1001 Words On Why You Should Charge People To Read Your Blog

COMING SOON: Your favorite magazines have never been free. Soon, your favorite blogs might not be free either. Should they be?

It’s a hot debate! Pro bloggers are debating about charging for their content. What do you think about this? I’ve read commentary recently from David Risley, Gary Vaynerchuk, Ryan Deiss, Danny Brown and others. Interestingly, this is not a new topic of discussion; it’s just become very popular lately. True to form, Darren Rowse was talking about this years ago

Platforms like MediaPass and Letter.ly make it easy to charge for your content, and they’re growing in popularity. Paying for content; it’s a novel idea!

Actually it’s not a new idea at all though, is it? People have been paying for newspapers, magazines, records (otherwise known as cds, mp3’s, ringtones, etc) since time immemorial. It’s nothing new.

Paying for content shouldn’t surprise us. Yet it does! The idea of paying to read a blog makes most of us cringe. Why is this?

Here’s the truth

Because most blogs suck, that’s why. I know, no one wants to say this, so I’ll say it. Would you pay to read most of the blogs out there? I’m guessing the answer is “no”? If so, I can’t blame you. I wouldn’t pay for most of the content out there either.

So is this a business model that’s gonna fly? Yes, I think it is. Look around, and you’re going to see a lot more bloggers using a paid subscription model.

How will this work?

Jason Fried is co-founder of 37 signals, and he was recently featured in Inc magazine. An interesting side note: Inc is one of the few magazines I still pay to read. I pay happily, because it’s good, and it speaks to a topic which deeply interests me. Incidentally, these are the prerequisites for a paid content model:

  • A committed readership
  • Damn good content
  • Consistency

If you drop the ball on any of these three, forget about it. But if you can deliver on all three points, you have every right to charge for what you’re doing, and you will get subscribers who are happily willing to pay. Fried talks about how to make money in this recent edition of Inc magazine, and while he doesn’t discuss the blogosphere directly, he makes some very relevant points.

Fried talks about how his company charges for things that other companies give away for free. He says “People are happy to pay for things that work well. Never be afraid to put a price on something. If you pour your heart into something and make it great, sell it. For real money. Even if there are free options, even if the market is flooded with free. People will pay for things they love. ”

Products like Basecamp, he admits, have competitors who charge little or nothing. Meanwhile he charges a premium and still has a strong subscriber base. How does he pull it off? He simply asks for money. Asking for money changes the whole game, and I would submit it has the potential of changing it in a very good way.

People want to pay you…

It’s not difficult or unrealistic to charge for your content, as long as you can deliver on the 3 prerequisites I submitted earlier. People want quality. They want you to be awesome, because when you’re awesome, they benefit from it. They get to learn more from you. This also enables them to read fewer blogs and have less noise in their life. They can be confident that they’re getting everything they need in one place.

I haven’t done this with blogging yet, but I’ve seen it first hand in my business for over 12 years. People are more than happy to pay a premium for what you do, as long as you’re able to deliver. Fried mentions this as well. He says “When you put a price on something, you get really honest feedback from customers. When entrepreneurs ask me how to get customers to tell us what they really think, I respond with two words: Charge them. They’ll tell you what they think, demand excellence, and take the product seriously in a way they never would if they were just using it for free.”

This is the problem with free; there is very little incentive for your readers to be candid and engaged with you on a high level. There’s a huge difference between getting lots of comments on your blog posts and getting helpful, earnest feedback. At the end of the day, I’d guess you would probably prefer the latter, no?

There’s a lot of talk in the social media community about how to “engage your audience”. Want to engage people? Take their money. After you take their money, you can bet they’re going to be engaged. As Fried said in his article, “As an entrepreneur, you should welcome that pressure. You should want to be forced to be good at what you do.” Unfortunately, my perspective is that most bloggers are actually afraid of this level of accountability. That’s fine, but charging for what you do definitely ups the ante, and if quality is your focus, you should want to do this. It’s a win-win. It’s a good thing for everyone involved.

Most blogs out there will remain free, because candidly…they should be.

