Creative: Would you?

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I have a question.

Would you pay for the content on this site? Go ahead, take a minute to gather yourself. Take a deep breath. Be honest. My guess is no. The reason I ask is that I’m routinely questioned by a variety of smart and interesting people why I have yet to monetize my site. I always answer the same way. “I’ve never found a way to do it without selling out.” Would I like to monetize my site? Yes. Why? Because the added income would allow me more freedom to make the work I want to make, and to share it here on Shifter. But when I look around at people monetizing it always seems to come with numerous strings attached.

There are paid posts. There are trends and techniques you seemingly HAVE to write about or the numbers won’t be there, and let’s be perfectly clear, monetization is about driving traffic. Period. I know with one hundred percent certainty if I want to drive traffic I write about gear. But I don’t want to write about gear. Not only is it boring but it also attracts a very boring reader, most often people who know little about actual photographic work, the history of the work and even what makes a good image or how to utilize that image once you have it in your domain. I could do banner ads, and I’ve been asked many times, but most of the time they lead right back to the same gear conversation, and do I really want to contribute to the absolute consumer orgy that things like online ads and social media have unleashed on the world? No, no and NO.

I know plenty of people who monetize. But I can’t think of one who doesn’t play the game to do so, which is what has kept me away. Well, that and the idea my life isn’t just about photography, so hard to pin down what I do and who I am, and if you come here for photography talk would you be turned off by the adventure, yoga or Lyme? My guess is yes.

The sad thing I see is that the phoniest people tend to have the most traffic and most ability to monetize. This has been exasperated by social media where selling out is the basis for the entire operation. The people who will shill anything to anyone for any reason as long it means more traffic and the subsequent more revenue are the squeaky wheels. From the advertiser side I almost entirely understand, but not quite all the way.

The flip side to this little tale is that perhaps I have nothing of value, which is a real possibility, but obviously I’m okay with that because I’ve been blogging for over fifteen years, for free. In fact, when you factor in the time, this site has cost me thousands and thousands. But love trumps profit.

If you have a moment tell me your thoughts. Thanks in advance.

Comments 54

  1. We are in the same boat. And this boat isn’t one that is propelled by turning out images or content for monetary gain. This boat isn’t floating on likes or awards. The boat we are in is propelled by our creativity and is floating on inspiration.

    I gave up the idea a while ago to make a living with my photography because I want to make what I want. Be it making images or tell stories or make a pinhole camera. Whatever. I answer to myself. Now I setup a Patreon page and some might think that is to generate money but in reality I made it to generate a community. A community of people who enjoy my work and like holding it in their hands. I have 1 person paying $5 a month (Thanks Nick Tauro) and in return he gets prints, books, whatever I am making. I just give it to him. I am not making profit by any means.

    Also, the idea of managing a monetized site just freaks me out. I would much rather be spending that time driving a dusty dirt road to some little town in New Mexico (with or without a camera).

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      Get the Taco ready, we are going out. Nothing too crazy just exploration. Nick will be overhead the chopper. I agree with you. I don’t know anything about Patreon but will investigate.

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  2. Thanks for your honest blog. I don’t know what the answer is for you. But I’ll tell you why I follow along.

    I met you in person at a Blurb meet up in Vancouver about 4-5 yrs ago now. At the time I had thoughts about going into publishing and you gave me some great, sound advice (which I didn’t take of course :-p because I’m not doing anything remotely related to publishing now, but thanks again for that!) You were quite personable and helpful, and I don’t come across people in your world that often because I’m not a photographer – not even an amateur or aspiring one with gear.

    I continue to read your email newsletters because I like reading about things that aren’t necessarily part of my world, or circles that I jump into and mix in. I like your straight-up, conversation-like posts about a craft I’m not pursuing. I appreciate the adventure spin they tend to have when you take a wander. And as a reader, I like reading your book reviews; and have looked up a few to go on my list.

    I think if you were to montetize this site for photographers, I would respect that. And I’d just decide what to do then.

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      Thanks Ada,

      Thanks for taking time to write. I miss Canada. And thank you for the advice about the site. I don’t think I’ll change anything but it’s nice to hear from people like you. Glad I’m giving you some good fodder.

