The Simple Dollar Morning Roundup: E-Book Edition

A certain popular blog that I once read rather faithfully has jumped on board selling “premium” content to his readers, ones that he used to respect. Instead, readers are now nothing more than paying customers. Look, you guys made my blog the success it is today. To transform that into an apparent attempt to turn a quick buck off of you to read the content you guys should expect from The Simple Dollar for free.

Let me make this clear: I will never sell an ebook or a PDF on The Simple Dollar that contains any content that I haven’t given away completely for free. In fact, the only time you’ll ever see me mentioning anything I produce that you can’t get for free sitting there at your computer is if I ever write a book – that might require you to make a trip to your local library to get for free (or perhaps to amazon or to your bookstore if you’d like to keep your own copy). I might, on occasion, bundle up a bunch of posts into a single PDF and put that out there for a nominal fee – a dollar or two – but I’ve only done that once and I did it in response to requests from readers. I have too much respect for you to expect you to pay me money for something you should receive naturally as a reader of this site – you guys really are the reason this site is any success at all, and to suddenly start expecting payment for my content would be a cold slap in your face.

Yo Quiero Aye Carumba! The cutesy title hides a really serious article here – a woman was fired after thirty years of working for Taco Bell largely because, even though she had just been receiving the natural raises over time in the Taco Bell system, she was getting paid more than they wanted to pay her. What does this mean for you? Treat yourself as a business – and realize that in today’s world, employees should expect no loyalty from their employer. Argue all you want, but this is the precedent that corporate America is setting. (@ mighty bargain hunter)

How Much Do You Tell Your Parents? For me, I’ve found it’s directly connected to how good my financial state is – as it’s gotten better, I’ve been much more willing to talk about it with my folks. (@ make love not debt)

The Many Reasons – Besides Frugality – To Do It Yourself I’m a big fan of doing it myself, even if it means some extra work sometimes. (@ wise bread)

The Simple Dollar Retro: Financial Paperwork Bankruptcy: Should It Be Done And If So, How? If you have a huge pile of unsorted financial documents, bill statements, and so on, and are really afraid to dig in and get them organized, it might make sense to just start over from scratch. Here are some thoughts and suggestions on the topic.

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  1. Frank says:

    I don’t what blog you are referring to, but in general I agree with you. Unless maybe a site had no advertising to begin with, that does sound rather exploitive.

    I don’t stop reading blogs just because they sell content, but they do start to look less and less trustworthy the more they push the content.

  2. Kai Schaller says:

    Kudos to you sir; this is exactly why I will be a long-time reader of your site. Thanks for staying true to what the Internet should always stand for: a free exchange of information.

  3. Faith says:

    I know exactly what blog you’re talking about (I think I might have originally found your site from one if his links), and I feel exactly the same way.

  4. Just out of curiosity, back when you were mulling over the idea of writing a book, would you have included anything in it that wasn’t already freely available on your website? I realize that eBook vs. ‘real’ book is a different medium, but the principle is the same.

  5. I have to respectfully disagree with you, Trent. I used to be a *big* believer that information should be free. Now that I run my own blog, I realize how much time it takes to generate ideas, compile them, and write them up in a halfway readable format.

    Those actions create real value in the world and deserve some type of compensation. Maybe you feel that you get sufficient compensation from the less tangible benefits of blogging, but that isn’t enough for all bloggers.

  6. Anthony says:

    I totally agree with you. Great you’re offering me a PDF file and want me to pay for it. Tell me once and don’t jam it done my throat. I don’t go to that site anymore.

    I would agree that you should get fair compensation for your work. However, if you aren’t making a semblance of profit from ads, then there is no way you’re driving enough traffic to make money off of $1 ebook.

  7. Katie says:

    I’m not sure I see the problem with the e-book. Blog posts are different than a book and a e-book can be easier to read. Since your revenue depends on advertising and an e-book wouldn’t have it, I’m not opposed to compensating for their time for putting together the book (and paying for a useful service). And layout and editing does take time. Of course I haven’t bought the e-book, although am contemplating it, so maybe that says something about my e-book interest. Actually now that I think about it, I’ve never bought as e-book!

  8. Brett McKay says:

    OK, you don’t think eBooks are a good idea. You don’t have to be so smug about it, Mr. Sumgs McSmugs-a-lot.

  9. mjh says:

    I’m disappointed by your reaction to the ebook. It is inaccurate and unfair to suggest that the author in question no longer respects his readers, views them only as paying customers, or that he is now expecting payment for his blog’s content.

