Paying for content


I nearly blew a gasket on the behalf of authors this past week. If you saw smoke on the far horizon, it was poring out of my ears.

I'm a big fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates and one of my daily stops on the Internet is the website, which covers their minor league system.

If you're a small-market team like Pittsburgh, you have to develop your own players  you can't just go out and scoop up the best free agents like New York, Boston, and Los Angeles.

So die-hard fans like me want to know about how the Pirates are developing their young talent.

Tim Williams graduated from college in the middle of the Great Recession and started the website as something to keep up his work ethic while he searched for work.

In order to buy food and keep the lights on, he sold his personal belongings and took short-term loans from friends and family.

The website started to pay off and Tim decided he could live off the advertising revenue it generated. In 2013 and 2014, it had more than 10 million page views.

But Internet advertising revenue is declining even 10 million page views generates only $40,000 annually in revenue  and there's no sign it's going to improve.

So this week Tim told his website visitors that he would be shifting to subscription-only this year, with a cost of $2.99 per month or $29.99 for a year.

It's a reasonable price and Tim provides news and insight that I can't get anywhere else. I gladly signed up for a year.

Well, you can predict where this heading. Many website readers were supportive, but more than a few people were jerks. They proudly stated that they never paid for anything on the Internet.

And that's when I nearly blew my gasket, because these are the same people who refuse to support authors even at a cost of only 99 cents.

(And I don't buy the "I'm on a fixed income argument" because even they spend money on soda, restaurant meals, movies, cable television, etc. Everyone can afford to buy one ebook a month.) 

It's not that free ebooks don't have their place as a promotional tool. Giving away the first book in a series, or giving away one title, is an effective way for authors to generate sales.

But we have to break people of the habit of downloading only free books and getting them to starting pay for them. The first step is 99 cents, but we need to get them in the long term up to $2.99 so the higher royalty rates take effect.

This summer, I will be reaching out to other book marketers, authors, and publishers to ask them to participate in a week-long event designed to educate readers about author royalties and the importance of buying books.

The idea is to use our marketing emails and blogs to educate for several days, leading up to a day when everyone's website either goes dark or displays a common page supporting the cause.

I don't know how widespread participation will be this first year, but I hope to make this an annual event.