  3. Ok, my thoughts on this. Your website is the only website I follow regularly and actually type your address and spend time reading it. You are right, I would probably not pay to have access to the website – although, if I think of it, if the price would be reasonable I would think about it because I would miss your content. But you don’t have to sell the website to monetize. I would buy your knowledge and experience. I would love to be able to spend some one on one time with you to learn how to create stories, from ideas, making the photographs, writing the text, preparing it for print, printing it etc. Your creative process. Maybe you don’t want to sell that, and that’s fine, but I don’t think that would be a compromise for you. I would subscribe to a monthly magazine created by you, the topics don’t even matter, photography, yoga, gut health, creative living, sports, book reviews whatever. I would totally buy a book made by you. I’d pay for a workshop with you, etc. I guess you see what I mean. But I wouldn’t like to see banners and pop-ups and paid reviews on this website, that’s for sure. I hope it helps.

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      That is a GREAT idea. Thank you for taking the time to think about it, and thanks for being honest. I could tweak my current magazine ESSAY, into a more monthly or quarterly publication that offers things that the site does note, or perhaps similar things but more in depth. Hmmmmm…..

  4. Great question. I think Claudia is onto something. A monthly magazine subscription would be of interest. I already buy what books you make available. You are one of 3 contemporary creatives I follow with great interest. And like Ada, I follow this blog because it is exactly about things I can’t do but have a great deal of interest in. So yes, I’d pay for the content and in doing so, I would have some faith you wouldn’t sell out.

    With regards to the monthly mag, I think you have enough creative ideas to take care of that. When you run out, you are able to tap into people who could contribute in ways that could be collaborative or provide different aspects of the creative process but with the same mindset as you, and likely, your readers.

    My screen time has dropped dramatically over the course of the last 6 months. I check places that are important to me twice a day. That’s it. Your site is one of those places and back to the original question, I’d pay because I’d miss the content and thought inducing material. And as you know, that’s a stretch for me!

    Just my $.02 worth.

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      I think Claudia’s idea is pretty solid. Got me thinking. If I had a designer on staff….I could be dangerous. I think less screen time is good, so glad I made your cut.

  5. I love your content, Dan. But, no, I wouldn’t pay for it. I have a three kids, two dogs, one wife and all that entails. I make my own coffee brown bag my leftovers and drive a Honda Pilot with 170, 000 miles. I buy .99 cent ebooks or use the library. Takes me forever to buy a new piece of gear, or to justify it to myself. I’ve been blogging for 10 year, thought I doubt people would pay for my content. I often mention you when people ask me who inspires me. But, no, I wouldn’t pay to subscribe, brother. Sorry.

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      Thanks for being honest. I wouldn’t pay either. Claudia had an interesting idea I’m going to explore. Going to explore Patreon as well, just to know a bit more about it. Glad you are visiting. That Honda has at least another 100k on it. Fingers crossed.

  6. I’d probably pay a few bucks a year, but that would be as much to support you as to “get access to content”.

    You’d probably do just as well setting a Patreon as you would trying to monetize this web site.

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      Ya, I gotta check out Patreon. I know nothing about it. I’m not going to add anything pay, but I do like the quarterly magazine idea.

  7. I don’t know. Maybe these are relevant:

    “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” — J. R. R. Tolkien

    “Work Hard. Keep at it. Live simply and quietly. Remain humble. Stay positive. Be nice. Be polite.” — Hugh Macleod, as a summary of his book “How To Be Creative”

    God save us from those people who need to read, hear and do everything by the numbers. They have no idea about art. They are giant sponges sucking the fun off the linoleum floor of life… — Kirk Tuck, on Christmas Day, 2013

    “To create wealth is not to give people what they want, but to help them figure out what to want by making sense of what is worth having. There is a moral element to the marketable deliverable.” — Maria Popova in a post on Hackers & Painters by Paul Graham

    “The internet — its beauty is that it’s a self-perfecting organism, right? But as long as it’s an ad-supported medium, the motive will be to perfect commercial interest, to perfect the art of the listicle, the endless slideshow, the infinitely paginated article, and not to perfect the human spirit of the reader or the writer.” — Maria Popova

    I know I gravitate toward sites/blogs that don’t annoy me. Like most, I have a threshold, I suppose. I don’t mind BrainPickings “plea” at the bottom of each article. I don’t mind too much a blogger pointing out that they make some dollars if you click through to another site as long as the “ads”/links aren’t above my threshold of annoyance and I enjoy what they have to say. Like you say, you spend much of your life doing this. I think the main thing is what do YOU want to do, what kind of return do YOU want from the effort that you put out here and, if you want that return to have a monetary factor, how do YOU want us, your readers, to return that to you.

