Posted August 28, 2010 8:40 am by with 30 comments

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on FacebookBuffer this page

Shut UpOn Monday, we posted a piece about Philadelphia’s new Business Privilege Tax. In short the city now wants to tax bloggers whether they are making an income with their blog or not. It appears to be another case of a misguided municipality looking to bring in new revenue streams.

As expected, most bloggers are angered by this new tax. I don’t live in Philadelphia and I try my hardest to not complain about taxes. Therefore, I want to ask a much more important question:

Should blogging be free?

Nowadays, anyone with an Internet connection can sign up and get a free blog. That’s right anyone can have a free platform to share their thoughts and ideas with the world! It sounds pretty amazing doesn’t it? But what I want to know is, should it be free? Should users have to pay to blog? In short my answer is:

Blogs, and blogging shouldn’t be free. Period.

Before I begin telling you why I don’t think blogging should be free, let me add a little disclaimer. I make a living off of folks that choose to pay for blogging. The company that I own can and does create many different types of web applications. But, the vast majority of our work is focused on developing custom WordPress installations. So for me and many other professional blog developers it’s a slap in the face to see folks go around claiming that anyone can build a business with free tools. When businesses and entrepreneurs tout the “free model” they are effectively saying, “Don’t hire Joe Hall, because let’s face it, you can get it all for free.” In short free blogging can and does have real negative business implications for professional developers.

But, this issue isn’t about me, it’s about you! It’s about how much you value your ideas and what you are willing to do, to make sure they are heard. You see, before the Internet, individuals had to make huge sacrifices to get the same type of coverage that anyone with a free blog can get today.

For example during the civil rights movement, folks were willing to put their life on the line to get the media’s attention. Even to this day, there are billions of people that do not have access to the Internet or free blogging. I wonder what they would be willing to sacrifice for a free platform.

Those of us that can blog for free have become lazy and irresponsible. Mostly because we haven’t had to sacrifice anything to have our platform. The barrier for entry into blogging is nearly non existent for most of us in the first world. When you are forced to make an investment in an activity you are less likely to take it for granted.

If you aren’t willing to invest in your own ideas, then you have no right to share them. It’s your responsibility to pay for the cost and repercussions of your own ideas, it’s part of existing in a civil society. When you use free blogging services, someone else is paying to support your ideas. Someone else is letting you have a free platform at their expense. Datacenters and system administrators don’t work for free.

I have a friend who recently started a personal blog. She is paying for hosting, and a professional custom theme. She values her own ideas enough to pay to make sure that their delivery is flawless. Is she the best blogger in the world? Will her blog be popular? Who knows. But, the point is that she cares enough about what she has to say that shes putting her money where her mouth is.

So, how much should blogging cost? That’s a tough question. Honestly, I am not sure. How much do you think your ideas are worth? How much would you be willing to pay if free blogging didn’t exist? Should you pay for blogging with money? Or how about time? I wouldn’t mind seeing a blogging service that provides professional blogs for users that commit to 4 or 5 hours of volunteer work a month. Sure, it might not pay the hosting fees, but at least it would encourage a selfless sacrifice.

In the end how can you truly place value on your ideas if you don’t have to work or invest to spread them? Anyone can stand on their soapbox and yell, few can climb a mountain and sing.

PS: Feel free to leave comments below! However, I won’t be around to answer them til Monday.
[photo credit]

  • I think one should invest in spreading their ideas, but that does not mean that they have to pay for their blog or for their chance to start blogging. You would have a better start with a custom blog theme, though. Or with professional that advertises the blog. But there are a lot of other places to invest, like spending more on idea research, gathering customers in other way, etc, etc.

    • So basically you are willing to invest in everything except the core software/hosting that your blog depends on?? Isn’t that like buying furniture for a vacant house that you are squatting in?

  • The sacrifices of having to pay for blogging and those of the Civil Rights era is no comparison at all Joe, not even close. “If you aren’t willing to invest in your own ideas, then you have no right to share them.” That’s a little extreme. If your blog is monetized then I’m all for the taxes whether it’s right or not. But I do think blogging should be free otherwise. So would you want Hubpages, Squidoo, Weebly, and all the other Web 2.0 sites to start charging for their blogging services?

    As always, enjoy my first read of Saturday mornings from you.

  • yes, should be free without regulations!

  • What happened to the notion of free speech? If there are companies wilingl to provide those services… god bless. Since in my opinion this is such a ridiculous post I will assume you are simply trying to stir conversation and move on. Have a great weekend 🙂

    • Ted, free speech doesn’t equal free tacos. (mmhmmm free tacos…yum)

      Free speech means you have the right to stand in public or online and say what ever you please. But that doesn’t entitle you to get a free megaphone and stool to stand on, you have to buy those things on your own. Otherwise you have to just yell louder. 🙂

      • Joe, You are missing Ted’s point.

