This Web Site is Free
This morning I went and opened up a SubStack account, for a couple of reasons. The first was to take “Scalzi” off the market on SubStack; I do this pretty much which every social media site, for branding consistency across the Internet. Second, at some point or another I might decide to do something I’ll want a paid subscription model for, and if I do, SubStack offers a relatively frictionless way to do that. What might that be, and will SubStack actually be the best way to do it? In both cases, the answer is: got me. Taking the SubStack account is for possibilities, not certainties.
That being said, taking the account gave me a moment to reflect on what I do here and how I do it. For the last twenty-one years and ten months, this blog has been up and has been absolutely free to visit; I haven’t charged for any content here (I have on occasion put stuff up and let people know there was a voluntary payment, usually for charitable purposes, but that’s different). I’ve done it this way because, one, it’s simpler than trying to manage either advertising or subscriptions, and two, because it’s allowed me to always post on my own terms — if I decide to take a break, or a hiatus, or stop posting altogether, there’s no harm and no foul. This web site is free, so you get what you get, or don’t get, as the case may be.
There’s another reason as well, which is that for the entire two-decade-and-change existence of this site, I have made a comfortable living doing other writing, first as a consultant and freelancer, and for the last several years as a novelist. There has never been a need for me to look at this site as something that had to make money, either passively or actively, so I didn’t. I wouldn’t trivialize this site by calling it an affectation — I have put out nine(!) books from material that was originally published here, including a novel that launched my fiction career and a short story collection that got me my first TV story credits — but it is true that its nature and character are what they are in no small part because of the thing it doesn’t have to be: Something explicitly commercial.
I think of this because so many writers have turned to places like SubStack and Patreon and other subscription vehicles and venues as part of their way of making a living. I think this is great — writers making money is a good thing — but it does generally entail a certain level of attentiveness to one’s audience that I’m not sure is in my nature to attempt, or to fulfill, here. The “you get what you get” nature of Whatever suits me, and if people don’t like what they get, they can leave, and I don’t have to worry about what it means for my bills and my bottom line. There are other places where I have to craft my writing specifically to please some specific person (or many of them). This doesn’t need to be one of those.
Still, who knows? I have sold things directly to people before, here and elsewhere; there might come a time when I decide to do it again, and it might be that a subscription model, either limited or ongoing, will be the best way to do that. I’ve been writing professionally for three decades now. I wouldn’t have made it this far if I was precious or snobby about how I make money writing. If I think up of something that would fit a subscription model, I just might do it, and see how it turns out for me.
And if it does great, well, then, it can be the thing that subsidizes this, where you get what you get, and hopefully like it, but it’s okay if you don’t. This web site is free, after all.