Amazon MP3’s on the Moon: Charging for your content on the Internet.

I’m writing this in part because I think it’s important to be transparent about what goes on in deciding you’re going to charge for something over giving it away, and what you set the price at. I’m not saying everyone has to agree with that statement, but I think it only helps new creators who want to self publish to understand what goes into asking people FOR TEH MONEYZ. I’ve had many people ask me about how I came to the price points for my books, or what I have on my site for advertising and why. After a recent review of some non-Microsoft income so that I could speak to lessons learned, I thought it might be a good time to talk about it here.

I’m always a little leery about advertising on my blog, or advertising at all as a matter of fact.  I never wanted the fact that I have a small following of truly nice people who are interested in what I have to say mean that I can feel I should make money off them. Plus Independent of my outside content creation, Microsoft certainly supplies me with a wage for my services.  In general, I’m very lucky to be where I am financially and certainly have no cause to get greedy about anything.

So when I actually sat down to try and figure out the price of my book, or when I bought a new server for my blog and moved to pay a co-lo fee in addition to my home Internet use to handle increased traffic, I had to weigh how much I wanted to provide out of my pocket just for the enjoyment of writing and doing Internet stuff so to speak, and what I would ever have to do with all that if I ever wanted to do something else for a while. In the end I made a decision that I wanted, at a minimum, for everything I was doing as a “hobby” for an audience to pay for itself in the event I was unable to pay for it otherwise.

So there are an associated set of costs to running a blog like mine, which receives a meager but still substantial tens of thousands of visits a day, as well as thinking about growth and time spent maintaining it.  There are other costs in publishing your work and making sure it’s of a quality that earns its price. When you tally it all up It’s not a lot, but there’s one thing I’ve learned in the new world of self-marketing and self-publishing: If you are afraid to analyze your costs against your goals and then ask for compensation against those factors, then congratulations you might as well be a graffiti artist.

Nothing against graffiti artists mind you.  There’s even a business in it I guess, but that’s few and far between and runs the risk of arrest.

I am enough of a capitalist to be ok with the concept of working hard, providing some stuff for free, then charging for the rest. The hardest part of this model is getting over asking people for money in return for what you create. And make no mistake, it’s actually damn hard to get over that.

I look at my blog as a staging area to figure out several things.  First, is the audience interested.  Second, is the content worth something as a starting place for something larger.  Third, does it actually entertain or interest me enough to do it.

Think of my blog as a place where you can almost always find the rough draft, or Cliff Notes versions of most of my writing for free.  To that end, I want the blog to pay for itself, no more. So for the blog I redesigned it recently to both highlight my book (and future books) and I also added an Google Adsense badge.  To further supplement blog costs, which again are rather trivial, I also occasionally link items I have bought via Amazon on Twitter as I am an Amazon Associate.

I’ve made a kind of peace with being an Amazon affiliate because I never advertise something that I didn’t buy or own myself. It brings in just enough typically per month to pay my Co-location fee. I quickly grew irritated and disenchanted with Google Adsense.  The badge never fit right in my page column and it never offered anything that anyone reading my blog would even begin to care about despite my configuring the topics.  Today I replaced it with a solution I LOVE.

Anyone who reads my twitter or the entries here on the blog knows I love music.  Between Zune marketplace, iTunes, and Amazon all offering .MP3 options that are DRM free, I feel comfortable pointing to those locations to purchase music.  Amazon’s Affiliate program allows me to put a badge on my site where I can advertise the last .MP3’s I bought from them.  In affect allowing me to have ad space on my site that is going to be far more relevant to my readers (hopeful) interest, but also allowing me to share great music I love and not feel like I’m shilling or shoving an ad for the latest “weird old trick to slimming your stomach” on people. The new badge off to the side lets you listen to the music as well.

I still need to do some fiddling, as I can either use music I have bought or select categories which would allow me to discover some on my own too. But for now I feel really good about promoting only things I myself purchased, in one of my favorite genres, music.

Setting the price of my book was a similar challenge. I had to rate it against what I thought the quality was for the content, the length in words, different editions, and what other’s were charging for similar content. In the end my goals weren’t to finance a new house or anything off the book.  I knew the topic was niche enough that it was never going to be a New York Times Best Seller ™.  So I settled on a tier of prices: one price for eBook that I felt was within the market range and provided options both DRM and not, and another price for softback and hardback within the same range. I’m not sure I hit it as best I could, but I certainly learned a lot and the pricing was absolutely not a failure. One thing I learned, Kindle is a HUGE sales platform.  I’ve sold more on that platform than any other. Second place was Hardback, and third place was a near tie between softcover and Nook.  Last place?  DRM free PDF.  Who’d a thunk it?

So I hope this is a little informative about what someone who has a day job thinks about when setting about how I am going to limit the financial impact to my family of my crazy Internet things. These are the things you think about when you are striking out as the Internet equivalent of a street vendor.

For my part sure I’d love to have hit the big money, no whammies jackpot between my blog and my book.  Who wouldn’t?  But I’m happy that people enjoy the blog and the book, and in the end throw enough coins my way to make sure I can keep doing it.  And it’s important to note that this model works for me because, again I am fortunate enough to have a day job.  The model can easily change when you make the big leap to leave that behind and focus on this type of thing full time.  In the end however, I’m happy the way things have turned out so far.

Thanks guys.  I really do appreciate it.

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