The future of free

Even in the pro blogging sphere, blogging for free won’t go away entirely, because free is always the best way to reach the largest number of people. It’s a powerful way to test ideas and develop your offers. It remains the most direct and effective way to build a community around your niche. It’s also the ultimate way to put yourself out there, develop your own voice and find the real value that you can ultimately charge for. That said, look out, because paid blogs are coming en masse. In my view, it’s about time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether this is a good idea or not. Will it fly? Is it good for blogging? Have YOU considered charging?

Christian Russell is the blogger behind Dangerous Tactics, a unique small business marketing strategies blog with no tolerance for B.S. His latest report, My 7 Horrible Marketing Mistakes, reveals to you the most likely mistakes that are preventing your business from reaching it’s full potential.

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18 Responses

  1. Preach it, brotherman! Charging for something is what’s key here. I don’t think it can ever be blog posts, I think it has to be labeled as something different. Yes, semantics matter a great deal in this area. People pay for training, for tools, for access to the juice. But as soon as you call any of that a blog post it’s automatically devalued and no one wants to pay for it.

    • Agreed, 100%! Semantics is huge. It seems most bloggers still need to learn the difference between the sizzle and the steak, know what I mean?

      As soon as you introduce money, the game changes. If you want to charge, you have to step up. That includes the level of quality you’re held accountable to producing, and it also includes how you present yourself.

      I think it’s about time for people to start looking at their businesses creatively and doing what it takes to monetize!

  2. Gary just launched a paid newsletter, which I’m sure is decent, but still I won’t pay for it. I bought his book.

    I used to hate the “information wants to be free” sentiment, but after years of thinking about it, I believe it to be true. I’m not sure why people decide to fight against the current, instead of redirecting it and using it to their advantage.

    Use a blog or newsletter as a loss leader, and let your real product shine on its own. The problem is that people still believe, for some reason, that their blog is a product, and like you said, most of them suck. They also aren’t products.

    I guess I just don’t understand why the discussion started in the first place.

    • Right on man! I think Michael made a great point. It’s all about presentation. I agree people tend to over-complicate these things.

      I’ve said before (I think it was even on Blog for Profit) that “ideas are the evidence of value, not the essence of value”, and I agree that charging for regular old blog posts ain’t gonna work. This is why I added “the future of free” to this article. I don’t think free blogging will go away. Not at all. But I think there are a lot of struggling bloggers out there who owe it to themselves to look at their business creatively and see they have a lot of opportunity to charge and monetize what they’re doing.

      I probably wouldn’t pay for Gary’s newsletter either. And that’s cool. I’m not in his target market. Most of my clients are Realtors, and that places a lot of limits on how I can market myself in this business. It also means I can offer a disgustingly high amount of value in a very specific way to a very specific group of people.

      Charging for content forces you to think that through, and it really shows you who your core audience is.

      I definitely agree on not fighting the current. Take the models that exist today and use them to your advantage. I just think there’s a lot more opportunity than most people see.

  3. Good stuff! You hit all of the main points on the subject for pay for content. Me personally I haven’t thought of charging because my following isn’t big enough for all of that haha. But for you big boys I wouldn’t see why not!

  4. G’Day Christian,
    Here we go again: imagining that web marketing is somehow special. It aint. Almost 20 years ago I built a successful offline business by giving away a free 41 page Special Report. It’s now a cornerstone of my online business.

    A paid blog is a membership site. If what you publish is good enough for people to pay for, set up such a site. You’ll soon find out whether readers are prepared to pat you for what you have to say.

    It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that it doesn’t matter how good you think your blog posts are. What matters is how good readers think they are.

    I regularly cull blogs I receive. If I don’t think that I’m getting much from them, I unsubscribe.

    A blog is part of a marketing plan. It isn’t the marketing plan.

    Get paid for everything you can. I support that idea entirely.
    But don’t delude yourself into thinking you’re the “New York Times.” And remember, lots more people read newspapers than buy them. And most people who buy them started reading them over someone’s shoulder for free.


  5. Nice post my friend!

    Michael Martine made a good point at the very beginning – Semantics matter.

    I’m not going to pay anyone for a blog post. You know what though, I ALREADY pay publishers for articles. For content marketers (like myself) we may call what we do blogging, but in reality our posts are not really web logs – They are usually stand-alone articles and tutorials.

