A Donate Button

I write this blog for my own amusement. I like the comment threads that get started – I like nothing more, blogwise, than sparking a really interesting debate and seeing a whole string of comments from an article I’ve written, delving off into things I don’t actually know enough about to comment on. I like it even when I write a really personal blog and I get just one comment from one person which makes me feel like I’m not the only person who has those kinds of stupid thoughts. I enjoy writing, putting things together, seeing my writing up on a screen and thinking to myself, yes, that’s one well-written entry. I’m proud of that.

If I didn’t think these things about this blog, then I wouldn’t bother having a blog. I’m not a writer, I’m not hoping to be a writer, and perhaps if I really was famous and people paid to have my words printed and written down in newspapers or magazines or books then maybe I’d think about asking people to subscribe to my blog – except that I probably wouldn’t, because obviously I’d be earning off the words I’m writing elsewhere and if I’m so stingy as to make people pay to see everything I write, well, that’s just harsh.

I’m a student, I’m bad with money, I am almost entirely skint, on my uppers, on a shoestring. So I could certainly do with the money. I write a good blog, so I guess one could make the argument that I deserve the money: if my talent was making clothes, and I made them for other people, I would obviously have people pay me for the things I made. If my talent was painting pictures, people would buy them from me. If I was a brilliant musician, people would pay me to do concerts or parties or whatever. But instead I write for the entertainment of others and so perhaps I should expect to get paid for that.

Except that that isn’t how the internet works, not really. Of all the major newspapers only the Murdoch-owned ones are currently planning on charging anyone to read them (the Times already does). Journals and such are run on a subscription-type basis. But there is an awful lot of good quality stuff out there that is there for free – the websites of all the magazines, most newspapers, and then a lot of other internet-only phenomena like the Onion or the Huffington Post. As far as I am aware the vast majority of these services are free. Along with a huge number of comics and blogs and things, all written and drawn by crowds of highly talented people. And yes, some of these places make money through merchandise – Questionable Content, for example, or XKCD, both of which are written by people whose full-time job it is to do so – because they make enough money to live on by selling merchandise such as t-shirts and mugs.

If you’re that big a sensation I can understand why you might get people to pay a subscription fee for your services – I have no problem with the new Times website being subscription-only for a lot of content. If you’re selling merchandise I have no problem with that either. In both of these cases, after all, your money gets you something extra – a tangible belonging, a mug, print, or t-shirt; or articles and features which the non-paying public don’t get to see.

If you’re not big enough to run on a subscription basis, then some people choose to have a Donate button, using Paypal or whatever. By donating you don’t get anything extra. You just get a warm fuzzy feeling of knowing that you’ve given a blogger the chance to have another drink on Friday or go out to the cinema or buy a new vibrator or whatever. It’s nonsensical and illogical. I’m happy to donate to a good cause and get nothing in return – where my money is going to feed someone, clothe them, get them into school, contribute to research into diseases like cancer or HIV/AIDS. But even if I wasn’t as poor as I am I’m not going to fund a near-stranger’s restaurant bill, bar tab or sex toy collection. I’m not going to want to think that my money is going to something more essential like their food, heating or rent.

Very simply because blogging, at this level, is about enjoyment. It’s not about service provision. Really I suspect I get more out of writing this blog than my readers do out of reading it and I think the same goes for pretty much any blog out there, even the bigger and slightly more heard-of ones. It’s not a transaction, and it’s not fair. If you spend a lot of time when you’re not at work writing a blog and you want to use that time to make money: go and work in your local bar in the evenings instead. Asking my readers to donate money to me becuase I write a blog is like me asking my friends to give me money for being amusing and drunk, it’s like me asking the conductor in orchestra to pay me for showing up with my cello most weeks and playing music I love, it’s like me asking the National Trust to pay me to look round their houses, it’s like me asking my friends to pay me to bake them some bread or make them some jam.

Basically, no, I will never have a Donate button. Not even if I get daily hit figures in the thousands. And I will never give money to someone else to do something like this which they do purely for their own entertainment.



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13 responses to “A Donate Button

  1. Things that are wrong about the world, or perhaps just my mind: reading “or buy a new vibrator or whatever” and thinking “that’s actually so amusing (and candid, but what else would I expect from you?!) that I’d donate to that”.


  2. I have to say I understand the principle of a “donate” button; one of the things I’m fairly passionate about is free culture, protected by things like the Creative Commons license, where everyone can remix, reuse and distribute your work as long as they attribute it to you, and (optionally, I think…) don’t make money from your work without prior permission.

    Then the creator makes money back from people donating, or merchandising, people putting down money freely to support the creative effort.

    That said, I can agree with you in that I wouldn’t put out a donate button or, worse, advertising. On purely pragmatic grounds, my traffic just isn’t high enough for me to realistically make any money! Furthermore, my costs in running my website are almost negligible, so I feel no need to attempt to recoup that.

    Like you, I’m just doing it for the love. Which i’m clearly not doing so well with, because generally love doesn’t seem to be forthcoming *sniff*

  3. Following on from the free culture debate, there’s a kind of unwritten rule in the free software community that you attribute others’ work. Anything else is academic fraud. My current favourite license is the BSD one which says: this is (c) me, you can reproduce it provided you include this notice and I take no responsibility for it (albeit in legalese).

