• The TIE paywall goes up

    The blogging business is changing. Traditional ways of monetizing blog content have become insufficient to cover costs. These facts are as true for The Incidental Economist as for other, bigger blogs. In recent weeks Aaron, Don, and I have interviewed numerous bloggers and journalists at top media organizations. Though none of them wished to be mentioned by name, their message was clear and unanimous.

    “The good times are over,” said one well-known blogger-journalist from a DC-area newspaper. “Back in the aughts my inbox was jammed with offers to monetize my blog. If you weren’t on track to a six-figure income you were doing something wrong. Today, we all have to hustle more. I get up earlier, work later, and still barely make rent.”

    “I’ve done everything I can to turn blogging into greenbacks,” said another journalist who writes regularly for a national magazine. “My columns appear on multiple platforms. They all pay, but only a little. It’s really sad. Nobody wants to pay for a good blog anymore.”

    Here at TIE, we feel the same pinch. It is getting harder and harder to cover costs. Until last year we ran Google ads. The paltry revenue was barely enough to pay for our coffee, let alone our salaries. We pulled the ads to make space to promote our books, columns, and scholarly publications. Those don’t generate much money either, but at least they’re about us. Our view is that a blog that neither boosts one’s ego nor generates revenue deserves to be shut down faster than freshman members of Congress want to shut down the US government.

    Perplexed about what to do, we turned to a widely-read, academic economist-blogger who explained by email,

    It’s a structural, dynamic problem anticipated by Hayek in The Road to Serfdom.  When the elasticity of demand for locally produced information falls below criticality on the intrinsic margin, monetization can lead to a classic adverse selection death spiral. What can be done? Large papers like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal think a paywall is the answer. I’m less sanguine about the political economy of such a move. It’s a partial equilibrium, at best. The profit maximizing price is unstable because supply is outpacing demand.

    Look, the infovores have spoken. They know the marginal cost of a blog is zero. At the zero lower bound, informational capital must be raised by nontraditional means. More likely the answer lies in the direction of harnessing more technology, not less. Write an eBook. Get on Twitter. Create your own economy.

    Easy enough! But it will take time, and we have a revenue problem today. Therefore, we are going to try the traditional as we explore the nontraditional.

    As of 3PM today, we are imposing the TIE paywall. Actually, it’s not really a wall. It’s not even a fence. A “small bump” would be an apt description. It will work like this: if you consume more than 20 TIE posts per month, we are asking for a donation in any amount you like. However, if any one of those posts includes an equation, it counts double. If it includes a chart that makes you think, “Wow, nice chart,” it counts as three posts. One twist: if any blogger for a nationally recognized media outlet says that TIE is among his or her favorite blogs, we’ll waive all fees. The month is on us.

    We can’t afford to keep track of the posts, double posts, and triple posts. So, you do the math. Then multiply by the value per post and pay up. It’s an honor system. We know you’re good for it.

    To make your payment or to set up an auto-pay agreement through your credit card or bank account, send an email to TIE.paywall@april.fools.day.com . Thank you for your support.

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    • Michael Corleone: Senator? You can have my answer now, if you like. My final offer is this: nothing. Not even the fee for the gaming license, which I would appreciate if you would put up personally.