iPad and Paying for Writing

February 22nd, 2010

Subtitle: I’m hoping for a Content Store, but since we may not get it, what are your thoughts on the best way to do this?

I love writing. I write for my own benefit; writing forces me to develop the thoughts I have every day into a coherent whole, and throw out what doesn’t make any sense at all. It clears the underbrush of my mind. I’ve written privately since I was a kid, for that reason. It is my meditation.

Publishing online, though, is something different. I still write for the same reason, but whereas I was my only reader before, now people read what I write. Sometimes they send me an email, or a note on Twitter, replying to something I wrote. This creates a conversation, and sometimes even a dialogue. This has changed my writing; whereas before I would write only when some thought catches in my head, and the only way to shake it loose is to write about it, now I write quite consistently. Now I have two reasons to write: first for myself, and second for my readers.

Fortunately, I have the privilege of time. I am a college student, and my schedule is free enough to where I find time to write almost every day. This means that I can write without considering time — I have time to spare. But starting this summer, that will change. I will finish undergraduate school, and start an intensive Masters program. And after that, I’ll be working full-time in some fashion or another. I will have to justify spending as much time as I do writing. If I am going to continue writing as much as I do, I have no choice but to make money to justify my time. In just a few years, too, I will be married, and thus have responsibilities beside myself, so this is a question that weighs heavily on me.

Which means I’ll have to face the reality most writers already have: how do I make money from my writing?1

There are two basic ways to do that. You can run advertisements, or your readers can pay you in some way.

I, of course, am a member of Fusion Ads, because they provide ads worth looking at. But there’s an inherent problem with advertising as a sole means of revenue for small writers like myself: it can’t provide enough to justify my time. That isn’t their fault. It’s just how it works for small writers. Advertising, then, is a part of the solution, but not it completely.

So this leaves charging customers. In the last six months, I’ve had a long debate with myself on how best to do that. My first answer, and something I nearly launched, was to offer a yearly “subscription” to TightWind, which would open up some additional content (all current kinds of content would have remained free). This fell through when Contenture shut down late last year.

Pay for the Experience

Customers paying for content is different than advertising. Even a very small readership could provide a writer a respectable income. One hundred readers, as far as advertising is concerned, is miniscule. But one hundred readers that pay $20 a year? That’s a fine side income. There’s a lot of power in doing something every other industry does: charge customers.

You may wonder, then, why I don’t simply make TightWind pay-only. The reason is because reading TightWind on the web isn’t a convincing enough product to be. I wouldn’t pay a subscription to read it in a web browser, because compared to other mediums I do pay for, it isn’t very enjoyable. Reading content in the web browser just isn’t a good experience. I won’t charge for a subpar experience.

My goal is to write content that is worth your entire focus — the same focus you give to a book or good magazine. That’s why I started TightWind in Print last year, so readers would have the option of reading it exactly as they do a book: somewhere quiet, with something warm to drink and nothing on their mind but what they’re reading. You can’t do that on a computer.

Here’s where the iPad fits in. Unlike reading content through a web browser on the computer, the iPad offers a reading experience every bit as good as print. Imagine being able to subscribe to your favorite writers, large and small, and read them all in a wonderfully-designed application on the iPad. You could read them in the morning with a cup of coffee, like you would a newspaper, or while relaxing on the couch in the evening, or in bed, or… Or anywhere else you would read a newspaper, magazine or book, and it would be just as enjoyable. No dock icons, email badges, or Twitter messages to distract you. Just content.

That is worth paying for. I would subscribe to a number of writers immediately if I could read them in a dedicated application on the iPad, and I’m hoping many of you would, too.

But How?

The best way is a Content Store, just as there is an App Store, where content creators can publish their work and users can purchase or subscribe to it. It’s easy for publishers, it makes content discoverable for readers, and it provides a consistent reading experience for them. It’s a good thing for everyone. Neven Mrgan explained why this is such a great idea last month. This, more than anything else, is what I want to see Apple do. Unfortunately, it isn’t at all clear they will.

The second way is to create an individual application for TightWind. You would purchase the application for a reasonable amount. This would give you access to all past original content since the application was released, and all original articles published after that, in a finely-designed application with an absolutely great reading experience.

You can think of the application price as a lifetime subscription to all articles, past and future. A second kind of original content that I’m working on at the moment, which may or may not ever see the light of day, would be available through in-app purchase.

This would be the premium version of TightWind: everything would still be available through the web browser for free, but if you want to read it how it is meant to be read — in a print-like reading experience on the iPad and iPhone — then you can.

I Want Your Thoughts

I usually don’t talk about my future plans, but this is something altogether new and I want to have your thoughts. Would you pay for an application like this? If you wouldn’t, why not, and what do you think is a better way? What about it do you like or dislike? Why?

  1. Some may say that writers shouldn’t focus on this at all, as if seeking payment for their work somehow cheapens the work. But good writing is very difficult, and those writers absolutely deserve compensation, just as great developers do. I’ve tried to move my writing into that category, and I continue to improve. Hopefully I’ve reached that point. []