Keeping content free

by | Mar 2, 2006

Over the years, I’ve donated to or paid a subscription fee for numerous Web sites: Salon, Andrew Sullivan’s blog, and Integral Naked, among others. I love making shareware payments. (Shareware is software that you can download free and try for as long as you like. The author asks that you send a payment if you like and use the software.) I enjoy these modest investments and small gestures becuase they celebrate the fact that I live in plenty. For me there is no surer way of knowing that I have enough than to spread it around.
In the ten years that I’ve been providing free online content, I have often thought about setting up some sort of contribution system. At one time, I even considered changing my free ezine to a subscription publication. But I value the free flow of information on the ‘Net, and while I’m fine with charging for my products and services, it’s important to me to keep a significant portion of my content accessible to anyone online regardless of the state of their checking account.
Living up to this has gotten more difficult in recent years. I find myself engaged in ever deeper reflection, and writing, which used to come so easily, requires more discernment, more time, more reflection and research. The issues I grapple with at 52 are not the same as those I grappled with at 30 or 40, and at the same time that I feel increasing urgency around comunicating with clarity, insight, and honesty, bringing those quality out is more challenging than ever
All of this is to say that writing a simple blog entry isn’t so simple anymore, and in order to keep doing it without burnout, I need to bring energy in as well as put energy out. When I discovered Amazon’s Honor System, a secure and anonymous means for Web users to contribute to a site that they find valuable, I felt I had found a solution.
If every visitor to my Web sites or blog and every reader of my newsletter contributed $1 a month, I could afford to write full time. I’m not expecting that (but wow, would that be cool or what?!). I have set a goal of bringing in $15,000 through the Honor System in 2006. I could have requested contributions through my newsletter or forms on my sites, but I don’t want people to feel compelled to give or to worry that when I saw what they gave (or didn’t) I might have some judgment about it.
The Amazon Honor System addresses those concerns. The process is completely anonymous: I don’t know who contributes what. No one need worry about receiving email solicitations (yuck!) because I wouldn’t know where to send them. (If you have an account with Amazon, their system may “recognize” you, in which case your name will appear in the “Click to Give” box. My system won’t be part of that connection, so your activity is invisible to me. You can turn off name recognition by going to Amazon and changing your Account Settings (choose “Updating your communication preferences”).
As to privacy, here’s Amazon’s commitment to people who use the Honor System: “we will not share any of your personal information from the Amazon Honor System with other participants in the program, not even sites that you choose to support.” Their policy goes on to say, “The Amazon Honor System uses special software that removes your name and similar information from the system’s records when they are stored in our server logs. We do not keep or attempt to construct a record of the Web sites you visit.”
It’s an interesting experiment, and I’ll keep you posted about how it goes. Meanwhile, you could be the first on your block to make a contribution. 🙂 And, as always, I am very interested in your reactions and thoughts.

Amazon Honor System

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