        He does not claim to be entitled to a free microphone, but if someone is willing to provide the microphone (hosting or themes) for free one can use it?

        Or is it your claim Joe, that Google or WordPress should be “forced” to charge people for hosting their blogs?

        • Jordan, I am just proposing an alternative viewpoint on free blogging. No, I don’t think any company should be forced to charge for blogging, I just wish they would make that decision on their own.

          And, I don’t think I am missing Ted’s point, he didn’t distinguish in any way a difference between free services and free speech.

  • Andy, I think this rant about blogging is a little off base. Seems to me you are confusing the two operations of getting started doing something and then doing it on a permanent, albeit often sporadic, basis. So let me ask you this, what’s the difference between someone blogging and writing some thoughts in a newspaper column. The former most frequently doesn’t get paid, the latter does. The journalist is sharing his or her thoughts, and bloggers often provide their slant on news, so why are you going to make bloggers pay for the privilege and still continue to pay others like journalists for expressing an opinion? As one of the comments said, “whatever happened to free speech?”
    The fact that these bloggers use an amazing tool like WordPress (or something way less sophisticated like iWeb) to build their own sites appears to be the real reason for your complaint. You seem to think that people building their own sites should be illegal, because that’s what you do to earn a living. What’s next, no one can to their own cooking because chefs will complain?

    • I’ll let Joe respond, seeing as he wrote it. 😉

      • Eric,

        Check out what I said about free speech above,….I am to lazy to retype it. 🙂

        As for the difference in the news paper columnist and bloggers. The newspaper columnist writes because its their job. Its what they do to earn a living…their boss (the newspaper) is responsible for marketing the paper and ensuring the the columnist has a audiance.

        Bloggers on the other hand are a lot like entrepreneurs. They are required to attract their own audiance. They don’t have an editor, and their ideas are SOLELY their own. They have direct ownership over their words. Not the paper. As a result they should have to pay to support those ideas.

  • I didn’t bother reading the whole crap. But after what I read I want you to Stop whining.

    • Thanks I feel the same way about your comment.

  • huhhhhmmmmm. i’m not too sure you should have to pay for blogging. perhaps you should and maybe your shouldn’t if you had to pay for it in england though there would be crazy uproar! free speech, the censorship of the internet via markup etc all come to mind….

    • Once again, please check out what I said about free speech above,….I am still to lazy to retype it. 🙂

  • Joe,

    I love you like a brother. Seriously. Yet just as seriously, I think you are so off base on this that it’s painful to read.

    What you’re saying is essentially just like lobbyists saying – if you want to get the attention of politicians, you have to pay just like we do. And if you don’t pay, you don’t deserve the right for your voice to be heard.

    It’s not different Joe. And that’s a crime. Yet that’s what happens in politics. You want that to extend to the entire Internet? I’m seriously disappointed.

    • Oh Alan, Why did you have to bring up the L word??

      Prior to getting into this crazyness on the internet. I was a lobbyist for a special interest group. And I can say with out a shadow of doubt that the stereotype of the backroom lobbyist with pockets full of cash…is by and large just wrong.

      Sure there are plenty of lobbyist in DC that have tons of money to spend on their efforts, and they do get a lot of attention. But the vast majority of lobbyist work for very good organizations that spend the majority of the year hustling to raise enough cash to send their lobbyist to DC or a state capital for a few weeks a year and those lobbyist are the ones that make the biggest impact because they have invested time and energy into bring home votes and influence during their short visits.

      In short, as with many things the devil is in the details. And this is especially true with both lobbying and blogging. In blogging there are many folks that just produce crap everyday, and by and large these folks use free platforms. Sure every now and then there’s something good to bee seen, but most of it is garbage.

      So why not require some type of recurring sacrifice? It doesn’t have to be big, and it doesn’t have to be monetary. Anything at all that validates that you care enough about the process that you are willing to do something in exchange for it?

  • To argue that simply paying for a blog will give it value is wrong. To say that because something is given for free it has no value is wrong.

    However I can see the advantage this would give those that are willing to pay and that see a value.

    • Your right, but you have to admit that someone that pays for something probably values it more. Not all the time, but its fair to say that most folks don’t part with their money on things they don’t value.

  • Ron

    I think most articles and posts have not put out the entire story on why the two particular bloggers were asked to pay for a business license, and that is because both blogs include advertising on their blog pages. If there is any intent to make money, then the enterprise is seen as a business, no matter how little or how much money the business actually makes. There are plenty of brick and mortar businesses who don’t make any money, and who, in fact, lose quite a bit of money, especially during their first few years, and they still have to pay for a business license up front. So it’s not just the mere act of blogging that the city is trying to tax, it’s the inclusion of web ads, which shows an intent to generate income, no matter how much or how little. If your blog doesn’t have Google AdSense ads posted on it, then you don’t have anything to worry about.

