent input here.
    Thanks for a breath of fresh air.

  71. […] much deeper than Chris and Ann’s discussion of course. Jonathan Fields recently asked, “Whose Blog Would You Pay to Read?” The comments alone are […]

  72. Alex Monroe says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I want to say that I am the same and would not be willing to pay for the content. My generation is like that in every sense. We don’t want to pay for content, music, and much more. It’s interesting to see how to innovate with this in mind.