    What he did do is repackage some content that is largely available for free on his blog, in an extremely attractive and easily navigable pdf file. He pointed out that 99% of the material is free to view on his blog, and he offered a 100% money back satisfaction guarantee. He charged only $9.50 for 5 downloads.

    While doing so he has not restricted, reduced or otherwise altered the quality or quantity of his blog posts.

    The post in which he offered the ebook currently has 75 positive comments. Most of these attest to the fact that while the material is freely available elsewhere, his readers are happy to buy the book simply because they appreciate his blog and feel that the value it adds to their lives deserves monetary reward, and that the ebook itself is worth its modest price.

    It is not an “attempt to turn a quick buck”. He offered a product that people want to pay for. Why shouldn’t he be able to generate (a modest amount of) income from his writing?

    If you ever chose to offer for sale such a well packaged and designed selection of your material, you’d receive an overwhelmingly positive response, make some money, and not a single reader would feel that you’re turning them into a cash cow.

    You consistently write about abiding by your values and respecting others while you are following your dreams, pursuing additional revenue, and finding your niche. The author has done all of these things in an exemplary fashion yet you offer nothing but negativity and self righteousness.

  10. merovin says:

    Trent, while you are certainly entitled to your opinion (which I tend quite often to agree with), this post really feels arrogant and mean-spirited.

  11. Tim says:

    What blog is doing this? Don’t need the address, just the name so I can take it off my reader, which I am so far behind I have not noticed it yet.

  12. Steve says:

    Trent, you don’t want readers to pay, but someone else does. Readers who want to pay him for his content will do so. Why the judgement and scorn here? Very disappointing.

    I don’t consider asking for payment disrespectful of readers, rather it’s just respecting one’s own life energy enough to ask for payment for it. Of course, one is assuming that others consider one’s content worthy enough to pay for it.

    Also agree with another comment above: the medium is different but the content is the same.

    I like “free exchange of information” as much as another person. But I also respect without judgement a person’s wish to ask people to pay for his thoughts.

  13. Laura says:

    My mom is pretty low key with asking about money. She usually ask if we have enough to pay the bills. My husband’s mom asks him how much his raise is exactly. I’m not too crazy with that level of nosiness, but it’s his mom.

  14. guinness416 says:

    I don’t read that site much (too many damn lists!), but isn’t he pretty clear about not liking ads on his site though? (I could be completely wrong). He seems to have a genuine community going over there, as oposed to a one-way blog, and has presumably hashed out the pros v cons of ads versus ebooks with some of them.

    For me there is value in e-books, I’m old school in liking book format stuff though. I’ve bought a couple in my time. To me personally they’re different to what “premium content” means to me, which to me is more of a baseballprospectus or fark type setup. It’s the sites with the little preview pop-ups and ads linked to varied keywords that make me nuts, they’re almost unreadable. But I applaud you for standing your ground, like the bloggers who hate ads do. Different horses, different courses.

  15. Diane says:

    Trent I discovered your blog this past summer and have learned much with the wonderful exchange of ideas between you and your readers. I have no objection to ads or anything else you might do to earn money with this blog. All are free to come and go.

  16. st says:

    i’m curious to know what site it is that put the ebook up for sale. will someone tell me?

    personally, i would love to buy a good simple dollar ebook. i’d pony up if it looked useful, and i wouldn’t feel slapped in the face.

  17. Trent says:

    I must admit to being confused as to how this is arrogant in any way. I felt betrayed as a reader, and I just pledge not to treat my own readers that way. If I felt betrayed as a reader, I think it’s reasonable that others might feel betrayed.

  18. Chris H. says:

    Trent: I agree with the commentors who found your note this morning to be arrogant. I enjoy much of the material on your blog, but I find I often have to mentally edit out your self-righteous tone to avoid getting turned off on the content. Whether or not you mean to, and presumably you don’t, you do often come across as smug.

    More concretely, if indeed we are talking about LB’s blog & e-book (why is everyone bothering to be so circumspect?), I think some of the readers may have found, as I did, that your ‘coverage’ of the situation was biased by characterizing it only as ‘premium content’ and not the optional repackaging of free material that it basically is.

  19. Katie says:

    Trent: The distinction is that your presentation of the issue wasn’t as a reader of the blog, it was “this was something I was never do.” So, it didn’t really come off as disappointed, rather, it came off as a bit “Holier than LB.”

