Kottke and promises

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.

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11 Responses to Kottke and promises

  1. 99 says:

    I read this tired end to a tired effort (though I remember him saying he wanted to collect 66% of his projected income — to which I thought, Kottke only makes $60K? Then blogging really is a dead end road) pretty much the same way. Since the only thing I can remember over the past year was three long posts about Digg vs. Slashdot. I thought it might be fun to try and raise $3990 to pay some layabouts (Krucoff, e.g.) to analyze the amount of original content (that is, things that weren’t recaps of movies watched or vacations taken, or meta commentary about the posts) and calculate a piece rate for the year. Because it looks like he didn’t make out bad as a freelance journalist with very few credentials.

    Or you could take the alternate tack and say he’s come to understand his relevance is limited to being famous for being famous (certainly make his move to NYC sensible), and his actual posts are immaterial.

    It’s good you have a handle on the promise thing, because even though I’ve taken pains to never do the same, it still works on my head. I think the only reason I do it now is intertia or truly ill-advised obstinancy.

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  6. MemeFirst says:

    Kottke vs Gladwell

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  7. Jeremy says:

    While you make some good points, I don’t necessarily think that Kottke failed his micropatrons. Am I missing something? He collected enough for a year’s (reduced) wages, and he delivered a year of work and links.

    I’ll admit that his articles are not always the most exciting reads, but his knack for linking to great stuff has kept me coming back again and again. So while I didn’t pay him a cent, and frankly started visiting his site long after the fundraising period was over, I still enjoyed his contribution to the ‘sphere.

  8. lindsay says:

    I thought people just paid to get their links on there.

  9. J says:

    It’s nice to finally see someone who shares the same view I have when it comes to Jason Kottke. When you pay for a magazine subscription, you know exactly what your getting before it ever arrives at your front door.

    Jason, simply didn’t come through in his promise to develop Kottke.org. A lot of people expected more from him and while some can argue his efforts were noteworthy, do you really see anything different now in what he’s done over the past year, vs prior years? I don’t. In fact, his little experiment has caused me to stop reading his website (almost) entirely. I agree, running a website full time can be difficult. But isn’t that the reason you asked for support in the first place? So you could focus your energy on the website…

    If I want interesting links, I can go to digg.com and get them. I don’t need to rely on someone who very clearly didn’t think his business model through before he quit his day job and can’t even tell his loyal supporters “sorry guys, this didn’t work for me the way I had hoped it would.” Is that really all that difficult to do? I don’t think so.

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