One year ago, Jason Kottke gave up his $10,000-a-month web design gig to become
a full-time blogger. A good website, he
assured us, was about to get much better:
The goal is to use the increased level of focus and time to create a (much)
better site. More time means there will be more content of a greater variety.
Some days, that may mean more posts and more links. I’ll be able to go to
more (hopefully interesting) events in NYC (& elsewhere) and write about
them. I’ll have time do the occasional bit of real journalism, collaborate
on neat projects like Dropcash, and do larger projects that require longer
time scales to finish…dare I hint at a return to more 0sil8-like projects?
(I dare.) And there are opportunities that I’m sure will present themselves
as I settle into the luxuriant folds of full-timeness.
Inspired by Jason’s promises, 1,450 micropatrons clubbed together and raised
$39,900 for the newly-impecunious blogger. They then sat back, and… well,
nothing happened. Today, Jason falls
short of apologising to his micropatrons for not giving them what he promised.
Instead, he says he won’t be raising any more money (well, duh) and that his
reason for not doing much more on kottke.org than he had done all along was
that "life intervened".
The annoying thing here, more than anything else, is the lack of transparency.
Kottke apparently felt no responsibility to his employers either to do what
he said he would do, or even to explain to them why he wasn’t doing it. "I’ve
been trying to think about what to say on this occasion for, oh, about six months
now," he writes – which is at least as long as we, his readers, have
been wondering what on earth was (or, more to the point, wasn’t) going on. But
he said nothing at the time, and has said little more today.
Bloggers are entitled to a private life, but at the same time if they’re going
to commit to doing something – especially something they’re being paid
to do – then they should live up to that commitment. It’s worth noting
that the kind of blogs which make the cover
of New York magazine are the blogs which are updated dozens of times per day,
whether the editors particularly feel up to it or not. In other words, they’re
not a stereotypical blog, the product of some guy in his pyjamas uploading whatever
he feels like on a semi-irregular basis. They’re professional operations, where
blogging is a paid job with well-defined responsibilities. Pete Rojas might
now be a millionaire. But he got there by working 80-hour weeks more or less
non-stop since the launch of Gizmodo in August 2002.
When I moderated a blogging
panel at the Apple Store in May 2004, I think the tide was turning. At the
time, Nick Denton was still in his blogs-will-never-make-money mode, but both
Jen Chung and Choire Sicha conceded that what they were doing was a far cry
from what 99% of other bloggers did. They updated their sites regularly because
they had to, which was great in terms of building a readership, but much less
great in terms of the kind of satisfaction that most people get from publishing
their thoughts on the internet and getting feedback on them. Blogging had, for
them, stopped being something they loved to do, and had turned into being a
There are many jobs which start as loves. Orchestral musicians, for instance,
always start off with a love of music, but it’s hard to keep that love alive
when you’re toiling away in the pit of a Broadway musical eight times a week.
And the cynical bastards who populate the art world all had a love of art somewhere
in their childhoods, before it was beaten out of them by backstabbing gallerists.
The fact is that when you turn something you love to do into a full-time job,
there’s a very good chance you’re not going to continue to love doing it indefinitely.
The best way to stop loving Mars Bars is to be forced to eat 12 of them per
day for a year.
Jason Kottke, it appears, failed to understand this, or at least to understand
it fully. Who knows: maybe the "life" which "intervened"
was indeed wholly unexpected and could never have been anticipated. But life
happens to most of us. In Jason Kottke’s case, he let his life take precedence
over his job. Which is possibly an admirable thing. But he should have addressed
that possibility at the outset, when he was raising money. And he certainly
should have publicly addressed the fact that he wasn’t doing his job once it
became clear to him that he wasn’t going to meet his own earlier expectations.
Jason asked his readers to contribute $30 each to support the site. That number
is (was) very close to the cost of a magazine subscription. And, like a magazine,
Kottke asked his readers to pay up front for future content. Maybe it would
have been better if he’d asked for payment in arrears: that way there wouldn’t
have been the possibility of dashed expectations. Magazines do go bust, of course,
leaving their subscribers on the hook. But that’s the exception. Kottke was
the first blogger to experiment with the micropatron model, and now there’s
a good chance that his flameout will result in his being the last, as well.
I like blogging; I am not a professional blogger. Very soon, felixsalmon.com
is going to unveil a major redesign, which I anticipate will come with a significant
uptick in posting frequency. There will still be long-form pieces, but there
will also be shorter posts, and delicious links, and I have no idea what else.
I might start devoting multiple posts per day to a single subject. If all this
results in an increased readership, then I might even make some money from advertising.
But I’m not going to promise anything. Because I don’t want to break any promises.