Audience Building Has Broken Blogging

01 June 2021

You'll notice that this post does not require you to subscribe to my site. It doesn't cost you any money. There are no ads, and it will not generate any revenue for me.

And that's perfectly fine.

I have gone back and forth way too much with making my posts for subscribers only or for everyone (and even once for paying members—who the hell did I think I was?!). I want to be closer to the people who read my writing. Medium doesn't offer that. Twitter is not the right format. Substack is close, but it's not as open as they want you to believe. So, I've toyed around with making my blog posts available for subscribers only. I've turned the "members only" flag on and off so many times that I've lost count.

Today, I'm switching all of my posts to public. A community is not built with walls. It's built by trust. It's built by shared interests. I do hope you will subscribe to my blog. But I'm not going to force it. That's both disingenuous and counter-effective.

The first time I ever blogged, it was on Blogger. Or Blogspot. Or whatever the appropriate name was at the time. It was easy, it was mine. I didn't need subscribers, I just needed an outlet. Over time, the tools got better. WordPress quickly became the de facto solution for a self-hosted site. With all the plugins and extra features, I could have set up an email wall. I could have hidden my blog away to only the few who were willing to pay me in bytes representing an email address. But I didn't. Then, Medium came along. It was amazing. The writing experience was incredible. It was exclusive. They were only letting a few people in at a time, and I happened to get early access somehow. But even then, there were no subscriber requirements. It may not have been published on a site I owned, but it was my writing, and it was open. Shortly after I discovered Medium, an upstart called Ghost burst onto the scene. It promised all the ownership of WordPress with a writing experience as good or better than Medium. I jumped ship, and I have mostly been writing on Ghost ever since.

But then, the creator economy happened.

And this isn't a bad thing. Honestly, it's not. I love the creator economy. I am part of the creator economy. But it resulted in trends and confusion to which I have fallen prey. Substack gave rise to a new path to getting paid as a creator. Something I fully support. I have written for free for far too many companies to ever suggest that your work is worthless. Get yours while you can get it.

BUT.

Substack has confused people. It has confused people into misappropriating content. A blog does not need a subscriber wall. A newsletter does. The difference is a blurred line. But if you step back far enough, that line comes into focus.

A newsletter is infrequent. It is intentional. A blog is frequent, and it is spontaneous. Writing is now called "content", so I can see how the argument of spontaneity in blogging could be thrown out the window, but my definition holds. True blogging is the result of an emotion transcribed into words. As is the case with this post. Such writing should not be withheld for the simple fact that it may be shit. Emotions are messy. They are ugly and free-flowing. They are good and bad. They are both worth your time and a complete waste of time.

They are the antithesis of a product.

Newsletters on the other hand are "always-on". They are productized words. They are worthy of email address walls and even some paywalls. They are carefully crafted, revised, and vetted. Every line of a newsletter serves a purpose not built on emotion but built on solutions. What solutions? That depends on the person and the newsletter. It could be as simple as an alternative to traditional news. It could be a guide on sewing. It could be jokes that make you laugh every Sunday morning when you read them. No matter the solution, newsletters seek problems.

Blogging seeks nothing more than release. And that release may be consistent enough to warrant someone's email address. It may warrant the build-up of an audience. But, in many cases, it is simply a creative person's brain dump.

This is my brain dump. This is my (hopeful) declaration that my posts on this site will not be placed behind a wall. It is also my hope that you might still be willing to subscribe. And there lies the true question. Why do I care?

I have never emailed anyone on a list tied to my blog about a product I'm building. I've never asked them to buy anything. I do sometimes send my posts to subscribers directly, but not always. So why then do I even care if you give me your email address?

It's a connection. It's the shared state of enjoyment and creation. Should I ever feel as if something I create is worthy of an email to the list, it's there. It's like the blanket my son carried around when he was small. He didn't really need it, but he liked knowing it was there. And maybe, just maybe, there would be a day when he really did need it. Having that comfort and connection is important.

But not at the expense of being able to get my words out freely.