Steal this blog: Why the economics of blogging are broken

Imagine you have composed a beautiful song. This song is a culmination of years of music lessons, performing, and experimentation. You love your song. You’re proud of your song.

Then unexpectedly, your hear your composition in a television commercial. You didn’t even know about this — let alone have compensation for it!  Then you hear your song covered by another artist — just ripped off! They won’t even acknowledge that it’s your song and THEY’RE making money from it.  Suddenly, your song is everywhere. There is no way to stop it. Your work is lost, hopelessly spread over the world forever.  It makes you feel like you never want to write a song again.

This is what life is like as a creative individual on the Internet.

Content is ripped off wholesale. There is an expectation that any type of creative output is free and should be freely distributed.

As the popularity of my blog has grown, so has the popularity of ripping it off. In the past month, my blog posts have been:

  • Reproduced in their entirety on other blogs without attribution of any kind.
  • Used as promotional content on other people’s revenue-producing websites, blogs and eNewsletters
  • Taken in their entirety to populate SEO scam sites.

This is not unusual. It happens all the time to any blogger of note. It’s sickening and depressing.  It’s the dark side of “viral.”

The economics of the Internet are broken

This “content harvesting” I’m describe occurs with art, music, movies, games, software … any creative output on the social web. So I’m not alone with this problem but that doesn’t make it right.

There is no way to stop it. I’ve tried addressing individual occurrences and it’s like playing a global game of social media Wack-a-Mole. And I’m sure for every one rip-off I learn about there are 10 that I don’t.

For more than 15 years — really since the dawn of Napster — people have been creating an Internet culture of entitlement. If it’s on the web, it is fair game for free use and distribution, no matter the implications for the creator.

There have been promises of new revenue models falling into place to support these artists but it hasn’t happened, and I don’t think it will.  Any form of protection like Creative Commons is essentially toothless.

Taking a stand

I can’t address this widespread problem, but I can take a stand in my own little piece of the web. So I am making two changes on {grow} in response to this issue.

First, I am featuring a modest amount of advertising on the side column of this blog. This will never seep into the editorial portion of the blog. You will never see affiliate links or sponsored posts. These are organizations I believe in, and in some cases, the ads (like for Amachi or Habitat for Humanity) are posted at no charge. It is a small way to support good work.

I am a consultant and teacher. The only thing I have to sell is my time. While there are indirect benefits of blogging, having some modest direct income will help justify spending more time on content and comments.  It will make it a better blog!

Ending guest post slavery

I will use advertising revenue to pay four contributing writers.  If you haven’t noticed them yet, they are:

  • Sidney Eve Matrix — Culture and technology professor at Queens University and a blogging inspiration
  • Stanford Smith — Blogging intellect and the sweetest writer on the web
  • Neicole Crepeau — Ex-Microsoft-er who sees the social web in an entirely different and humanistic way.
  • Srinivas Rao— He’s interviewed 130 bloggers. “Nuff said.

They are among the best writers and diverse thinkers on the social web. Period.

And while exposure on {grow} will undoubtedly help their own blogs and businesses, it is time to break this cycle of slave labor expectations of guest bloggers.  It is unfair and wrong to build and monetize a community or business on the free labor of others.

I’ve thought about these issues a lot and I think it is time to take a stand against this destructive “free” mentality in a positive way.  I also hope I am accomplishing this in a manner that builds on the integrity of the blog, my deep respect for this community, and an urgent desire to provide the most insanely great content on the social web.

It’s an experiment.  Let’s see if it works.

As always, I would cherish your thoughts on these issues in the comment section.

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