There is the very very old school Blogger/BlogSpot. It’s still the place where I have all the archives. I like that it’s free. I can have custom domain and SSL without paying. It has RSS feed so if I want to move to anywhere else, I can just dump the whole feed and migrate. Interestingly, the convenience to move is the reason I haven’t moved so far, because I don’t want to move into another platform that locks me in. In fact, I have three Blogger blogs (Chinese, English, Cantonese) so they can have separate feeds and I can manage them like managing pure data structure. (I know the HTML in my Blogger posts are messy sometimes. I wish I could keep a cleaner format.)
There is Facebook Page. I have one single Page that contains all of my Blogger posts. I’m fascinated by all the fancy features Facebook provides. I just learned that I could use Facebook Pixel to track the conversion rate of people clicking on a Page post and then commenting on my Blogger post. I could use Facebook to track monthly active users on my Blogger blogs and then buy ads to target Facebook users who are similar to my existing monthly active users.
However, some recent events reminded me that it’s a closed standard instead of an open standard like web or RSS. If Facebook changes the product or its policy, it would affect me. This is very different from Blogger, which rarely forces me to change anything. For example, I haven’t updated my Blogger templates for years. I enabled mobile view for a while and then disabled it. Blogger didn’t complain. Because of this, I didn’t even know Blogger added SSL support until I looked into settings and found the new option. That’s the benefit of staying with open standards.
This seems to depend on Google doesn’t need to make money from Blogger and doesn’t kill it like they did to Google Reader. However, it’s only the part of being free depending on this. If one day Google decides to kill Blogger or change it in a way I don’t like, I can take everything to another web server and keep all the URIs valid. I wouldn’t be able to do that with my Facebook Page.
Those are publishing options. What if I want to get paid from publishing and what if I prefer subscription to ads? There’s no options from Google or Facebook so far.
One option is Patreon. I created my Patreon page. I set up some experimental tiers. For the purpose of experimentation, I postpone all regular Blogger posts by 7 days so my Patreon subscribers can read them first if they pay. Nobody pays so far. I think the problem is pricing — $5 per month is definitely too high. Think about the ads. A publisher usually can only get a few cents of ads revenue from a casual reader. If a reader is willing to bid against those ads (like the original Google Contributor concept), less than $1 per month should be enough. So I’m dropping my Patreon early readership tier to $1 per month now.
Another option is WeChat Public Account. It allows tipping. The only problem is it requires a real identity inside China and I need to accept it’s “being hosted inside China”. I haven’t tried it out yet, so I couldn’t say too much about this option. All I know is it’s a closed standard just like Facebook Page. There’s no chance of moving my content away from there, so I would only want to use it as a distribution channel. But I’m going to give it a try and open an account anyway. Just for experimentation.
So what is the future I want? I want to see publishing built upon an open standard implemented with a subscription model. As a content owner, I should be able to move my content from one service platform to another if I want to, while maintaining my ability to get paid. I know that sounds counterintuitive, because payment needs to be built on a reputable platform and whoever runs that reputable platform is likely to create closed standard.
I think this is where the next generation of payment standard comes in. Cryptocurrency might have a chance here but it could be something else. A reader should be able to tip a publisher conveniently without knowing which platform the content is being hosted. A publisher should be able to set up tier-based content accessibility control with an open standard that is supported by multiple hosting platforms. There could be one or more payment processing services. As long as the hosting platform works in an open standard payment integration should be easy.
What does it mean for now? I think Medium is the closest I can get. It’s still a closed standard. (I couldn’t even customize domain now. I might be able to set up reverse-proxy to work around that.) It has Medium Partnership Program to support payment, which looks more convenient and less costly to readers when comparing with other options. (If I’m a casual reader on Medium and pay $5 a month, it’s effectively less than $1 for each publisher I read from.)
I don’t think Medium is the permanent solution for this problem I have. I’m waiting to see an open publishing-payment standard to happen. (Maybe I’ll try to build a prototype if there’s no progress in a few years.)