Saturday, January 18, 2014

One Blogger's Story About Money

We have entered the era of do-it-yourself media.

This blog often addresses money in an abstract way: what is it, how it works in our financial system, etc. For example, Harun I.'s clear-eyed explanation of money in Resolution #1: Let's Call Things What They Really Are in 2014 (January 15, 2014) and Jeff W.'s insightful essay on gold and credit as money: Metallic Money (Gold/Silver) vs. Credit Money: Know the Difference (November 28, 2013).

Today I'd like to personalize the abstract topic of money a bit by telling you one blogger's story about money--the Of Two Minds story. Humor me for a few paragraphs because I think there may be some larger lessons embedded in this short little history.

I have been a freelance writer/independent journalist (i.e. paid money for content creation) since 1988. I wrote mostly for major daily newspapers from 1988 to 2004, with occasional work for magazines. My largest fee was $1,500, but the average was around $250 per article, and $150 for a short column. Lead stories requiring multiple interviews and fact-checking paid around $500.

Writing has never been lucrative except at the top of the profession. The low pay was driven by the excess of people willing to write for low or no pay and the relatively few outlets for paid content. This trend has been greatly accelerated by the world-wide web, which offers up endless content for free. This has naturally squeezed the income of the few outlets that pay for content.

Like virtually everything else in our economy, writing has increasingly become a "winner take all" pyramid where the top 1/10th of 1% garner the vast majority of the income, accolades, public visibility, celebrity, promotional opportunities, etc. The top 5% receive most of what little is left and the bottom 95% receive crumbs.

Content providers such as AOL/Huffington Post found they could largely replace paid free-lancers (such as myself) with virtually free content managed by a relative handful of full-time staff: AOL, Huffington Post Seek Another 8,000 Free Bloggers (April 2011).

Given the surplus of people willing to create nearly free content, this is an irresistible business proposition: why pay some writers for content when thousands of others will voluntarily create content for low/no pay? We would all do the same thing were we tasked with generating maximum income from content.
With no thoughts for generating income, in May 2005 I launched this blog, inspired by my journalist/activist friend and mentor, Ian Lind of

A few years later, readers suggested, "Why don't you put a Tip Jar on your site for donations?" Since it came from readers, I followed the suggestion.

A few years after that, another reader suggested I add a subscription button so readers could give $5/month. I did not see why anyone would subscribe for content that was free, but it was slowly dawning on me that some people wanted to support the site by contributing money, even if they weren't receiving anything but the satisfaction of supporting work/analysis they valued.

In 2011, my longtime friend G.F.B. suggested that I send subscribers a special weekly report. Sending subscribers something in recognition of their financial support struck me as only fair, so I launched the weekly Musings Reports for subscribers and major contributors (those who contribute $50 or more annually).

We have entered the era of do-it-yourself media. If we want a free encyclopedia (for example, Wikipedia), then some of us have to support its operating costs (I give money annually to Wikipedia). If we want independent journalism, then we have to support their operating costs.

If we don't, we're left with the heavily filtered Mainstream Media (MSM), much of which has been reduced to publishing press releases, government propaganda and think-tank reports that present subtly skew data to support an ideological position.

The content creation of New Media is also do-it-yourself. Writers such as Ian and myself (along with tens of thousands of other bloggers) choose to create content as a do-it-yourself project. A relative handful of bloggers earn six-figure incomes, a few more earn a middle-class income and the vast majority earn very little for their work.

As a result of the ever-growing surplus of free content and those willing to create free content, independent blogs and New Media sites are constantly appealing to readers in fund drives of one kind or another. Very few web publications or blogs have enough subscribers to cover their production costs, and so appeals for donations are pretty much the only business available other than adverts or secretly selling out to the NSA or People's Liberation Army (PLA).

Everyone who creates content, from daily newspapers to magazines to bloggers, is trying to find a business model that can support their operation in a tsunami of free content. Good old advertising appears to be the primary source of income for most web-based sites, and a relative handful (the top 1/10th of 1%) of sites attract enough traffic to earn a living for those generating content.

