A Note of Gratitude and a Few Things About New Media
(January 19, 2013)
The New Media experiment here at oftwominds.com continues, and as always I have readers to thank for the inspiration, ideas and encouragement to continue jousting at windmills.
I rarely write about myself or the blog because to do so seems self-indulgent. I have a very average life unworthy of comment, other than the occasional reference to show my actions in the real world align with the values espoused here: home-cooking, near-zero-cost fitness, bicycling, gardening, investing in myself and real businesses rather than in Wall Street, etc.
The blog is only interesting as an example of New Media, and this is the basis of today's indulgence.
I would like to start by thanking you for your readership. There are literally millions of blogs, twitter and RSS feeds, Facebook channels, etc., and I am grateful you are investing your valuable time here at oftwominds.com.
I am especially grateful to those of you who have chosen to subscribe or contribute cash to the site. Your contributions keep the "parts flying in close formation," i.e. the site continues to function as a channel for unique content.
My own path to paid content was reader-directed. I have been paid to write free-lance articles since 1989, so getting paid for content did not seem novel. But starting a blog requires accepting non-payment for content; the value proposition to the content creator is self-expression and the joys of the content creation itself. That is all the creator of original content controls.
After writing hundreds of blog entries per year for a few years, several readers suggested I post a tip jar for donations. At their request, I did so. Some time later, a reader asked me to set up a subscription payment through PayPal, even though I wasn't offering anything other than the free blog. I complied, and a few generous souls sent me $5 a month.
My longtime friend G.F.B., one of the very few people who understands New Media in a meaningful way, suggested I send subscribers and major contributors ($50 or more annually) a Weekly Musings Report as a thank-you for their financial support. So I launched the Musings Report last January. Now contributors and subscribers actually receive proprietary original content for their financial generosity. (It's kind of like the Bilderburg Group or Council on Foreign Relations in its exclusivity, except without the power, prestige or agenda to rule the world.)
All of this was duly done with wide-eyed wonder, i.e. gosh, you mean I can do this? This New Media experiment continues, and as always I have readers to thank for the inspiration, ideas and innovations.
Unsurprisingly, those few who choose to contribute cash to oftwominds.com follow the Pareto Distribution. Roughly 4%-5% of regular or occasional readers choose to contribute or subscribe (around 500 generous people out of about 100,000 regular readers per month), and of those generous few, about 20% give 80% of the total dollars contributed. Around 4% subscribe/contribute $50+ annually; they receive the Weekly Musings Reports.
(The Pareto rule is often called the 80/20 rule; the vital few 20% exert outsized influence on the 80%. 20% of 20% is 4%, and so the 4% who contribute enable the 96% to read for free).
In other words, I depend on readers volunteering their financial support on a sliding scale that reflects their generosity, incomes and the value they place on oftwominds.com content. Some contribute $5, some $500; each is appreciated as a vote of encouragement and support.
Here are the boring site stats. Oftwominds.com is published on two sites: oftwominds.com, which is hosted by a high-bandwidth dedicated server, and charleshughsmith.blogspot.com, a mirror site which generates the RSS feed and another distribution channel of the daily content.
The main site attracted 2.3 million visits (900K unique visitors) in 2012, and served 6.5 million pages and 1,035 GB of data. The blogspot mirror site garnered about 1 million page views, for an annual total of around 3 million visits and 7.5 million page views. I do not track how many read the RSS feed (roughly 4700 subscribers) or how many read the content on Zero Hedge, Seeking Alpha, Business Insider or one of the other sites that republish oftwominds.com entries. Since oftwominds.com entries attract 5K-10K views on Zero Hedge alone, I estimate the daily number of readers is roughly double what my sites record (or maybe triple; who knows?).
I don't pore over my stats, as I think it is counterproductive (traffic is what it is), but it seems there are about 100,000 "uniques" a month on the two oftwominds.com sites. (As noted above, it is probably double that if the republished entries are included.)
I want to thank one group of "hidden" supporters: all those who order their Amazon purchases through the links on oftwominds.com. This doesn't cost them anything extra, but it does generate a commission to me. To everyone who makes the effort to order their Amazon purchases through oftwominds.com, thank you most sincerely for your support.
I also want to thank those of you who email me links, ideas and commentaries despite the lack of response. I write thousands of emails a year in response to readers, over 8,000 in the past 21 months. Despite this staggering output, I am only able to reply to perhaps a third of reader email, and much less when I am away from my desk, i.e. doing stuff in the real world.
A blog broadcasts freely shared content. An email is content freely shared with an individual or group of individuals. Each is freely shared, and I thank you for taking your time and energy to send me valuable information, critiques, links and suggestions. Without your freely shared content and opinions, I could not address such a wide range of topics in the blog. This is the "of two minds" referenced in the blog title. (It also reflects the core idea that there are usually multiple legitimate perspectives on any given topic.)
Though it is "obvious," the key attribute of the blog is that it is free. That millions of bloggers are posting content for free is rather astonishing, given that preparing unique content is a non-trivial task.
Consider the assumptions generally made about bloggers, blogs, email and content. When I post a blog entry, I do not expect the 15,000 people who read it somewhere on the web to send me an acknowledgement. Yet if I send the exact same content in an email to an individual, then I expect an acknowledgement, and the recipient's lack of response seems impolite.
