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On pricing e-Books and writing for the Internet

Like many others, I was somewhat taken aback by the opinions expressed in the comments to the last post.

Have been wondering whether or not to address the issue, and if so, how.

First of all, I am delighted with the feedback on the book, by those of you who have bought and read it. Thank you very much for that, I’m so glad you like it and that it gives you a new perspective on some of the issues. I have set up a special forum to encourage discussions about the various topics in the book and look forward to even more edifying discussions there. I really would like to encourage the Icelanders in the crowd to participate, even if their English is not perfect. [Koma svo kæru landsmenn!]

Now, as for the other stuff:

Long-time readers will know that this blog started off in a fairly innocuous manner, five years ago. Like most bloggers at the time I basically wrote about what was at the forefront of my mind on any given day. I like to say that I started this blog so I could laugh at my own jokes, which is kind of true. But I also did it because I loved this country and this society and wanted to share some aspects of it with the outside world.

When the meltdown came in autumn 2008, the unfolding – and very shocking – events were perpetually on my mind, so that’s what I found myself writing about, day after day. Before I knew it, this blog had become one of the main news and information channels out of Iceland. It became a sort of information portal. I received loads of emails, phone calls and other enquiries, and met with journalists who wanted to speak with someone who was in the loop. In the comments, people wanted information, and I tried to respond to those. A lot of it was very enjoyable — I met interesting people, even got to travel abroad, and media outlets like the BBC came to my house. But much of it was also difficult — it took up enormous time, demanded a great deal of psychic energy, and at times the mean and spiteful comments got to me.*

But – I had a burning interest in what was happening and was passionate about sharing it, so initially I kept at it. However, like Ragga Katla so accurately said in the comments to the last post, it was complicated information, and it was hard work to formulate it so that it could be easily understood by others. Much of it was new to me, too — I hardly knew what some of the things meant in Icelandic, much less English. Research was required, both in terms of information and terminology. And as any Icelander will tell you, just surviving those first few weeks after the meltdown was a full-time job. Having your entire world view turned on its head takes a lot out of you.

This little project that originally had been a hobby began severely impacting my day job, and eventually I knew I had to look for ways to monetize the service I was providing. In the thick of the meltdown, when I was unsure whether I would ever have any work again, many of you encouraged me to set up a donation button. A number of people made donations, some of them very generous, and I was extremely grateful. However, after two or three weeks that stopped, and donations became few and far between. Something else was required. So I looked around to see what other bloggers were doing.

I experimented with Google ads and BlogHer ads, and found that, unless you have tens of thousands of hits a day, those are really not effective. I looked for ways to increase my site traffic, among other things by blogging more often, hoping I could then attract advertisers. The site traffic did, indeed, increase somewhat, but nowhere near enough to warrant the cost of the increased effort. I approached companies in Iceland about advertising directly and was turned down by almost all of them. Either that, or they did not respond to emails, even after an initially favourable response. The two airlines in Iceland, who are known for supporting a range of causes, especially those that promote tourism, were not interested. In fact one of them was so incredibly patronizing that I would happily never do business with that company again if I could possibly avoid it [which unfortunately I cannot]. In short, trying to attract funding from direct advertisers was both disheartening and demeaning, and – I concluded – simply not worth the psychic cost.

Public bodies were not any more forthcoming. Over the years, readers have suggested that the Iceland Tourist Board should give some support to this website. After all, I have written many, many glowing posts about travelling in Iceland, uploaded tons of photographs, and answered countless emails about Icelandic tourism. Even set up forums where people can share their experiences. Add to that the fact that the director of the Iceland Tourist Board is one of the longest-standing email subscriber to this website. All things considered, one might think she’d react favourably when I approached her for a bit of support. Nothing over-the-top, you understand. Just a few bob a month in the form of an advertisement in the sidebar. Her answer: “No.” Unfortunately, since the Tourist Board was embarking on an ISK 700 million advertising and promotional campaign on account of the volcanic eruption, she would not be able to support my “good work” on this website.

[Incidentally, this was not the first time I approached the ITB. The first time I asked them to link to my site. That was ignored. The other two times I contacted them to ask if they’d be interested in meeting to discuss a potential collaboration. Both of those garnered a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” response — and that was the end of it.]

[Addendum: A few days after the Inspired by Iceland initiative was launched, the British PR firm that was hired to run the campaign got in touch with me — not one individual, but two, within the same firm. Both said the same thing: You are just the sort of person we need on board with this. They gushed about the blog and everything that I was doing and asked me to help with the campaign — the only catch was that I had to do it for free. In other words, the Iceland Tourist Board could not send a few crowns my way — I was not asking for big sums, by any means — but they were able to hire a British PR firm for millions of crowns to turn around and try to get me to do this work for nothing. — Needless to say, I declined.]

Perhaps some of you can imagine the feeling of pointlessness and futility that sometimes sets in.

