OFF THE GRID

How Much Is This Post Worth?

Dec 14, 09 | 9:22 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Jason Calacanis, one of the longest-lasting web entrepreneurs, has made an interesting proposal to Newser, among others. He wants Newser, or the New York Times, or the Huffington Post, or Gawker, or the Wall Street Journal to buy one of his blog posts for $1,000—or actually, for the rights to the post, he wants a donation of $1,000 to a charity that he supports (the Bay Ridge Prep Scholarship fund in Brooklyn).

His new idea is to take Internet content that is now not monetized and give it a charitable value. He cites as potent examples of this new kind of currency the blog posts of Mark Cuban, the technology entrepreneur (and billionaire) and owner of the Dallas Mavericks; Ted Leonsis, another tech entrepreneur (and billionaire and sports team owner);  Kanye West, and Britney Spears, all of whom now appear on their own websites as loss leaders, instead of money makers.

Calacanis believes their work will “get enough inbound links, re-tweets, buzz and page views to make it worth the $1,000 per post price tag.”

There are two interesting points here, beyond Calacanis’ philanthropic ambitions.

The first is that we have become so far removed on the Internet from the idea that writing might have a cash value, that to propose it seems like a novel idea. It is almost necessary, in fact, in a world where the Huffington Post has elevated not paying writers into a business model, to point out that it used to be the convention, when a writer wrote something and had it published and read, to get paid. Even relatively pro bono work, say a New York Times op-ed piece, gets a tip—in fact, something like $1,000. (How did we come to deviate from this standard transaction without great consternation and work stoppages? Indeed, with hardly a whimper.)

The second point is that Calacanis’ financial assumptions about how these posts might be monetized, seem, even for someone who has been monetizing or trying to monetize as long as Calacanis, gloriously optimistic, if not fantastic.

A fairly robust CPM (cost per thousand readers—the basic unit of income for advertising-supported content) for a blog would generously be about $5. This means that if you licensed Calacanis’ post for $1,000 you would need 200,000 people to read it before you broke even. (Even at the Times, which has something like 15 million unique visitors a month, few individual stories get 200,000 readers.) And $5 is hardly a sure thing. CPMs on non-targeted content can often go as low as 25 cents.

Partly, the economic collapse of the written word is caused by the transition from the old world to the new. In the old world, unlike the new click-measuring one, advertisers didn’t know if you weren’t looking at their ads—so you could easily over-charge the advertiser.

But it is also because people didn’t used to write for free. What’s more, writing was, more than not, greeted by rejection. The possibility of such dismal rejection demanded a counter-balancing reward. Indeed, in the old world, neither Calacanis, nor Mark Cuban or Ted Leonsis, nor Kanye, nor Britney Spears would be writing anything—they would all likely have been rejected in most old-world venues. Now, in a world with unlimited space and no rejection, they are, apparently, respected authors, along with millions of others.

I like Calacanis’ idea. The charity angle says instead of screwing around and writing a blog that has no value—quite a selfish act in its way—you should be doing something worth something to somebody.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at
VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.
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