I started The Whine Seller on September 30th, 2008 for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, I really enjoy talking, er, writing about e-commerce and I wanted an outlet for that. I don’t claim to have a perfect brand in this dual life of fiction and non-fiction that I live, but eBay rants just didn’t fit in with news about my latest play or inspirational writing pep talks for my NaNoWriMo region so I folded that content out into it’s own blog. But while it started as a simple outlet for myself, The Whine Seller became a real social network for me when I was working at home and going slightly nuts from all the solitude. The blog introduced me to people in the selling community, many of which I’m still friends with today, and having those connections to discuss the minutiae of running an online business with made me feel a bit less alone, almost as if I had coworkers.
Then something surprising happened. This blog that I started because I wanted a place to rant and kept running because it had become a community started to actually earn ad revenue. Granted, it was never much, I think my record was something pathetic like $300 a year, but considering it was something I would have done anyway for fun, I was very happy to see it at least paying for it’s own hosting and upkeep.
But it wasn’t sustainable and, even before I became a parent and had a fraction of the time I used to have, I started to change how I blogged, focusing more on posts that could later be compiled into books and recycling book content back into posts to keep the site active without having to devote time to writing new content. The reality of blogging has always been that it’s a lot of work and very few people earn income proportional to that work. With eBooks, at least they could earn passive income in the background while I worked on the next thing while their excerpts did double duty, pulling in traffic and ad revenue while also advertising the books themselves. For a while, it worked wonderfully well. Beyond Amazon, eBay and Etsy sold so well for a while I thought I was really onto something.
But the problem about writing e-commerce is that, no matter how much you try to future-proof your writing, something will always change. Services changed and Beyond became out of date. I completely rewrote the book from scratch to do an updated revision but the reviewers who’d dinged it for being out of date never removed their reviews or realized they’d reviewed an old version on the current revision’s page so I essentially wrote an entirely new book… for nothing. The book still sells, but not as well as it used to, and it made me reevaluate what I was doing.
On top of that, ad revenue on the site dropped dramatically. I don’t know whether it was because of the site redesign, though I suspect that was part of it, but it became a cycle of cause and effect. Ad revenue would dip so I couldn’t justify spending as much time putting up new posts… and less posts meant even less ad revenue (although, weirdly, traffic hasn’t changed much at all). On top of that, content has trended into audio and video these days so there’s less demand for my style of big ole chunks of text like this. I’ve wanted to move more into audio and video content for a while (as you probably guessed from the fact that I’m also a playwright, I’ve got a background in theatre and television) but that would take even more time I didn’t have and couldn’t justify.
Writing three posts a week and making less than a dollar each for them wasn’t a big deal years ago when I had over 40 hours a week in which to work. But now, where some days I don’t even get 15 minutes at my computer, I just can’t justify spending what little time I do have on something unless I a) love it or b) it makes money or sense for my career. That’s why, increasingly, it’s been mostly excerpts on this blog because it’s easy content I’ve already generated that I only need to copy and paste. It’s not that I don’t have ideas for posts or that I don’t want to write new content every week because, believe me, I do. But with less time than ever to run my company and career, something had to go.
In the meantime, my fiction career has been growing and, for all it’s foibles, fiction is wonderfully future proof. How ironic that my adaptation of a play from 1761 is still timely while a book I didn’t even release a full year ago is already out of date in two (albeit small) places. An e-commerce eBook and a play are both passive income, but I’m not going to have to rewrite the play every time eBay changes a policy which is a clear advantage. It would be easy to tell you that fiction is more fun than non but I think you know that, for me anyway, that’s not true. I write about e-commerce because I genuinely love this stuff. Both are equally fun to write in their own way. But there’s no denying that the plus column for fiction is much longer right now.
What does all this mean? Well, for starters, it doesn’t mean The Whine Seller, or I, am going anywhere. But it does mean that I’ve had to rethink some things. I’ve been taking on a lot more freelance e-commerce gigs, writing for the sort of thing I used to post here for free for others for pay. It’s made me realize that 1) I’ve got a very specialized set of expertise and writing skills very few have so it’s in demand but also 2) I would much rather be writing for YOU, my readers, and surely there must be a way to do that and still be compensated for my time like it was a freelance gig.
I’ve got a choice. I either let go of this blog and let it become mostly an archive where I only post once in a while and focus on the rest of my career. Or I double down and find new ways to fund The Whine Seller so that I can increase the content, both in terms of more posts and adding video and audio content. I’ve put a lot of work into this blog and have a lot of ideas for future content so, right now, I’m leaning towards the second option. But how to do it?
Profit’s a dirty word when you’re a writer, particularly when you’re a woman. Aren’t you supposed to create for the love of puppies and rainbows and stuff like that? Yeah, well, rainbow love puppies is not a currency the grocery store accepts and I need to feed my family.
And even if I didn’t? It wouldn’t matter.
My work has value.
One more time for the folks in the back.
My. Work. Has. Value.
I’m working towards adding more advertising but it’s not enough. I hate to use a middleman but I like the idea of using something like Patreon or a membership plugin to keep funding this blog. A way for longtime readers to kick in a dollar or two to help keep the site running in exchange for freebies. For example, if I do an audiobook version of one of my books, patrons would get the entire book for free for their support before it goes up for sale everywhere else. Or we could set a benchmark where, if we reach a certain level, I’d podcast all audio content, audio books and standalone articles both, for free everywhere courtesy of the patrons.
On paper, I like the idea. In reality, it feels too much like begging and I’m genuinely not sure if there’s enough interest in this blog at all, let alone expanding into audio and video content to make it work. Ideally, being a patron should feel like you’re pre-ordering my content, paying a monthly or per-thing fee in advance for a guarantee you’ll get everything as soon as it’s out… and that I have the chance to keep making that content at all instead of having to call it quits.
Would I do it monthly or only charge patrons per completed “thing”? And what’s enough to constitute a thing? A single audio book could be a thing but that would represent months and months of work and I can’t imagine I’d have enough patrons to make that endeavor profitable. But is it fair to call, say, every 4 podcast episodes a thing? Every one episode? I really have no idea.
And is there some kind of way to do a Patreon style community in-house instead of having to rely on an outside service? I’ve been researching this and there doesn’t seem to be a clear answer. But the reality of it is, unless I find a way to earn income from the time I spend on this site and it’s resulting eBooks and other content, I’m going to have to let it go to use that time towards the projects that do pay for pure survival.
If you’ve made it this far down into this blog post, I want your feedback. Would you pay $1 a month or per “thing” to keep The Whine Seller alive? Are you more likely to support a Patreon if it means content exclusive to patrons that everyone else has to pay for or if the patrons help keep the content free for everyone else? Do you like the idea of supporting the site but think there’s a better way to do it? If you’re not comfortable posting your reply below, that’s fine but, please, drop me an email or something because this site, and by extension it’s readers, are very important to me and I want to know what you think about its future prospects.