Then, at the beginning of the year, I had a great idea. Lots of bloggers support their efforts by selling e-books. And many people on this site had been asking me the same question: What is the impact of the kreppa on normal people? In fact, someone over in Finland had commissioned me to write an article about it. However, I knew, like every other Icelander, that there was no ONE impact on normal people, because everyone’s circumstances were so different. My idea was this: Find people with a range of different experiences, like having an unmanageable foreign currency loan and going bankrupt, or running a small business when the currency collapsed and having to sell your orders at half the price you would have to pay for them when the payment term came due … that sort of thing.

So I got to work on writing an e-book. I asked my friends and family if they knew anyone that fit the bill, striving to find just the right people. I made calls, some of them completely cold. I was turned down by some people, but not by others, and those I went out to meet. I spent hours interviewing them, and then spent hours writing up the interviews, polishing them, sending them out for approval, polishing them some more, and so on. Finally EPI and I sat down and worked out the design [well, EPI mostly] and I spent hours online leaning about e-book publishing.

All of this I did without getting paid for it. There was no advance from a publisher. And at the same time I was maintaining this blog, writing free content pretty much on a daily basis.

In view of all of the above, the discussion in the comments to the last post about the pricing of the e-book is just … I dunno. Ludicrous is perhaps the word. Sure – I know it’s only a couple of individuals who carped about the OVERPRICING of the e-book. Thankfully a LOT more of you have expressed – and demonstrated – your support. But honestly — for people to show up at this site more or less every single day and avail themselves of the free content provided here, and then to bitch about whether I should be charging $5 either way for selling a product that helps fund some of that content they so freely consume … well, it’s just kind of hard to know what to say.

It is also, sadly, symbolic of the attitudes towards those of us who write content for the Internet.

I happen to know for a fact that this website is read by some of the largest – and smallest, and everything in between – media outlets and newspapers in the world. I know, because their people have contacted me. Some of them contact me regularly. I also know that it’s read by rating agencies, analysts, international public bodies, investment agencies, bankers, consultants, regulators, tour operators, and lots more parties that concern themselves with the Icelandic situation. In short, the information provided on this website is used to support all sorts of commercial and non-commercial ventures.

But the people who provide content on the Internet are supposed to do their “good work” for free. And when they try to make a little bit of money from it they are berated for a lousy $5 more or less.

I’m tired. This week I’ve thought very long and very hard about many things. I have, however, learned that it’s best not to make any lofty announcements, especially when you’re not sure what the future will hold. And so, I will just say this: posting, over the next while, will be light.

[* And I haven’t even told you about the psychopaths.]

Comments

comments

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  • Bill C. May 10, 2010, 4:22 pm

    Um, I mean the burnout problem obviously, not the kreppa problem ;).

  • lunah_Sea May 10, 2010, 9:42 pm

    Dearest Alda (Alda min),

    I know that a big fat thanks from a New York girl won’t help pay your bills but I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for all the invaluable information you have provided. I have learned so much from you and yours is one of the two sites I tend to visit every day (the other being the NY Times). I sincerely hope you continue this blog but whatever you decide to do in the future, please know what an amazing service you have provided. I’d like to wish you great success in whatever future endeavors you choose to pursue I assure you your efforts were not in vain.

    With the deepest gratitude,
    Kat

  • gloria May 11, 2010, 1:56 am

    Alda,
    I bought your book today because I am interested in the premise and want to hear what people have to say about how they are affected by the kreppa. And I like your writing–it seems so easy, when I know it is not. I also bought your book today because I want to support you and I hope you will not stop writing this blog (although I understand if you do). I would miss you and your insights; I would miss Iceland, too, because without you I only can guess about what is going on–despite being fluent in German and having studied Old English!

    More than that, I understand the dilemma about how to get people to pay for what they can get for free. Appealing to conscience probably won’t work. A general tax is probably too socialist. So what is the economic model? The gal who wrote Julie and Julia made a bundle–maybe you need a movie, the premise of which is a mulilayered examination of cultures running amok and changing–where your blogging becomes a metaphor for Iceland and its rise and demise, or vice versa. I don’t know what the connection is yet. I do know that when I had no work for 9 months (the little company I worked for went out of business one week after Lehamn Brothers), I was ready to work for nothing just to have the work, to be occupied. And having no work gave me an opportunity to pay attention to other things–like the Pots and Pans Revolution, the change in the Icelandic government, your blog. I also had time to campaign for Barack Obama! So maybe you have a story in there that will help support you and neutralize the sting of negativity.

    And to Alda’s readers: if you are readng this blog every day, you are a fan. Buy the book. Why would you not?

  • hildigunnur May 12, 2010, 12:22 am

    hmm, don’t know why I didn’t comment on this post at the time – but your predicament is definitely shared by musicians – people seem to fell it’s quite OK to share and download music and cite freedom of information when stealing other people’s work. Grr!