Friday, February 02, 2007

Blogs and Money

It looks like Glenn Greenwald is getting some push-back about his move to Salon.

I'm one of the ones who pushed back (a little), but I hope it's clear that I don't think Greenwald "owes" me a free blog. I case it's not crystal clear, let me say it again: Glenn Greenwald deserves to make money, and if he thinks that he can (among other things) make money by moving to Salon, more power to him. I'm not angry, upset or irritated with him personally. (I'm disappointed, of course, that I won't get to read him anymore).

I believe in paying for what I read. Now that I have some money, every two weeks I send $50 to one of the content providers (comics & blogs) which I read regularly. (Ironically, Greenwald was second on my blog list, after The Rude Pundit.) This is not a very good system: I read about a hundred sites most every day, and it'll take me years just to make one payment to each one of the sites I read. But I'm trying.

I don't have a problem with Greenwald. I don't even have any particular problem with Salon. I do have a problem, though, with replicating the magazine subscription model on the web.

I read about 40 blogs a day. I click on about as many links from those blogs. I do this in addition to my day job and writing this blog. As you might suspect, I'm very efficient at this task; It takes me about an hour to go through all these blogs.[1] In a week of just my normal coffee-and-toast morning blog reading, I'll probably touch what would have been, pre-web, content from a hundred different publications. There's simply no way I would be able or willing to pay for subscriptions to all those publications. Even a minute watching an ad or filling out a registration form is significant.

When I subscribe to a publication, I'm tempted to make that publication a focus of my reading; I'm just as capitalist as the next guy, and I want to use my money most efficiently. But to focus on a publication means to focus on what the editors of that publication deem worthy; I'm ceding my news judgment to someone else and restricting the range of my reading.

There's a moral dimension to the issue as well. I like several of The New Republic's writers, but subscribing to that publication entails putting money in the pockets of bigot Marty Peretz and pro-Iraq-war Peter Beinert. There are very few publications which fail to piss me off one way or another from time to time, placing me in the awkward moral dilemma of having to support people and ideas I dislike (and sometimes loathe) in order to support people I admire and respect.

In a similar vein, there's other work--primarily Libertarian and conservative blogs--I feel obligated to read to obtain views substantially different from my own, but whom I would never want to financially support. Likewise, I think liberals, if we insist that conservatives have an obligation to hear our side of the story, have an obligation to make our work available to those who would never financially support us. I would really like many of my conservative correspondents to read what Greenwald has to say, but I know they'll never give a single penny or a single second of their time to enriching the bastion of liberalism which is Salon.

The whole point of the web is to break down the artificial compartments which are an unavoidable side-effect of print journalism, especially magazine-oriented opinion journalism. Merely re-creating these compartments on the web seems like a tragic waste of the web's paradigm-changing potential.

Of course, I have an idea for an alternative.

Update: added link.

[1] Many of the blogs I read don't update every day; others have content I can skim quickly; and other have more-or-less duplicate content. If something catches my interest, I'll spend additional time in the evening reading it in-depth.

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