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A plan for you

I have been touched by your comments on the post announcing the impending requirement of digital subscription at I have been particularly touched by word from the people who indicate that they intend to subscribe so that they can continue to read and participate freely. I am in sympathy with those of you in the trans-Patapsco region who say that you cannot or will not subscribe, but your loss would be a blow to the little community of Wordville. And I do have a suggestion for you.

But first, a couple of technical matters. Some have inquired how the fifteen free page views a month will operate. If you open up the main blog site, you will be able to to read about two weeks’ worth of posts as a single page view. But every time you click on the comments to a post, that is another page view. If you return to comments to catch with the discussion, that will be a page view each time.

If you come to a specific post, from a link on Twitter or Facebook or elsewhere, you will see the text of the post and the attached comments as one page view.

Some have inquired about the possibility of some kind of limited, discounted subscription. Nothing like that is in the works at the moment, though alternatives may certainly be considered as we see how the subscription model operates and what the readers want.

Now the suggestion.

If you believe as a fixed principle that blogs ought to be free, I can’t help you. But if you are disinclined to subscribe to the entirety of just to read and comment here, let me try to reframe the matter for you.Don’t think of it as subscribing to; think of it as subscribing to me.

For a little over three dollars a week, you get the blog posts, which are averaging one a day or more. At roughly 500 words each, that’s about 180,000 words a year, more than a Harry Potter novel. How much would you pay for a book of 180,000 words? But wait—there’s more. You also get the ability to comment and respond to comments, to take part in the conversation. You get the video joke of the week—I just recorded another half-dozen yesterday, a couple of which are actually funny. And there’s the word-of-the-week vocabulary feature. All for three dollars American.

So give it a little thought. Even if you decide not to subscribe, you can check in on the monthly free views. And if you should miss You Don’t Say and decide you would like to come back and subscribe, I’ll leave a light on in the window.



Posted by John McIntyre at 6:47 PM | | Comments (14)


I'm currently subscribed to You Don't Say through Google Reader. Any idea how that'll work? I assume it'll do something like give me the title of the post and require me to come here to read the rest.

John, the "subscribing to me" pitch would make more sense if the money we had to cough up actually went to YOU, and not your greedy Tribune Co. overlords.

If blogs can be free on The Wall Street Journal, which actually makes money (and deservedly so) with its paywall, they could be free on The Baltimore Sun as well.

Great plan! We just need to work on the numbers a bit, don't we?

I tend buy every novel by Charles Stross. He's an acclaimed writer with a large readership and a fair amount of output, counting his novels, his blog and other venues; you can assume that whatever his books sell for is more than reasonable for any writer. This is about $10 per book or so.

So, at $100 I'd expect the output of around ten novels worth of of good-quality material from you every year; about ten times your current output.

Of course, you could argue that your output is simply better, more entertaining and worth more than Mr. Stross'; on the other hand the far greater volume you need will naturally lower the per-unit value (we only have so many free hours of our life to devote to reading after all). Let's call it a wash.

So if you're ready to commit to ten times your current blog output over the next year, at the current level of quality and insight, then we may have a real plan!

Huh, in the previous post it was $2.49 a week, or $49.99 for 26 weeks.

So let's take the lowest possible figure, and just note that this is still a really strange question: "How much would you pay for a book of 180,000 words?" Because, do you seriously expect anyone's answer to be anywhere remotely near, "Why, $100 or so." You can't, surely? Forgive me, but trying to rationalise it like that is... well, not much of a 'plan', it seems to me.

Me, well, maybe something between £8 and £15, say, if it's one of the rare ones I'll want to keep on my shelf. (Often much less; second-hand bookshops are great.) Most of them, though, I get from the public library, thanks. (Admittedly, my taxes help pay for the library, so I'm still paying something for access to it.)

I don't spend an average of $3 a week on reading material as it is. I don't buy cappuccinos either. Sorry, Mr M. The free views will have to do me. If money were no object...

No blog in the world is worth $100 a year. Access to *all* the blogs in the world, yeah, I guess. But wait; I'm already paying more than that for my online connection; the trouble is, none of that goes to the content providers, or even to their employers.

I'd be willing to add $10 a month to my Internet connection if it mostly went to the people whose words I enjoy reading (or even to their employers; that's between John and the Sun). Maybe $15; I doubt $20. But that's for all of them, not any one. I have about 25 blogs I check every day, sometimes more than once (but many of them because they are likely to have links to articles I will find interesting). I have maybe another 50 that I have bookmarked and check now and then.

Because the commenting process will use up multiple accesses, it won't be practical to comment, unless I've come here from a link. (And how will that work, exactly?)

If there are fewer comments, the blog will be less worth reading.

Of course, helpful JEM fans *could* post links to each days' posts. On a regular schedule, even, on their own blogs, which will help their traffic. Such things tend to organize themselves, no?

And some of the same public-spirited readers who posted workarounds for the NYT may be in the audience here.

In short, I don't think the people who chose the Sun's plan made the right choice. Much irritation, very little revenue -- the very opposite of the Colbert optimum.

To put it succinctly, the problem with thinking of it as subscribing to you is that it is not priced like subscribing to you.

I suspect many of us wish it were.

