“Well, I don’t know, what are the hours?”

June 8th, 2005  |  Published in old and busted

I went back through the PayPal records and found the date on which I paid for a “subscription” to a particular Web publishing venture. I’m not going to name it. I’m just going to note that I’m glad that my “subscription” is almost up, because I’ve regretted it for some time now.

Several times in the past few years I’ve paid small amounts to amateur columnists trying to make it with less concern about a day job, or to the maintainers of Web services I’ve enjoyed.

I’ve tried to use micropayments and small monthly subscriptions to good effect, voting with my dollars and checking, each time the PayPal receipt comes through for a month’s re-up, whether I still visit the site or still enjoy the service. I’ve cut most back after a while because my reading habits change or the author takes a turn I’m not comfortable with, or because the service seems less neat-o. I don’t harbor any illusions that when I cancel my payments someone on the other end notices, but in lieu of any other mechanism I guess a market of some sort will have to do. So even if I’m not noticed in the specific, maybe I’ll be noticed as part of an aggregate.

The one I looked up today, though?

I wish it did reader unsubscription surveys. It’s fair to say that in the process of extracting my money from me, the author failed to deliver on some promises. None of the substantive changes to content on his site he said would happen happened. At. All. Not even a “well, I got $x, which isn’t as much as I hoped, but more than I had, so I’ll add this content area I mentioned.” Just more of the same, sporadically. Bad enough, in fact, that any desire I had to click through on his affiliate links to make a few purchases evaporated.

Net loss of goodwill.

One thing I definitely had drummed into my head: Nothing is as good as it’s gonna be … It’s only as good as it is. Amateur writers trying to subsidize their hobby or test the waters for a new career might get my support in the future, but it’ll be after I see that they really are going somewhere, or if they already have a decent track record.

Money for “encouragement” is just a bad idea: That’s what nice e-mails are for. Money is for value delivered.


Some work front stuff regarding my author bullpen has stabilized again after a period of confusion and disarray.

I feel lucky with the lineup I’ve got now. My industry overview guy also writes for the BBC, and he’s very good at getting stuff in under the word limit but with good detail. My Linux person is a proud O’Reilly author and, I think, one of the best (if not the best) regular Linux writers out there. She’s got another O’Reilly title in the pipe right now. My general networking writer is also soon to be an O’Reilly author, and he’s gotten better with every story. And my Windows writer is one of that breed of Microsoft People who understand the platform, but haven’t sipped any kool-aid at all — She just knows her stuff, and she’s been remarkably adaptable, and she does what she writes about for a living.

I’m mentioning all this here because it struck me this afternoon. When I first took over that site in early 2002, I had to start almost from scratch. I picked up one of the current group then, inherited one when I came back to the site this time last year, and recruited the other two based on good recommendations.

I guess I’m also thinking about what a good crew they are because of that unpleasantness with the mis-spent “subscription” money.

I’ve been classifiable as a freelancer a few times, but always with a safety cushion in the form of a steady job, or the relative security of a personal bond with the person I was doing work for, or exceptional circumstances of some kind. Two of the people writing for me on ENP are just out there earning their livings from assignment to assignment, and I’m impressed all to hell with them.

There are a lot of freelance writers out there. I’ve watched a few flame out or just disappear, leaving behind a trail of unfinished assignments and screwed up editorial calendars. I’ve watched others come in from the cold to a staff billet (a move I understand very well). I’ve had the displeasure of breaking the news to several that I didn’t have the Miracle Gig that would cover their mortgage and give them some money to spend if they decided to take a month off. I really admire the ones who make a living at it on the strength of their good names, fat clipping files, and hustle.

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