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      Merle, I love this….”I know I gravitate toward sites/blogs that don’t annoy me.” I’m with you! I don’t want a shadow when I blog, that shadow of knowing I’ve got to create certain things for selling or keeping traffic at a certain level. Thank you so much for taking time to provide your thoughts. I’ve never really wanted any return outside of a conversation.

    2. “…I’ve never really wanted any return outside of a conversation.”

      But if that’s what you’d like, a magazine seems less of a conversation even than a blog. Seems like a one-way communication – from you outward, with not a whole lot coming back in response. At least with this blog you have a chance for folks to converse. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it if you’re excited about doing one. Just saying it maybe doesn’t meet your stated desire for conversation.

      Seems like the conversation might be better satisfied in some other way. Say, for example, though I don’t know how much members there actually talk to each other as I’m not a member. May be other things like that out there as well.

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      That’s an interesting point. I wouldn’t do a magazine and then kill the blog. I would do both, so the conversation would continue here, but I would add a magazine, which I already have to some degree with ESSAY, but I would expand on it. Still working things out.

  8. Hola Don Daniel & fellow Shifters,

    As a self employed person all my life I know the value of my time and respect everyone else’s accordingly. So yes, I would pay. Do I like seeing banners and pop ups?…no. Would I put up with it to keep reading?…yes.

    With that said I also think Claudia’s suggestion is ultimately a good path for you…and us, the readers. If you kept daily, weekly musings on this site as headlines for select ‘full articles’ that would be in a paid subscription magazine (quarterly sounds about right)(The Smogranch Quarterly has a nice ring to it) I think that would be a real win-win for you and us. Like your trip back through the family neighbourhood where at the end you made a book for your mom – that would be a full article in the magazine with little snippets and thumbnails on the website along the way. I would definitely love to support you in paying for that to get delivered to my door X times a year. I also, humbly, think it would give you great inspiration on top of financial motivation to do more travel, shooting and writing. You are already doing all the parts, travel, shooting, writing, making books, just solidify and focus that into a business. Not a take no prisoners, conquer the world business but enough justifiable income to assist you…in being you.

    I look forward to continuing the journey no matter what path you choose.
    Peace out.

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      I agree. I’m not going to charge people, but I will think about the quarterly mag. It’s a great idea. What I need to find is a designer who wants to get involved.

  9. I love Claudia’s suggestions above. I’m also not opposed to support via Patreon. It won’t be for everyone, but there are people who would contribute. Like many above have stated, you are one of the few blogs that I continue to follow and that I find so inspiring. Not only for consistency, but for the honesty, and for your commitment to your creativity, in whatever manner that is. Your writing makes me want to write more. Your photography makes me want to get out there and shoot. Your attitude about most everything makes me want to be more honest, in everything. Keep doing what you’re doing, in whatever way makes sense for you.

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      Thank you so much. Very kind of you. I’ll investigate Patreon. I love that you like coming here.

  10. Hi Dan,

    I bought your journal, your mags, books ( the lost rolls… not by you, but close).
    So you’ll have my support for printed content for sure.
    As for digital content I would support you too, preferably with buying pdf or ebook style output of the above mentioned printed output.
    As you can see, paying for website content is not on my priority list.
    I pay for solid independent newscontent already because it’s the only way to avoid all ” free” sh.t flying around the web.
    So here you are, if you’re ready, just yell it out and you got a “customer”.

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      THANK YOU. Much appreciated. Glad you are interested. I’m not going to charge anyone, but I think I will investigate a quarterly magazine.

