Free things and the economics of blogging

06Mar08

In the future, lots of stuff will be given away free. So says Chris Anderson in an article over on Wired Online. Since Mr. Anderson is the man who gave us the concept of the Long Tail, which I thought was a brilliant piece of analysis, I figure his new article deserves at least a look. Unfortunately, I am a slow reader, am in graduate school, have a job, am married and would like to stay so, and even attempt to blog now and then, so it will be awhile before I to get around to reading the thing.

But just thinking about business models based on freebies has helped me to reach an understanding of the economics of blogging.

The starting point of all economic theory is the truth that you only become better off when the benefits you receive from some activity is greater than the costs of doing it. But when I blog, I am providing what is (close enough to) a free good. None of you (neither of you?) are paying me a dime to compensate me for the effort of writing this post, not to mention my opportunity costs of lost time for studying, bicycling, staying married, etc. My only reward is the personal satisfaction of clearly expressing an idea or insight.

Now, normally my satisfaction with expressing an idea keeps going up with the amount of time I put into developing the idea. I enjoy writing really good blog posts, posts that possess qualities like truth, coherence, and accuracy, more than I enjoy slapping down some quick note in passing.

But while I can reach coherence without too much sacrifice, achieving truth, accuracy, and real intellectual development require actual time and work. My opportunity costs for the time involved go up way too fast for me to be able to offer that sort of quality in a blog post. If I adhered to my natural standards for quality, I would post about once every three months, as I’m sure both of you have noticed.

So I am going to participate in our glorious future of free things by posting more-or-less raw ideas. They will be low quality notions and questions, compared to the full-on theories I would like to post. But that’s going to be okay, because that is where the economic logic of the Internet commons enters in to save you and me both.

I will do alright because, by limiting the amount of time I put into these raw ideas, I make sure that the personal benefit I derive from them is greater than the opportunity cost of producing them. You do alright, because although the posts are of relatively low quality, most of them should possess *some* quality. Therefore, since you’re receiving them for free, you also come out ahead.

Of course, there is also the matter of your opportunity cost for the time you spend reading the post. But I’m not going to worry about that since, after all, if doing a little blog surfing wasn’t currently the best use of your time, you wouldn’t have gotten to this point in the post, right?

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One Response to “Free things and the economics of blogging”

  1. omg.. good work, dude


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