I started blogging in 2004. I’m still at it, even though blogs have gone out of fashion. But when I look at what passes today for free online and electronically-delivered written content … long posts on Facebook that nobody reads, threaded posts on Twitter, Tumblr and Storify accounts, visual stories on Instagram, email newsletters … it’s hard to see how any of these are better than traditional weblogs. IMO they’re worse. Twitter threads are so frustrating to read, developers have come up with apps to combine individual tweets in a series into single, long documents. Newsletters are hit and miss … how, for example, do you even find out about them? It’s not like they’re out there on the web for anyone to discover via Google. When you do learn of one you may be interested in, via word of mouth or Twitter, you have to subscribe to it. And when it comes to telling stories or commenting on the world around us, most of us are writers, not visual artists.
Any way you cut it, blogging is still the best way to write for an online audience, and owning your own blog gives you more freedom than you’ll get on a platform like Tumblr. Your blog will live at a fixed, known web address and readers can drop by any time they want. What could be more effective than that? What could be more writer-friendly? What could be more user-friendly? What could be simpler?
Slave to fashion that I am, I did start a newsletter a few years ago. It was a struggle to come with things to write about that weren’t already on my blog. I tried to use the newsletter to share some of the more intimate details of my life, but after a while realized I was just as comfortable sharing that stuff on my blog. My last newsletter went out in February 2018. Since then, everything I’ve felt like sharing publicly has been on my blog.
I’ve never tried to make money off this. There are no ads on my blog. A lot of blogs have them, and I find them off-putting and distracting. Over the years marketers have offered me money to add sponsored posts to my blog, but I always delete their pitches. Why would anyone want to read a pitch for Ray-Bans? You can get that on Facebook. Now, apparently, people who write electronic newsletters are starting to ask for subscription fees. I never did that with my newsletter. If I ever write and self-publish a book, sure, I’ll try to sell it through Amazon, but that’s different.
One of the bloggers I most admire calls herself Mimi Smartypants. She started in 1999, when blogs were called diaries and diarists used pen names. She still calls her blog a diary, and has never, to my knowledge, shared her real name with readers. True, she got a book deal based on her early diary entries, but she never monetized the diary itself. It’s still there, still free, unsullied by banner ads, sponsored posts, or tailored marketing.
She’s a terrific writer; along with one or two other long-time bloggers, an inspiration and model to me. I check in to her blog at least once a month. I dropped by today, in fact, and was happy to find her addressing these same subjects in her latest entry. I’m going to quote some of it, because she confirms many of the things I believe in, and strengthens my resolve to keep doing what she and other long-time bloggers do: writing for readers, free of advertising and subscription fees.
I am subscribed to so many of your newsletters. The free versions, that is. I suppose I understand where you are coming from, you produce amazing content that I love and if anyone out there wants to pay for it, they should certainly be welcome to do so. Pro: It is nice to get mail, and to have a nice blog post to read right there in the old in-box. Con: There are an awful lot of these nice blog posts, and while lots of them might be worth $50/year for special subscriber-only content, one can not reasonably subscribe to a whole bunch of $50/year newsletters. Why do you want to make me choose? Hey I have an idea: you put this amazing content in an INTERNET LOCATION, where I can go read it. I just invented blogs! What a great idea, damn.
Deja vu, incoming: there will be a ton of anger about my very mild criticism of newsletters, just as there was when, long ago in the “blogosphere,” I dared to opine that sponsored posts dilute a writer’s voice and make me uninterested in and suspicious of the other things they have to say, and that sidebar ads on a personal blog are ugly and lame and do you really want to talk about your personal precious life right next to a Duncan Hines cake mix video. I still have emails saved in a folder called SELLOUTS GET SENSITIVE: people who got really mad at that and wrote me full of righteous indignation and I HAVE A RIGHT TO MAKE A LIVING. Of course you do! Never said otherwise!
As for the newsletter thing, I don’t necessarily hate it. It is just strange, that’s all—when I have always conceived of my online diary as a sort of letter to whoever reads it—that the “new” model of writing online is literally writing a letter to subscribers. With (presumably?) slightly better letters going to those who choose to pay.
Whatever. It has officially, as I pompously announced on Twitter, been 20 years since I started putting my diary (this one right here!) online, and it is not moving to newsletter format. There won’t be ads, there won’t be sponsored posts, you don’t have to pay to read it. That is not because I am so fucking punk rock by any means (remember, I was an early sellout to the blog-into-(terrible)-book gold rush!) It is just because I don’t know any other way, and I like to type about what I am doing, and I don’t need your money because I do other stuff for money. Keep your money! Use it to pay your bills and buy candy and drugs.
© 2019, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.