Supporting Independent Content and OneThirtySeven

Since launching the site redesign in September, 2012, I've received a humbling number of donations from readers via the well-hidden OneThirtySeven PayPal form. As I noted when I added the capacity for donations, I simply have no intention or inclination to advertise the feature.

Today's a brief exception.

Generally speaking, I fear that far too many writers are attempting to prematurely monetize their writing. Although I certainly understand the desire to elicit a material gain from the hours spent producing content online, I feel that, in some cases, monetization has overtaken quality as the goal and purpose of writing in the first place.

Many have taken to implementing membership initiatives, magazines, newsletters, t-shirts, postcards, and so on, but few have remained focused upon improving the commodity and service they're attempting to sell.

When I added the capacity for donations, it was not a frivolous moment. I thought long and hard about providing such an option. In the end, I settled upon adding it, but tucking it away within the site.

The reason is that this weblog is not yet at a point I feel is deserving of large-scale support.

Metrically speaking, OneThirtySeven appears extremely solid. Readership continues to multiply on a monthly basis, RSS and Twitter followers are increasing steadily, the consistency of posting is reaching a point of relative stability, and this content has now been proliferating for over a year.

And yet, from a personal perspective, I feel there is much further for me to go with my voice, my curation, and my techniques. Accordingly, I'm extremely wary of instituting any semblance of well-traveled monetization method.

2013 is going to be a year of tidal shifts in digital publishing. Although the independent community stands apart from the world of mainstream publications, I suspect there will be a convergence this year over experimentation in monetization. Memberships, paywalls, and so-called "freemium" models will invariably become commonplace, but only a handful will find long-term viability in doing so.

The trouble is that, with each new monetization model requiring reader support, the market becomes increasingly destabilized. There's only so many writers that readers can be expected to support and the rapid proliferation of the monetization mentality in the publishing community will likely cause an excessive saturation.

I mean to say that, even if OneThirtySeven was at a point of feasible financial support from the community, I would be reticent to adopt one of these models. Folks like John Gruber, Shawn Blanc, Jim Dalrymple, and Andrew Sullivan have pioneered new ways to fund their craft, whilst innumerable others have simply attempted to re-appropriate their efforts.

For all of this, I mean to suggest that I do not intend to implement a monetization method unless I can create something altogether different from my counterparts in both the independent and mainstream communities. I'm of the belief that, without sufficient differentiation, this weblog will simply merge with a growing mass of similar sites with similar business models. 

OneThirtySeven and Bionic were both conceived with the purpose of being different in voice, content, and purpose, and mindlessly adopting a business model for the sake of attempting to gratify myself would, therefore, not only be pointless, but also an element of self-betrayal.

I hope I don't come across as disparaging of other independent creators who've implemented monetization models. I support a great deal of them and I believe you should too. The trouble is that we're quickly moving toward a point of utter communal saturation — a point at which it will become difficult for the average reader to support all of the sites she or he enjoys. Just as retail subscription services rose to prominence in 2012 and subsequently overwhelmed many consumers, independent publishers are facing a similar problem. Although I'd love to support as many as possible, it's just becoming patently unfeasible for both myself and the wider reading public to do so.

For now, I'll continue to offer a donations option, but I've removed PayPal as the medium for such support. Per Patrick Rhone (a writer you should be supporting, by the way), I've migrated my donations to Spacebox (a front-end for Stripe). As a result, payments are made more easily, PayPal doesn't clutch its talons into your shoulders, and the process is made all the more incidental.

For those of you who've donated in the past, as I've written to each of you individually, I cannot thank you enough. Your gracious donations provide me with a great deal of confidence and drive.

For those who're considering a donation, I'm not going to coax you into it. OneThirtySeven is a learning platform for me and I find more than enough reward in seeing more and more people reading, linking, and chatting about my writing.

Still, if you'd like to express your support, I welcome small donations via Spacebox, but I'd be equally appreciative of a simple email with a few words of advice or support.

For those in the independent community, I strongly advise against implementing an ill-considered monetization method for your weblog. Consider your audience before you decide to ask them for money. Be mindful of the bearing a membership model has upon your readership. Although you might think there'd be no correlation, I suspect the reality is quite to the contrary.

As I wrote in November, 2012:

Anything you earn whilst writing — be it money, friends, connections, or otherwise — is a gift that you would not have had otherwise. To embrace an attitude of self-entitlement and demand more is not only excessive, but it is rather embarrassing.
The lesson is that pursuing things you are passionate about and enjoy will inevitably benefit you in an astounding manner. But, if you choose to pre-define the shape of these gains, you will find yourself disappointed and disillusioned.
Enjoy a sense of blind optimism and write for the sake of writing. You will unquestionably be rewarded for doing so.

In other words, there's more to writing than searching for a fleeting material gain. So, if you plan to introduce a monetization method, please try to keep that in mind.

For those who wish to donate, you can do so via Spacebox. For those who wish to email me instead, you can reach me here.

As always, thank you for your support. Should the situation allow it during the year, I may well consider a formal business model for OneThirtySeven. For now, though, I'm quite happy to just have a few words of support here and there.

At the end of the day, that's really what it's all about.