    What if the two bloggers happen to make $100K through their click-through ads; would people have a problem with their being asked to pay for a business license? I don’t think anyone would argue that they shouldn’t; why would making money on an internet enterprise be treated differently than a brick & mortar business? But, it’s impossible to predict how much money a particular endeavor will make, which is why businesses are asked to pay for a license up front.

    As far as the two bloggers in Philly go, they should just pay the license and deduct the cost of the license from their taxes as a business expense. $300 for a life-time business license is dirt cheap.

    • Hey Ron, Thanks for your comment. This post is mostly about whether or not blogging should be free. I am leaving the tax debate to others. But, my main view in a nut shell is that the city is wrong because they don’t really understand what a blog is. However, $300 is dirt cheap for a lifetime business permit.

  • I look forward to my Cup of Joe each weekend and read this yesterday but didn’t have it in me to reply at the time. I needed to think about what I said before writing it down. I’m glad I did as it gave others a chance to comment as well.

    Here’s my take on it. If you’ve got advertising on it and are looking to make some cash, then I’ll echo what Rond said above; pay the $300 lifetime fee and deduct from taxes. Done. These individuals may not know much about taxes, like that they hav to pay on the income they make through the adertising.

    The other side of the coin, where I initially was is that if there is no advertising then they shouldn’t have to. My website has no ads, in fact I don’t think there’s an affiliate link anywhere. I post there to help others and my personal brand. My latest project, is personal in nature about losing weight. There are a couple of affiliate links in the posts and I have some monetization ideas down the road for it, so yes I would consider the license fee (if it were applicable). My web income falls under my corporation though, so I’ve already got it covered.

    I guess the biggest thing to look at is intent. If the blog in question is intending to make money then the user should be subject to the fee. If there is no advertising, affiliate links, paid reviews, etc…no monetization angel then don’t bother. It’s like someone putting their diary or journal online – the original concept around blogs.

    That’s just my 2 cents…guess I’ve got $299.98 left to pay.

    • I am glad you like the column! Keep reading!

  • This could have, and probably was, written back in the 90s when we got the first wave of “free” entering the web.. Here we were trying to earn a living on this new thing called the www and all of a sudden along come all these ‘free’ services like Geocities.. Once the world got a taste of free it never looked back.. Those of use running hosting companies and developing web sites for a living have had to fight against free ever since..

    Personally I waffle on this subject.. I like the idea of a low barrier to entry in that it allows people the opportunity to earn their way to more than they have now.. However, that same low barrier to entry contributes directly to all the things that we can point at that are wrong on the web, not just blogs, but MFA sites that are put up for basically nothing in the hopes that they make $5, endless spam pages, even domaining to a certain extent..

    Perhaps a compromise can be made.. What is putting advertising, adsense, etc., on your web site automatically triggered a free of some sort to get started?? This would allow people who just want to speak their minds do so for free, but those that want to try to make a buck would have to actually pony up the price of entry to have a shot at it.. Of course you would still have people working the system, but I think it would go a long way to cleaning up a lot of the garbage we have on the web today..

    • Steve, will you be my new best friend? I agree with everything you are saying here. However, I think deciding on what those triggers should be would be hard. I mean, some folks will use free blogging just to create link networks for SEO with no ads. But I like the direction you are heading in.

    • Oh, and btw, Steve…

      I did not write this in the 90s, but you are right thats when it all started! I remember Geocities and actually using it, thinking to myself….no one will ever pay for hosting!

  • I don’t understand why you are upset that people are not forced to pay to blog? As per the sacrifice, many blogger’s spend a great deal of time writing and researching. They then give away that research for free. Thank god for the blogging community, otherwise everyone would be on Facebook. I think you are just upset that your losing customers because of this free and/or cheap software?

  • I think everything should be free, just like our freedom of speech

    • Ron

      Nowadays, nothing is really free, someone has to pay something somewhere along the line. Even the ability to breathe clean air has to be paid for by taxes (collected from the populance) to regulate and clean up pollution. And, unfortunately, it’s the entitlement mentality that everything should be free which drives up the incidences of pirating software, music & movies, and makes it more expensive for those of us who do pay for things.

  • Kim Krause Berg

    I think that blog comments with urls that point to a web site should not be free. If bloggers must pay for licenses, fees and taxes on top of hosting and domain fees, I say comments should help them generate revenue to pay for it all.

    I also think that Twitter should not be free. It’s a marketing paradise, used for traffic and link campaigns by businesses online, many of which are blogs. Every Tweet that links or retweets to promote a page should be charged a fee and become a business taxable income.

    Following your’s and Lisa Barone’s logic, that any web-based entity used to generate revenue, directly or indirectly, should be taxed, I can only assume that any manner of chatter, forum discussion, Facebook “Like”, ratings done via IM through “Hey, can you click in my article?”, etc. should no longer be free. The mere possibility that sooner or later, someone might earn some cash, seems to be the deciding factor – not whether the platform is a blog.