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I must echo the comment of the person who uses Google reader. I think people should get paid for their work but dislike the technical restriction paywalls create.
The real tragedy of the all paywalls is that this is the same route that the publishers, movie studios, and record companies all wanted to take. Because Tribune, doesn't want to loose its place in the market place the same way that Sony wants its chunk of the music business. Why can't we not move to a more flexible model of article distributions.
We collect news in newspapers because that is the best form for that medium but why am stuck subscribing to a particular set of news collectors. Why can't I have a story from here and a story from there. What happens to sights like Poynter's Romensko when all that aggregate content goes behinds walls? Aggregators like Boing Boing and Huffington Post do a service to news creators whether they admit it or not.
Yes I understand the walls have many holes, and that links can find their way in. But that really doesn't solve my desire to read my content through something like Google Reader. News creators should be looking at services like the App Store, Steam (for video games) and despite its recent bad PR, Netflix. They offer models that give people choice while still paying content creators. Imagine if you combined the simplicity of payment with the curated endorsement of a favored aggregator. That is the really great advantage that the Internet has brought to news reading: not that the news itself is free but I am free to choose exactly the news I want and the way I want to read it.

Janne -- ah, another Stross reader!

I'd note for completeness that Charlie's blog posts often get 300+ responses -- often very interesting in their own right -- over a couple of days, so it's even more to read. on

Don't be pissy, peekay. You're not wrong but the tone is needlessly unpleasant.

John, I paid about $25 for each of the Harry Potter books. if I were the Overlord, I would be proud to have you in Serfdom, math-challengedness notwithstanding.

If I were a Sun/Tribune/Whoever the ultimate corporate master is shareholder, I'd dump it. This plan has no good end.

John McI, you very nearly convinced me. Very. But I'd be buying the house to get the cat, and as much as I love this blog I simply can't afford a newspaper subscription right now.

And, again, if I could subscribe I'd want a UK paper, viz., something that gives me news about where I live, since I've never had the pleasure of visiting Baltimore and The Sun is only of marginal interest insofar as it sheds light on your blog. And it would bother me no end to be paying for a newspaper subscription to read a blog when, as Gary K pointed out, the WSJ, the NYT, and the Guardian all have their blogs available for free; not wanting to be a fanatic, but it's simply the nature of the technology and it's a pity The Sun doesn't realise that. They're alienating a worldwide audience, it seems. I'll be around for 15 page views, and very, very thankful for them, but can't subscribe.

And, if you'll forgive an admittedly cheap but good-humoured shot, The Lord of the Rings is 525k words, available in 3 volume box set for 12 GBP, or in single volume for $17. ;)

Although, come to mention it, if you ever write a book, 180k words or not, on any subject, I'll buy it. Heck, I'll pre-order it, and buy copies for all my friends! :D

Oh. It didn't come out of my brain or fingers 'pissy'. Sorry it entered your eyes that way.
(Incidentally, Janne's post was not displayed when I commented, or I wouldn't have done so, as it makes exactly the same point.)
JEM, sorry if you too thought my tone obnoxious. I was honestly baffled by your question.
Still, not much more of me poking around the comments section, so not to worry ;o)

Prof. McI.,

Hmm........... sounds like you've almost stooped to the slick carney-like tactics of the typical old-school car dealer, as if to say, "Now what would I have to do to put you into this brand-spanking-new Baltimore Sun "digital subscription" plan? (Just joshin'. You don't sound any where near as sleaze-ballish, or deceptive as those underhanded car lot shylocks. HA!)

On a parenthetical note, I did appreciate, and emit a little audible chuckle for your kind of mild backhand homage to one of my favorite American down-home, folksy humorists, Mr. Tom Bodett-------namely his signature line from the memorable, long-running Motel "6" commercial....... "..... and we'll leave the light on for ya."

Always delighted when Bodett happens to show up as one of the three guest comedians on NPR's weekend faux news hour, "Wait ! Wait ! Don't Tell Me". But I digress.

Now that I've put in over a full week's worth of stewing, kvetching, brooding, soul searching, and gnashing of teeth over this fast approaching 'digitally- subscribe-or-else' ultimatum , I'm beginning to finally just mellow out a tad, putting things in better perspective. I believe your 'Plan for you'- titled article somehow actually helped clarify my view of the wider picture.

The harsh reality is, I just got a cost breakdown for a soon-to-be-installed new permanent double dental bridge from my Delta Dental insurance provider, and it would appear I'll have to shell out around $2,340.00 out of my own coffers directly to my dentist, while the insurance covers only $1,700.00 worth of the $4,000.00+ total bill. (Yikes!)

Now I grant you, my comparing the cost of major, required dental work to this annual fee to retain full-time access status to this blog could be viewed as an extreme apples-and-oranges imbalanced equation. Yet I'm now thinking that that new $100.00 subscription 'toll' fee sounds pretty minor in the grander scheme of things.

OK, "minor" to some could be viewed as "major" to others. But bottom line, a hundred bucks IS a $100.00, and I surely wouldn't criticize, or begrudge any of our regular "You Don't Say" bloggers if they chose to put that sum of money to another more worthy, or pressing personal need.

But John, you've somehow miraculously convinced me that the bang-for-the-bucks is still there, and frankly trying to figure out the tangled intricacies of what officially constitutes an on-site "view" and what doesn't using the free, 'lookie-loo', limited access version, is just too darn confusing to parse, for this right-brain dominant, admitted math dunce. (I can at least balance my cheque book w/ few, if any, complications. Thank heaven for small mercies. HA!)

Even though I'm one of those far-flung 'outliers' *, I guess I'm now currently leaning toward ultimately paying the piper, until further notice, even though, kinda like my motivation for occasionally checking out Playboy magazine-------- it's strictly for the articles stupid. HA!

Well, in your case kind professor, it's strictly for your incomparable blog, and the kindred folks who gravitate to your upstanding site. Enough said.

*Apologies to futurist scribe Malcolm Gladwell.


John, are your words the property of the Sun, or could you possibly cross-post them to a blog of your own? PZ Myers, for example, has two Pharyngula blogs: one at Science Blogs for mainly biology issues, and a second at freethoughtblogs where a full range of contentious topics is discussed.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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