  11. Dig the site. Find your content inspiring. Have read some of the books suggested. Am watching the evolution of the Taco ;). Have printed a blurb mag or two because of the ideas found here (and elsewhere); just for the fun of it. Not sure I would hang around if I had to pay in some regular way (subscription) for the online content. Personally, much of what I dig about this site is the vibe that much of it seems tied to passion as opposed to cashin’.

    I think the once a year thing that Wikipedia runs might be a route to consider if you are looking to defray some costs; folks can donate what they can afford or not if they can’t or don’t want to. Is that what patreon is? Maybe pick some key photography related date and run a support campaign for a few weeks – see how it goes. I’d buy you a coffee or two.

    1. I love this Wikipedia idea! I would definitely contribute. I do something similar with one of my very favorite podcasts that operates in this same way. Great idea!

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      Never thought about Wiki. Lots of great ideas floating around here. So much to think about and I appreciate you taking the time to share.

  12. Like Molitor, I’d be willing to pay a few bucks. Luminous Landscape is site that charges a buck a month. Reasonable cost for the content. I think the idea of a magazine is even better and would buy into that idea. Its the quality of your content that drives me to the site daily – just to see if you’ve addd something to one of the menus categories.
    With all the blurb content you create, I wish you would open more of it up to us for purchase.

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      I have experimented with magazine, with ESSAY, but I’d like to get a real designer, see how I can expand.

  13. I would not like the site changed or plastered with ads and pleas for money, no.

    But I would support you through Patreon no problems. I do this with Mike at The Online Photographer, I’d pay double for your site (2x where x is very little mind you).

    On top of that, I would even more gladly buy your photobooks and magazines through Blurb. Incidentally, that is the way I support another photographer/blogger that I care about, Patrick Laroque. Every now and then he sells PDFs with little collection of photos plus interesting behind the scenes, and I buy them regardless of the actual value that I see in these PDFs; it’s my way of paying back his efforts and the inspiration he gives me.

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      Hey Alessandro,

      MORE good information. Thanks so much for taking the time to offer these suggestions. And very kind of you to buy up the mags and books. More on the way.

  14. I love the clean look to the site today so I wouldn’t like to see ads appearing. As it’s already been said, I would prefer to contribute in someway either via a donation or to continue purchasing any publications you make public for us to buy.

    Having seen first hand some of the magazines you’ve produced and tested so far I would love to see more, whether this be bi-annual, tri-annual or quarterly. I’m sure you know enough creative people who could lend a hand to it’s creation with guest posts featuring some of their work. When I read the post above I immediately thought of some magazines I have read in the past like ‘Another Escape’, ‘Sidetracked’, ‘Cereal’, etc. and could easily envisage something from you with an Adventure, Photography, Creative, Read sections, etc.

    Whatever you decide to do, I will still visit the site as its my go to place for inspiration and love reading all the posts.

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      Hey Paul,
      You have been here a long while, and I appreciate your time, energy and your hard earned money. I’m not going to do ads. I just can’t bear it. But, much more publications, and photography, on the way.

  15. Ok so I’d call your attention to two examples of the direction you propose. Eric Kim and David “Strobist” Hobby. Both post a significant amount of information/commentary on their respective web sites BUT…
    Neither of them earn their living from their web sites. Eric makes his money from street photography workshops in various places around the world plus some cash from selling his various products. David too, offers lighting workshops. You see the thing is I think you may be looking for a passive source of income….I just don’t think your site will provide that. People have grown used to free content on the web. Additionally I sense your schedule is already jam packed with your duties with Blurb, and your personal life (bike riding, fishing etc etc) damn your awesome lifestyle 😉 I think the seminars on book making you currently give are a better candidate for cash.

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      Ya, I can’t do what those guys do. WAY too much equipment talk. I’m not going to monetize anything. And you are correct, my schedule is so full, and so full of non photography related things, I can’t imagine having to conform.

  16. Hey Dan!
    I’m late to this post but lately i’m late to everything … Moving across the globe has kept me way busier than I anticipated originally. Anyway, here my two cents.

    No. I wouldn’t pay for the content. But if you want to make money with banners etc, this is your place, your time, your money, your life … Banner won’t stop me to come here if the content is good.

