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Free and Sustainability and Community and Money
This post continues our discussion on Free and how sustainable it really is. If you missed it, read the first post, and all the amazing comments – they'll give you context for this post.
Wow. Based on the discussions and emails I've had, this idea of whether Free is sustainable is on a lot of minds right now. I'm so glad, because I think that if we talk about it, we can forge some solutions and we can continue enjoying all the good things about Free.
Today, I want to raise a line of questions that may be a little controversial. So before I go there, let me say that I don't mean to be confrontational here, or to point any fingers. I'm writing these posts because I love our community, and want to see it thrive.
Here's something I see happening frequently: we have blogs, and some of us have small businesses. We put a lot of heart and effort – and Free – into them. We wish we could find more income from these endeavors, so that our equations could be more balanced and we can keep sharing Free.
So, where do we see that financial support coming from? Other crafters? Non-crafters? Friends? Strangers?
And my big question is, how many of us are actually giving any financial support to others in our community?
See, I think we have another imbalanced equation operating here – If you want more support for your blog, but you aren't actively supporting others, then how can the math work out for any of us?
What I hear a lot from bloggers and small business owners is something along the lines of, "I'd love to support more crafters, but I'm building my business right now (or, insert another reason here), and I just can't afford to."
That's an honest answer, but sadly, it doesn't balance the equation. It just rather perpetuates this state of unsustainable Free.
Do all crafters feel like they are a part of a community and that they should support it? Help it grow?
Do you feel that you bear a responsibility to help support others? What ways do you do that?
(Now, I'd like to re-iterate something I said in my first post: different bloggers will find different rewards meaningful. I'm focusing on financial support in this post, but non-financial support will be the subject of my next post in this series.)
Since I'm self-employed, I'll be honest: while non-monetary support in the form of comments and email is always lovely, it's financial support that really keeps CraftyPod going. But you know what? Until about mid-way through 2010, I'd always had the "I can't afford to help support others" perception, too.
Then, I had a realization - blogging is a community sport. For pete's sake, I say this all the time to my students and friends. If you want more people to comment on your blog, you have to go out there and comment on other people's blogs. And it finally dawned on me: if I want more financial support for my blog, then I'd better get out there and support other bloggers.
I realized that I'd simply have to figure out a way to afford it – and that there would necessarily be limits to what I could do. But doing something is better than doing nothing.
So, over the next six months I bought a consulting session from Kirsty. I signed up for Mercedes' yarn club. I ordered zines from Kristin, Amy, and Linda. Turned out I was able to afford these small things, and giving my few dollars to people who've given me so much Free value day in and day out – that felt amazing.
In fact, my goal for 2011 is to make this a monthly practice no matter how broke or flush I may feel each month. More on that in a future post.
I think that, in all our sharing and all our wishing we could be more fairly compensated for what we share, we're missing an important fact: if you have plants and you don't water them, they die. If you have a generous community and you don't support it, well, it can't sustain.
That said, will 100% of the blog community ever get actively involved in financial support? No, probably not. But that's okay. Even a small percentage of concerned people who take action will make a big difference. I really believe that old axiom of "be the change you want to see" holds water.
And also – should it be your responsibility to pay for every single thing you enjoy online? No way. In fact, I'd hazard a guess that most of us are enjoying way more Free than we could ever hope to support, whether with comments or dollars. Free will always outstrip human capacity. That's okay, too. Each of us, then, simply has to focus in on the smaller group of people whose Free has consistently helped, inspired, or enriched us.
There's so much more to say on this subject – how can we create a space for simple commerce in our community without making it all about money? When is Free offered in the hope of financial support not really Free? And how can bloggers who do it for love and bloggers who do it for money peacefully coexist? But I think this gigantic, complicated discussion is best done in smaller bites, so I'll save that stuff for future posts, and eagerly hope for your answer to the questions above.