All this boils down to each individual financially supporting what we value, not because we're getting a deal or bargain but for two basic reasons:

1. We don't want the blog, journal or service to vanish from lack of funding

2. We're expressing some fundamental part of our true self

I contribute money to a number of sites and publications annually for this reason, as well as buying books by writers I want to actively support. (Recent examples: John Michael Greer and Michael Pettis.) Many of you share this value system: it comes down to us to act in accordance with our values.

I have always relied on readers and friends to guide the financial aspects of this site (I hesitate to call the cobbled-together contraption a "business" in any sense other than it reports income and pays taxes). I have found (to my general astonishment) that readers have been willing to be extraordinarily generous in their support of the site.

In addition to money, I have received the following gifts from readers: honey, peanut butter, handmade wooden kitchen tools, handmade potholders, books, small paper money from Dubai, postage stamps, DVDs, CDs, hand-crafted wind chimes, tomato seeds, and a variety of other wonderfully individual expressions of support.

As noted below, contributors and subscribers enable Of Two Minds to post 275+ free essays annually. Without your financial support, the free content would disappear for the simple reason that I cannot keep body and soul together on my meager book sales alone.

OK, steel yourself: here's my annual pitch for your support: I invite you to glance atsamples of the Musings Reports to see if there is any value there to you.

Each weekly Musings Report offers five features:
1. Exclusive essay on a diverse range of topics
2. Summary of the blog this week
3. Best thing that happened to me this week
4. Market Musings--commentary on the economy & global markets
5. From Left Field (a limited selection of interesting links)

The site's insanely wide range of material, media and topics ( Archives) may offer a few moments of amusement as well.

How to Contribute, Subscribe/Unsubscribe to Of Two Minds

Whew. Glad we all got through that pitch in one piece.

To the Heroes and Heroines of New Media who support this site and other independent islands in a sea of press releases and propaganda: thank you. 

The Nearly Free University and The Emerging Economy:
The Revolution in Higher Education

Reconnecting higher education, livelihoods and the economyWith the soaring cost of higher education, has the value a college degree been turned upside down? College tuition and fees are up 1000% since 1980. Half of all recent college graduates are jobless or underemployed, revealing a deep disconnect between higher education and the job market.

It is no surprise everyone is asking: Where is the return on investment? Is the assumption that higher education returns greater prosperity no longer true? And if this is the case, how does this impact you, your children and grandchildren?

go to Kindle edition
We must thoroughly understand the twin revolutions now fundamentally changing our world: The true cost of higher education and an economy that seems to re-shape itself minute to minute.

The Nearly Free University and the Emerging Economy clearly describes the underlying dynamics at work - and, more importantly, lays out a new low-cost model for higher education: how digital technology is enabling a revolution in higher education that dramatically lowers costs while expanding the opportunities for students of all ages.

The Nearly Free University and the Emerging Economy provides clarity and optimism in a period of the greatest change our educational systems and society have seen, and offers everyone the tools needed to prosper in the Emerging Economy.

Read Chapter 1/Table of Contents

print ($20)       Kindle ($9.95) 

Things are falling apart--that is obvious. But why are they falling apart? The reasons are complex and global. Our economy and society have structural problems that cannot be solved by adding debt to debt. We are becoming poorer, not just from financial over-reach, but from fundamental forces that are not easy to identify. We will cover the five core reasons why things are falling apart:

go to print edition1. Debt and financialization
2. Crony capitalism
3. Diminishing returns
4. Centralization
5. Technological, financial and demographic changes in our economy

Complex systems weakened by diminishing returns collapse under their own weight and are replaced by systems that are simpler, faster and affordable. If we cling to the old ways, our system will disintegrate. If we want sustainable prosperity rather than collapse, we must embrace a new model that is Decentralized, Adaptive, Transparent and Accountable (DATA).
We are not powerless. Once we accept responsibility, we become powerful.

Read the Introduction/Table of Contents
Kindle: $9.95       print: $24 

Thank you, Shannon T. ($5/month), for your superbly generous subscription to this site-- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

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