    Thanks for bringing the debate back to life, Christian!

    • Thanks for the great feedback Jim! I really like the way you phrased it. The “blog posts” competent content marketers publish are really a lot more valuable than most readers realize. This is why you have professionals like Brogan and Rowse (just to name two of many) taking the actual content from their blogs and selling it, in book format.

      The way content is presented is everything. That’s true. I think my biggest point is, if your blog content is good enough to stand out and make an impact in the blogosphere, it’s good enough to sell.

      Would you rather have 2000-3000 paying subscribers or 100,000 free subscribers? I don’t think it’s an either/or thing. I think you can have both, and I think a lot of bloggers aren’t giving themselves enough credit for the work they do. There is a lot of untapped opportunity out there.

  6. I haven’t come across a blog yet that I I would pay to read. Mainly because similar content is available elsewhere.

    From time to time I pay for content, for example, access to several thousand religious books and magazines for $50/Year.

    Usually I don’t keep subscriptions for very long because the need is temporary.

    • Rick, I feel the same way. If there’s a comparable product elsewhere for free, why pay? The content must be compelling and unique. I would bet you do pay for content however, just in different form. Correct me if I’m wrong 🙂

      It’s a good point you bring up about the longevity of your subscriptions. Continuity varies from industry to industry. There needs to be something specific that keeps you coming back for more. Again, when you start taking money the whole game changes.

  7. I am architect and developer of wordpress membership plugin MemberWing (http://www.memberwing.com)
    (and customer of Headway of course).

    Having sold it in over 30 countries worldwide I have to tell that charging for premium content is a popular concept indeed.

    My most successful customers are the ones who deliver:
    – valuable unique information, especially reports that helps people to improve quality of their lives.
    – present information as a solution to some problem, especially related to health and finances.
    – present educational “how to” information and courses.

    Needless to say that all above must be unique, well written and quality content delivered by expert or group of experts in their field.

    Entertainment, casual and lifestyle blogs while could generate high traffic are better off with quality ads and possibly with unobtrusively promoted affiliate products.

    I actually like NYT approach especially related to letting visitors from social media sites access info for free.

    I personally never shy to pay for quality information I am looking for. Information that helps to solve problem or just saves time – is valuable and it certainly justifies price tag.


    • Thanks for the great feedback Gleb! I agree with other commentators that selling blog content on face value is not the way to go. It needs to be packaged and presented as premium content, and then of course it needs to BE premium content.

      Jim Connolly made a great point that much of the content we publish IS premium content, we just don’t charge for it. My main point here is that there is an option, and with a little homework and an effective offer, charging for awesome content is 100% viable. Thanks for your insights!

      • Having said that (about NYT) I still see hurdles for them to charge for something of “generic” value that is available elsewhere (more like everywhere) for free.

        I also a strong believer in theory that every single person on earth possesses knowledge, information or skill that someone (and quite often many others) would be willing to pay money for to learn.

        I routinely pay to access web information of my personal interest here and there.
        It’s win win for all.


  8. Charging people to pay to read your blog, which is essentially your thoughts and feelings on a matter, is incredibly arrogant. A person with a pay to read blog, no matter how good they and others think their content is, is essentially pitting themselves against scholarly sites and sites like Oxford dictionary or Encyclopedia Britannica that have the name to back themselves up, and this puts the pay to read bloggers way out of their league. The fact that they are even trying marks them as arrogant. If I found a pay to read blog in my search for information I would turn around and leave, and if any of the blogs I read on a regular basis, some of them high quality stuff, ever became pay to read, I would unsubscribe, unbookmark the site, and find another source for the information.

    • So you would unsubscribe and leave just because they are charging to access content? Content that you yourself label as “high quality stuff.” I’m assuming you’re not a content creator…

      You’re out of line calling people arrogant who charge for their work. I will call you cheap for expecting “high quality stuff” for free. If content is entertaining people, solving problems or providing valuable information then yes the author should charge for it.

      It’s funny when you spend 1,000+ hours creating content for a site that many people enjoy then you get one person who freaks out because you promote an affiliate product. Oh well, can’t please everyone.

      The Internet is so full of garbage that I’m happy to pay a small fee to access the good info.

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