    However, as much as I use free software (I’m a Linux only guy these days) I have never donated to a free software project. In this particular market the currency is information, not money. I’ll happily patch code or invest time in modifications but I’m unlikely to want to fund some other guy so he can have a bigger hard disk. As you rightly say, it’s not a transaction so much as a “donate some money so I can have a few more beers”.

    I suspect the same is true of bloggers. Re-blogging someone else’s work (which is why I hate tumblr) without attributing it is academic fraud – people who do it will be shunned by the community at large whereas people who attribute correctly will have effectively “bought” a slice in the information economy by being “linked in” and “contributing”. It’s still economics, just not with money.

    I suspect Murdoch will come undone as a result. Subscription-only internet will take him away from a vast portion of the market. How can you share a link to a Times Article or safely quote it with copyright so restricted and no page to view? The answer is you don’t.

    I wrote an article a while ago on why open source was a valid business model. It still is – even more so in fact than when I wrote it.

    • Jenny

      I would just like to point out that I do not, in fact, own a vibrator. I was taking an example from something I read. I won’t link to the blogger in question (who inspired this article by putting up a donate button and then saying she felt a bit guilty about it…!) because I really do not want to look like I’m just bitchng about her when she writes an excellent blog and I realy enjoy it and just happen to have no interest in donating to it!

  4. I’m going to disagree slightly with some of the previous responses. The Internet has grown up in a nice, collaborative manner, but for some things that simply isn’t sustainable. I agree with you Jenny, for personal blogs like the ones we both write, I wouldn’t charge for it and I also wouldn’t pay to read others, because it’s done really as a hobby.

    But the open culture of the net doesn’t translate to everything. Those who say that the Times paywall is a bad idea misses the point that it costs a hell of a lot to run the Times website, and advertising isn’t paying for it. For news things like the Times, I don’t think it’s unfair to expect people to pay for it. If the material is good, then people should be willing to do so (if the Times paywall experiment doesn’t work, I feel it is more likely to be for this reason than because paywalls themselves are a bad idea). Indeed, the FT website requires a sub if you want unlimited access, and I think they make it work. And I can think of a few motorsport sites which have a similar model, and are doing well from it.

    I think there’s too much of a culture on the net of not paying for stuff, and I think that it would be beneficial if it were reined in slightly for some types of content.

    • Jenny

      I think I agree with you, dickie. Furthermore as people move away from buying actual newspapers ithink the need for paywalls will only grow – how else are journalists’ and editors’ salaries to be paid? But there are a lot of blogs out there which may be hugely popular and have readerships in the thousands but which are, essentially, run for fun. If you can not write a post for a week or two and you haven’t broken a contract and you don’t feel you need apologise for not posting because sod it it’s a hobby not a job then you certainly can’t get paid for it, that’s called having your cake and eating it.

  5. The wonderful middle ground of course, is advertising – but there comes a point when if your hosting is costing you so much money that (bear with me for a second while I gaffaw, here, because if I ever get a site that busy I’ll be bouncing off the rooftops) sure, you have to find some way to pay for it…

    Until then, it’s just an annoying distraction. Donate buttons, to me, are just a more pointed way of having a wishlist, which is something I tend to run off my site year-round (just to throw at people when it’s my birthday!)

  6. It is true that there’s a real problem on the Internet with people assuming they have the right to stuff for free. Some people even use things like Adblockers to remove the adverts which are subsidising their access to the content! That, my friends, is not cool.

    I think what’s happened, and will continue to happen, is that the growth of technologies like the Internet has made traditional notions of copyright and intellectual property redundant and anachronistic, but as yet nobody has really come up with a good answer as to what we should replace them with.

    I’m sure we’ll figure it out, but it’s going to be painful getting there.

    @Antony I wrote some code and released it under the BSD once, and somebody actually got in touch with me and thanked me for it. Absolutely made my day.

    That said, I’d probably go with something like the CDDL for future projects! BSD is a little too permissive for me, and I dislike the GPL.

    @Jenny There’s no shame in owning a vibrator! Lots of people do, from my understanding. Might well own one myself if I was, y’know, female.

  7. “There’s no shame in owning a vibrator! Lots of people do, from my understanding”

    There’s an app for that 😉

  8. Jenny

    No. Actual. Way.

    That said (surprise) it doesn’t provide enough vibration to cause an orgasm.

    Although they really should have called it iVibe.

  9. Apparently that name has been taken by something else (I Googled it…)

    But yeh, I can’t imagine the app would be all that effective, but kudos to them for writing it I suppose.

  10. Adam

    “There’s an app for that ;)”

    Much as Jenny loves her iPhone… Perhaps not THAT much….

    • Jenny

      I get the impression that after a vibrator, a normal, non-vibrating actual penis can be something of a disappointment, no matter how well-endowed or good ones partner is in bed. Amazing as that must mean vibrators are I don’t want to risk spending the rest of my life being slightly disappointed by sex, or insisting on threesomes with boyfriend and rabbit and probably making le boyfriend feel inadequate in the process! Xx

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