Last week Public Address put out an appeal for donations
not just towards keeping the server lights on but towards keeping the site owner/manager paid. The latter bit was new, the former happens periodically. Aggregated I probably throw $100-$150 at PA a year (or would like to), that's probably comparable to the cost of a quality dead-tree subscription (I really have no idea.) That is a measure of the value I see PA providing as a current events forum and community.
Comparatively I did not sign up with the NZ Herald when they experimented with a paywall a while back regardless of the amount of personal value I was finding find in their site because they were locking the content away from everyone else. (And signing up for a subscription / having to log in to see stuff / just seemed too complicated. There's a low but non-trivial barrier there.)
I repeatedly refuse to take out a subscription to The Press (local dead-tree paper) when the telemarketers call because I have no interest in the bulk of the content, even though it would leave me better informed on local events and I do eagerly read the interesting parts of the paper whenever I happen across a copy. I would probably subscribe to a pdf version of selected sections delivered to my inbox daily.
Back to PA - some discussion surfaced over there about how to pay for "the good stuff" in general - not just stuff that brings value to the individual but that adds to the entire conversation. Or provides the forum in which to have the conversation, which PA excels at. As Russell sums it up (emphasis mine)
But there is another model. The subscriber radio model. My readers don’t actually need much persuading that the argument for paying so that everyone can have nice things is a strong one. In the past two years, I’ve made more from asking them for a contribution than I have from advertising. Keith Ng has also had some success in asking readers to crowdfund his stories – after he’s published them.
But this needs a permanent structure, and it needs to work for all of us. One solution I see is this: a simple, voluntary subscription system which can be joined by any New Zealand website or blog at one end, and any reader at the other. In concept, it’s simple.
As a means of funding advertising just doesn't cut it, especially for the niche sites and site-specific subscription models / paywalls only seem to work if you have a (large) critical mass of subscribers who find personal value in what you deliver.
But the things I find myself paying for in something like a subscription manner are those that match the bit I emphasised in the quote above - those who can afford contribute so that *everyone* can have nice stuff, and can hopefully be secure in the fact that should they fall on hard times they (which includes quite a bit of "I") will still have access to those services.
This is the model Livejournal used to have before it was sold to someone who wanted to make a profit from it and the model Dreamwidth is emulating since it opened up basic accounts.
Wikipedia is another site that I consider "new-media" which I contribute to periodically. And I have put my bit towards crowd-funding other initiatives like NWZ
Heck even the photo-hosting I pay for is to ensure others
continue to get use and enjoyment from my putting them out there, off-site backup is a bonus.
I'd happily pay for the things FaceBook does well - essentially providing hyper-local news about my social circle and event management - as long as
it meant that my friends also continued to be able to use the service and were treated a little less like "product". I'm not sure how much I'd be willing to pay; maybe around that $100 a year; maybe up to $300 in small chunks. That might sound a lot in this digitally priced age but remember conceptually I would be paying not just for me, and it would still be less than a dollar a day.
There is certainly a personal use component - Twitter or Tumblr could both operate on the same model and at the present time I wouldn't "subscribe" because I don't use them a great deal although I have accounts and follow some people who surface interesting stuff. But I'm certain there are plenty of people who would.
Another model I saw some time ago - and I can't remember what it was called now - was a Tip jar model where you paid in some amount each [time period] and sites authors could embed a click widget - at the end of the [time period] however much you had put in was divided among the people whose content you had found valuable enough to 'Tip' on. As I recall the service folded because of not reaching critical mass.
And that is really the rub when it comes to setting up a mass provider/subscriber model. Not only do you need the people willing (and able) to pay for the greater good and the people willing (and able) to help generate content with value (including the work of maintaining the spaces/communities where good conversation happens around the content) you need to strike the balance where they break-even. I say break even because I don't think there is a for-profit model here. Instead you have people being paid for producing content, people being paid for maintaining communities, developers being paid to improve those communities with new features, web-hosts being paid to host them .... quite a lot of people (hopefully) making a living, quite a lot more people getting value from the work they do, and really what more do you need?