    Selling out is what I’ve seen too that happens all the time. Gear is always the way to go to attract traffic. Either thing is a good idea. Camera sales are going down hill after the digital fever passed, so now photography is turning into what it was before the arrival of digital, a hobby for a few, the masses already bought a camera years ago thinking they were going to take the best photos by buying the best cameras constantly … but the truth is that they barely take the camera out of the closet because they all got iPhones. Photography fever is done.
    On the idea of selling out I can give you a sample of a well known blog. It’s been during many years one of the top gear blogs. Let’s avoid names …
    The guy that owns the blog claims he was always a Leica guy, he always reviewed Leica cameras and bought them and sell them like candy, I think he was trying to get Leica to support/sponsorize his blog so badly, It looked like Leica never bit that hook. So all the sudden Olympus were the best cameras ever … because they were paying … eventho he swears he never was paid by any brand to change his opinions about any product he reviewed. Well, One time he reviewed a camera bag, according to him best camera bag ever (extrange that almost everything he ever tested was the best ever, except Fuji, I guess they had enough people saying good thing to pay him for it) … so I left a comment on how camera bags are like the holy grail for photographers and that for me the best camera bag was one I made myself with a $20 canvas bag from Amazon and an insert from another bag I had sitting at home. His answer … How do I dare say such thing, the bag he tested was the best hands down. So I replied that I was just sharing my experience in case it could help anyone, after all not everybody can pay $300 for a camera bag … All my comments were deleted instantly. Sellout? You decide. Later on Sony started to be the best cameras ever … few moths go by and one day the blog is all in black and orange (Sony color scheme) and Sony banners everywhere …
    Problems I see with this … Your readers can get tired of all the BS. You lose part of your freedom due to having to follow the agenda of your sponsor. Now you are conditioned to do what you are asked for instead of what you like.

    I don’t see many photography related brands interested in sponsoring a place that mixes photography, with adventure, books, Lyme, Yoga and once a century a Subaru “review”, LOL. But that is what makes this place such a unique place. This place represents you and doesn’t represent anybody else or any brand other that Daniel Milnor (with some Blurb and MagCloud cameos).

    I come here mainly for the photography chat … scratch that … I come here mainly for the creative chat. Not super interested into cycling or yoga … But like I said, that is part of who you are so I find completely normal and honest to yourself that they are part of this place.

    To summarize. I think you are doing just fine Dan.

    Cheers from Bilbao!

    1. LOL
      Absolutely Alessandro. Is just a military style bag from amazon. no zipper at all, so no real security and quality of construction … well, it was cheap, so you know. I put inside a small insert from Timbuk2 from a bag I had, the insert takes only 2/3 of the space so I have room in the side for a light jacket or some other stuff.
      This is the bag. i got it in olive green, but as you can see there are plenty of colors.

      Now I also use couple of Domke bags, depending of how much stuff I wanna carry. So far so good.

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      I have a wide variety of bags for a wide variety of needs. I use Tenba for my audio rig and for my Fuji setup, at least at times. Pelican for my crush proof, water proof travel case. I use Atlas for my adventure photography needs and I use Cotopaxi for my travel needs, including their super lightweight daypack with a similar insert to what you use. Just looks like a hiking backpack. But I also still have, and use, my original Domke F/2 from 1988.

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      I too know plenty of photogs who went from brand to brand to brand to brand, whoever they could get to sponsor them, but I stopped paying any attention to those people years ago. I can’t think of anything more boring than discussing the internals of cameras while sharing images of magnified desk lamps. I’ve always called my site “A lifestyle site without the style” and that is what it will continue to be.

    4. Like I said, I think this place is unique and I’m sure we all come for different reasons. You keep doing your thing Dan.

      We’ll be coming as long as you are hip. Then, one day you’ll be not hip anymore and we will ditch you in post of the newest, hippest, trend setter, influencer, of the moment. Sorry mate, internet life rules.

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  17. Erlantz
    Love the bag. It’s give off that “nothing to see here” and “I’m not worthy of stealing” vibe that I like in a camera bag.

    1. Thank you Jim. It really does look like nothing is going on and it adapts very well to the contour of the body. Now! Hold on here! I would recommend this for a small set up, in my case I used to carry there X100T, TCL (50mm adaptor), few batteries, sometimes my beloved Ricoh GR (in a small separate pouch), and the usual crap … sunglasses, tobacco, notebook, pen, bits and pieces.
      If you are planning to put more gear than that you are going to need a bigger insert so the bag will look bulkier, and like something is going on inside.

