Between ambition and stupidity

I said previously:

It’s partly, to be honest, thinking about impact and reality–wondering whether the work is still worth it, and particularly whether any ambitious ideas are good ideas or just plain stupidity. This is a complicated area, one I might (or might not) write about between now and ALA.

The ambitious ideas? At the moment, the most obvious ones are two possible longitudinal studies of actual blogging behavior–one for liblogs (blogs by library-related people), one for library blogs (public and academic).

I wrote about the first of those possibilities here, and noted the second possibility here.

Of course, this whole situation didn’t help matters a lot–but did encourage me to think about the models that seem plausible today. (Hey, I shouldn’t complain–in addition to an essay in the current Cites & Insights, that bit of nonsense indirectly resulted in a forthcoming “disContent” column for EContent–and, of course, I do get paid for those columns.)

So here’s my thinking:

  1. I know that I’d find either or both projects interesting to do–but also that each one would take a couple of hundred hours (where “couple” means anywhere from 1.5 to 5).
  2. I believe I bring a certain rigor and objectivity to such studies, but I could be fooling myself.
  3. Based on existing book sales and near-total lack of interest, I can’t really project any significant number of sales–and, if the “if it’s digital, it SHOULD be free” crapola is spreading, it could get even worse.
  4. I could take two other courses:
  • Do the shorter numbers-only portion of followup studies and publish the results as issues of Cites & Insights–or, if possible, base some submitted articles or paid columns on them.
  • Say the hell with it and spend that time either writing freelance articles (where my past record suggests I’d sell at least half of the articles, which doesn’t yield Big Bucks but does yield some income) or just becoming more retired, reading, listening to music, telling kids to get offa my lawn…

This all raises, to some extent, the ways independent niche researcher/writers can get enough yield from their work so that they’re not literally better off greeting people at Wal-Mart. If Andersonomics (“Free!”) really is the wave of the future, I see three possibilities…

  1. Advance sponsorship. If someone (some agency) wanted to sponsor either or both studies, or–retroactively–the work represented in the two library blog books–I’d be delighted. And, for the right sum, the downloadable results would indeed be free, and the print book could be priced at cost of production. The question is: Is there any group likely to sponsor that sort of thing? I think I know the answer…but I could be wrong.
  2. The 1,000 True Fans model. This supposes that there’s a significant number of folks who find my stuff so valuable that they’d go out of their way to pay for it. I suppose the way to test that would be to do a $50 Lulu item that consists of nothing more than a full-color cover and the text “Thanks for being a fan.” Given sales of the Cites & Insights trade paperbacks, my rough estimate is that “1,000 true fans” in my case is off by at least two orders of magnitude…and it’s not worth annoying those ten (or fewer) folks.
  3. “Freemium” models. The base line is free, but there are special super-duper options that come for a price. Well, again, that’s part of what the two Cites & Insights trade paperbacks are–and total sales there are four of one, two of the other (in both cases, more than expected). I already do something slightly along these lines, but not involving money: Namely, the My Back Pages section of most Cites & Insights is a premium for those who download the PDF (my preference) rather than HTML sections. Here again, I’m not sure what I would do for a “freemium” model.

At present, Cites & Insights is (modestly) sponsored. My two columns are paid. One of the three books has yielded enough revenue to be so-so. The two library blog books are both relatively recent; neither one has sold enough to justify the work on any plausible basis. Of course, both were interesting to do…

So, tossing this out into the void between the intertubes, I wonder:

  • Whether I’m being ambitious–or just stupid?
  • Whether there are compensation models I haven’t thought about?
  • Whether I should leave the research stuff to people who either have appropriate institutional sponsorship or are working on theses?

Some time after ALA, I’ll have to make decisions. Thoughts welcome.

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