This is why I receive email chastising me: "Why have an email link if you're not going to reply?" The email link is not an invitation to establish a dialog, it is a channel for you to share your views and information should you wish to.
Nonetheless, I feel a constant unhappy guilt over my inability to respond to every email. I feel it comes across as impolite or uncaring, yet I simply cannot write more than 3,000 or 4,000 emails a year, on top of writing 250 blog entries, dozens of feature articles for other media channels and my books. An auto-response is not a real response, so I decline to ask readers to take a non-response as an authentic reply.
Which site do we choose to post a comment on, the site with 15 readers or the one with 15,000 readers? We generally choose the site with the large audience, of course, because we want our opinion or content to reach the multitude, not the handful.
In this sense, we are "free-riding" on the blog's success in garnering an audience in a transparently Darwinian competition for readership.
The general assumption seems to be that posting original content on a blog automatically indentures one to hosting and moderating comments. If we recall that blogs are freely broadcast content that the reader pays nothing to the blogger to access, this assumption becomes rather peculiar: why should a blogger share his/her audience with others who pay nothing for his time, server, etc., especially when moderation of the comment/forum is an enormous time-sink?
The typical answer is that a comment board adds free content to the blog and therefore makes it a more attractive site, thereby boosting the site's audience. This is supposed to magically generate income via adverts that make the extra effort worthwhile.
But since only a handful of blogs gain a large enough audience to generate a middle-class income from adverts, this is simply not true for 99.9% of blogs.
Nonetheless, I receive indignant emails asking why I don't host comments. I have experimented with a variety of reader content over the past seven years, from Readers Journal essays, poems and commentaries to a reader-hosted and moderated forum. I consider Readers Journal a great success but I ran out of time to maintain it.
No one expects the proprietor of a Facebook page to get paid for providing content, largely because the content is either personal (800 million channels of me) or it is freely posted comments from friends.
Yet why do we expect bloggers to provide original content for free? Because free content is in great abundance, of course. Why pay for content when content is free?
We can discern all the threads of New Media in this brief discussion of blogs, comments and email: the difficulty in getting paid for original content, the freedom to broadcast one's opinions, photos, etc. to the world or to an opt-in circle of people, and the impossibility of managing the overwhelming flow of content, channels and messages.
One way to clarify my role in this New Media experiment is to ask: what's my job here? This is a question I understand, and here is the answer: my one and only job here is to create original content. Everything else is secondary.
The original content is why you're reading this. Nobody really cares if I reply to email or host a comments board; the content is the purpose, meaning and value.
Since nobody pays me directly for the blog's content, I am free to write about anything I want; I have no obligation to anyone or anything except my own sense of journalistic standards and craftsmanship. Very few of us get paid for self-expression, and I am acutely aware of the difference between journalism and self-expression.
My latest novel is serialized on the weekend for the amusement of the few who are following along. It is an indulgence to publish my self-expression, but I reckon most of you are forgiving of this occasional indulgence.
I confess I am a slave to original content. Before I travel, I prepare entries and charts in advance, so I can post new content in a few minutes at night. This creates a facade of stability, behind which the chaotic swirl of my real life is hidden.
As a result of travel, my mail piles up unread for weeks at a time, and hundreds of emails pile up unread, too, as I untether myself when I'm doing stuff in the real world. Since my only job here is creating content, as long as I manage that somehow, I am doing my job.
Hopefully you didn't notice that I was away from my desk for 13 of the last 52 weeks.
I have work in the real world, and so I have very little time to invest in content creation for the blog or email correspondence. That limited time must be split with my other content-creation job, which is writing books. Last year I wrote two books, an effort that required major sacrifices.
Why be a slave to content? Why bother? What's the point? For me, the answer is to play a positive role, however small, in the transformation ahead as the profligate, corrupt Status Quo runs aground and is replaced with new arrangements.
That said, oftwominds.com is always on the verge of coming apart at the seams because it is increasingly difficult to keep up this workflow and have any sort of life in the real world. This remains a one-man shop, because that's all the revenue can support. I apologize for the limitations of this arrangement but this is the best I can manage.
I want to apologize to those few whose book orders and contributions fell through the cracks in the past few months. The months since October have been especially chaotic for me, with houseguests during Thanksgiving week, a monumental multicultural Thanksgiving dinner, a museum/architectural tour of Los Angeles, weeks in Hawaii performing a bunch of other duties and responsibilities, a book launch (Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It), more houseguests, etc.
If you ordered a book and did not receive it, please email me immediately. I have sent hundreds of books to readers over the past few years, and my track record of filling orders has been pretty good. But the past few months have been overwhelming, and it will take me a few weeks to get back on track. Your patience is greatly appreciated.
If you subscribed or contributed $50 or more, but are not yet receiving the Musings Reports (and you want to), please email me.
To the 4% Remnant who supports the site with cold hard cash: thank you. You have stepped up to the New Media plate and scored a run (in my book, a home run). Thank you for valuing the original content and for understanding it is not free to create or host.
And now, back to our regularly scheduled insufferable drivel....
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