I'll put this out there in advance for those who want to know: this is a non-technical post about blogging. It does illustrate a difficult position I'm in, and that I'll bet many other independent bloggers are in, but if you don't particularly care about blogging and just want technical content, feel free to skip this one. Technical posts resume next Monday.
Almost two months ago the social media management company Hootsuite modified their free plan:
"Going forward, you can manage 2 social accounts and schedule up to 5 posts with the Free plan. This is a change from the previous 3 social accounts and 30 scheduled posts."
They are merely the most recent in a series of web companies deciding to limit or change their free plans. Mailgun eliminated their free plan entirely and replaced it with a pay-as-you-go plan:
The most recent integration to my blogging platform, FirstPromoter, doesn't even offer a free plan:
And let's not forget that web hosting isn't free either. Ghost Pro offers a starter plan at a mere $9/month, but for a site like mine (with 4k readers a day and 4000 members) I would be forced into their Standard plan at a whopping $79/month:
These are all services I either use (Mailgun, Hootsuite, Zapier) or want to use (FirstPromoter, Ghost Pro).
Individually, these costs seem to be not a huge deal. They add up rather quickly, though. At the moment, because I'm self-hosting with DigitalOcean, I can keep costs like these to a minimum. You can read about my setup in a previous post:
But that kind of thing only goes so far, and comes with its own set of issues, namely that I'm now directly responsible for maintaining my own Ubuntu web server and I am definitely not an expert.
It's getting more and more expensive to be an independent blogger, to reach readers and find new ones, and eventually I'm going to have to consider how to handle this.
Four Options, All Bad
I have a few options. None of them are ideal.
I could move all my content to a blog aggregation site like dev.to or Medium. Then I don't have to worry about promotion, or hosting, or maintaining my own server; these sites can do much of that for me. The problem with doing that is that I give up my independence; by moving my content to those sites I tie my fate to theirs, and if they ever disappear, so does my blog. I don't relish the idea of giving up control like that. Plus, I like my name for this site; I think it's badass. Would it still be worth it?
I could add traditional advertising to the site to make up the cost of using these services. This is probably the least disruptive option for me as a maintainer. But, as I have written about before, traditional web advertising is TERRIBLE.
It slows the site down, it intrudes on the reader's enjoyment, it is all around an awful experience. Plus, most of my audience is tech-savvy and will know how to use an ad-blocker, so this will make the site worse for little gain. Is it worth it?
I could quit using the expensive services. That solves the problem right away by spending less money! But it also means that I'll reach less people, either by not sending the email newsletter through Mailgun or not using social media posts through Hootsuite and Zapier, or (God forbid) both. There are options along this path, including just using the RSS feed instead of emails, but frankly Ghost's emails are nice, clean, easy to read. This path results in less visibility for me and more annoyance for my readers. Is it worth it?
I could switch the entire site to a paid-newsletter approach, and thereby not allow any unpaid users to read my content. This is the path that Ghost itself is favoring, and frankly, is probably why all of these services are raising their prices. By doing this, though, I destroy my Google rankings (since they could no longer crawl the site) and cut my audience by at least three-quarters, and that's optimistic. The remaining audience would hopefully cover the cost of using these services. Still, is it worth it?
Don't panic; I'm not going to do anything to Exception Not Found yet. I might have to, though, and in the near future. I can see a coming storm, an issue where independent bloggers such as myself are either made insolvent by rising costs, forced to migrate to a blog aggregation platform and lose their independence, or become a paid newsletter.
Those are not great options for the readers, though.
I realize that I might be making a mountain of a molehill here; companies need to get paid, and content creators should be reimbursed for their work. But at what point do we, the writers, decide that a simple blog is actually a company, and should be treated like such? Who benefits and who loses from such an arrangement? All I want to do is blog!
I do make use of BuyMeACoffee, and because of you dear readers that has made a significant difference against my costs in running this site. I do have one other option available to me that I'm going to take, and there's a post coming Thursday which explains why I'm doing that. If you've been on the website recently, or are signed up to receive the newsletters, you probably already saw it.
If you, my dear readers, have any strong opinions on any of these options, I would love to hear them. If there's some alternative that I haven't considered yet, please also let me know about that. Sound off in the comments below. Thanks for reading, and for your continued support of this site and my projects. I love being an independent writer, and I hope you love the content I write and produce.