  18. A little late to the party, but I’ve been pondering this for a few days now…
    I think there is a general expectation that web content be free, But I guess most visitors to sites such as this would agree that creators should in some way be rewarded for their effort and talent. The question is, how do we put a value on truly creative and interesting content when the www is so overstuffed with unoriginal shyte?

    I’ve very recently begun supporting Jack Lowe’s Lifeboat Station Project through Patreon (If you’ve not seen or heard of this project, do search it out, you won’t be disappointed).
    Jack recently posted a very similar question regarding how we value artists and the art they produce, and it was that piece that made me look to Patreon. What swung my decision was that I would be directly supporting a specific project, and one that felt important to me. The project has an end date, at which point my financial support will also end, so I don’t feel that I’m subsidising a struggling artist’s absinthe consumption from my “below national average” salary. Access to subscriber-only content didn’t remotely influence my thinking.

    None of that really helps you though, Dan, does it? Apart maybe from the last little bit about paid content, which you have already discounted.

    Shifter, as Smogranch before, is one of very few regular web destinations for me. I like your pictures, and I like your conversational writing style, so if you pulled the plug, or followed a subscription model, it’d be a sad day, but even in an affluent western democracy, life can feel harsh(ish). We all got lives and problems and bills to pay, so asking for donations to help you continue to do what you clearly love doing ain’t gonna prise open my wallet. I imagine a good number of folks visiting here will be envious of your life… it might not always feel like it but you may be living their dream!

    So assuming the Patreon funding model is gaining a foothold in your thoughts, what would entice me to consider supporting you?

    A specific, achievable and time-bound project would find more favour with me than something vague and open ended. In this respect, a book or exhibition seems a good end point.
    It’s got to be interesting… I think we can trust you on this one… A book of Kardashianesque selfies will not garner my support.
    Having a range of “buy-in” options with a low entry level – a physical reward is less important when the cost of support is low, ie. “for $2 per month you get my eternal gratitude and your name listed on the supporters page in the final book”… “for $3 per month you get benefit 1, plus a personal postcard upon completion of the project”… all the way up to a ridiculous benefit for whoever wishes to make a Peter Lik sized contribution…

    Whatever path you decide to travel, I’m sure it’ll be interesting. In the meantime, keep on doing what you’re doing!

    Apologies for such a long comment… brevity never my strong point…

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      Hey Tony,

      Thank you for the lengthy, well thought out reply. Much appreciated. I’m really leaning toward quarterly or bi-annual magazine. But, I need a design collaborator, for sure. Patreon is interesting too, but I need to full investigate. Not sure when I’ll have the time but it’s on the radar. Glad you are here, and glad you are finding something good.

  19. Your blog and TOP (Mike Johnston) are the only blogs I read regularly and for the same reasons: you both are interesting, knowledgeable and creative people that are not afraid at all to write about anything regardless of clicks and page views. Very different personalities but not afraid of going tangent, which is always the best.

    No, I wouldn’t pay for what I consider a stream of (creative) consciousness (this blog), but I’ve purchased a couple of magazines from you and would buy anything that feels like a finished concept. So, in a way, it’s a yes.

    I am a blogger myself since 11 years ago, travel blogger no less, and went the same route 2 years ago: stopped publishing about shit I don’t care and got rid of all the ads and distracting elements. It’s just not worth it for the soul, specially when you already sell your time and best daily hours for a paid job.

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      Thanks Manuel,

      I’ve never really thought about charging. I don’t want to have to think about that. Nor can I fathom the idea of having to think about things like page views. Talk about soul sucking. Thanks for taking the time to reply.

  20. I didn’t know you were hip Dan, cool!! 😉 Well…I’m still here and happily following and LEARNING and enjoying. And would still be if I had to pay for content because I know you wouldn’t sell out.

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      I’m SAVAGELY hip. You can see my hipness from space. Glad you are here. I truly love what you do and how you do it. An inspiration for sure. Keep it going, and hope to get dirty with you later in the year. You know what I mean.

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