Funny, the way evolving technology changes our expectations and cultural norms. Back in the Olden Days <creak>, I recall sitting around with pals at UCSD, looking up domain names on whois, and snickering about reserving all the good ones that might someday be worth something. Books, multihulls, shopping, technology… all those and more dotcoms were available for $35. I’d be a multi-millionnaire now, but we didn’t do it because it would have been contrary to the open spirit of sharing that was the Internet of that time. In 1995, when Proctor & Gamble registered a long list of .coms (including badbreath, underarm, beautiful, flu, pimples, clean, and diarrhea), I was so incensed that I flamed ’em and sent a story to Wired.
Ah, how times change. And yes, I regret it.
Similarly, there was a time, not so long ago, that any suggestion of monetizing my website would have earned a dismissive snort. Now, I’m sprinkling AdSense code around, adding Amazon Associate links to every book mention, and inserting affiliate links that make tiny “ka-ching” noises whenever someone clicks through and buys something from a vendor. Some of this is just accepting the Way Things Are and trying to make a living without having to venture off-island, but I’ve also come to look at it as a new publishing model.
Back in the ’70s, when I was actually a full-time freelance writer, the way it worked was this: pitch an article idea to the almighty editor, agree on rights and deadlines, submit a laboriously typed package with accompanying artwork and SASE, then wait for the magazine publisher to mail a check (hopefully on acceptance, not publication). Presumably, for this to be a win-win, the money came from their advertising and subscription revenue, resulting in a full circle: readers get interesting material and flip past some ads, the rag makes money, and lowly writers get to to pay rent. But the scale… and corresponding potential barrier… was substantial; to play the game at all one had to be good enough to “break in,” and every edition of Writer’s Market (the “bible”) had at least one chapter telling beginners how to do just that.
Now, while that industry still exists and is as hungry for material as ever, there’s a different level of granularity available. A lone writer can publish some text for the vanishingly low cost of server space, tack on a few ads with no up-front expense, then wait for the nickels to roll in. And make no mistake about it, we are talking nickels here. But it’s easy to scale, and the process avoids that huge hysteresis loop that defined freelancing of old; all you have to do now is carve out a little mindshare, then let search engines and browsers do the rest.
When I look at it that way, it’s not so bad… even though I remember being horrified by the sheer audacity of those first banners and still cringe a bit when I see an animated GIF on one of my pages. But them’s the times.