  20. jake says:

    Well I think the main point here is that the other blog has package content that wasnt already vailable through the site. In other words it sounds like, “To find out what I think, buy my ebook.” In this sense I do agree with Trent, and if I had followed the blog for a long time, i’d feel disappointed also.

    I have turned away from so many sites because they force you to purchase something for extra content. First it starts out with something small then when the money rolls in, they turn the site into a pay to view.

  21. Diane says:

    I must have missed the so-called arrogant tone. I didn’t notice it.

  22. st says:

    Maybe there’s another blogger out there who sees the ads on this site and is saying, “i’d never betray my readers by having ads all over my site.”

  23. Ryan says:

    Off the bat you say “A certain popular blog that I once read rather faithfully…” This implies that the content is now unworthy of your time. This might be true but it just sounds kinda snotty. That set-up derails your argument from the get-go. It just sounded like you were lashing out at him for no good reason. dont want to buy his e-book? Dont buy it. Aparrently the dude has a lot of kids to feed. Why try to mess with his business? In the hip-hop world, you might be accused of drinking “hater-aid”. Why would you feel the need to reassure your readers that you would never do this? Is it that pressing of an issue? Or did you just want to take a shot at him? Or are you just running out of things to write about?

    Some readers might feel betrayed (isnt that a little dramatic of a word?) but to those who arent, it comes off as snippy.

  24. Michael says:

    Congratulations on being mentioned in the WSJ. I would be interested in a post about MSN Money, if you have never written one.

  25. Leo says:

    Hi guys … I think Trent was referring to my site (Zen Habits) in this post. I’ve already sent him an email apologizing personally, but I’d like to also apologize to any other readers who felt betrayed by my selling of the ebook. I never meant to betray anyone, and I’m sorry if it seems that way.

    I offered the ZTD ebook at the request of a number of very persistent readers, spent a couple weeks working on it, and a couple months working with the designer … I didn’t think people would mind my charging for the ebook, as I put a lot of extra work into it.

    I also didn’t look at it as premium content … it was intended to be separate from my regular content … just as if I’d written a print book. In fact, ZTD is my attempt to branch off from my site and diversify (Trent had no way of knowing this as I didn’t talk about it on the site) … I plan to create a separate site for the ZTD ebook, with a web app and additional resources. I haven’t announced this yet, but it’s in my future plans.

    Anyway, this is all backstory, to explain that I never intended to create premium content, and never will. I’m sorry if I caused anyone to feel betrayed.

    Thanks for allowing me to clarify, everyone! Trent, I still love your site and will continue to be a faithful reader! :)

  26. Trent says:

    The site I was referring to is not Leo’s site, Zen Habits. Leo just made a PDF of content already on his site, prettied up a bit – that’s actually a *good* practice in my opinion and if you read what I wrote above, I actually say that.

    I’m talking about another popular site that basically went from being a readable, enjoyable blog to a PDF-selling factory in a period of about a month.

  27. Leo says:

    My bad! That’s what happens when you make assumptions, Leo!

    Thanks for clearing that up, Trent. Carry on. :)

  28. Ryan says:

    Apologies for assuming it was Leo. That being said, the post still came accross as snippy from the start. I think because it seemed very aggressive and out-of-character (in as much as we are able to “read” character from your blog).

  29. Trent says:

    Honestly, I wrote this because I was upset as a reader, and I felt it was appropriate to make it very clear to my readers that I really, really never intend to treat them in that fashion and I work quite hard to make sure of it.

  30. Brett McKay says:

    I thought you were talking about, Leo as well. That’s why I even took the time to call you “Mr. Smug McSmugs-a-lot.” I think this should be lesson for both readers and writers about assumptions: readers should be careful in making assumptions when reading and writers should be clear enough in their writing that their readers don’t have to make assumptions.

    Now I’m intrigued. Which blog where you talking about? Come on, dish. Everyone loves a little PF blogosphere gossip. ;)

  31. Mai says:

    I thought it was the Zen Habits site too.. Shows how popular the guy’s blog is.

  32. lorax says:

    I assume the market will carry this mysterious blog author out in a stretcher. After all, if he doesn’t make money with the PDF, he won’t be in business long.

  33. mjh says:

    I also assumed you were talking about zenhabits, and that is the blog my post defends. I’m sorry you’ve had this mix-up.

    I think the fact that almost all commenters thought the same illustrates how careful you need to be with critical posts like this.

  34. Jessica says:

    Oh, I might as well add my 2 cents to this whole thing.

    In terms of all the various blogs I read, I can’t say I’d ever feel betrayed if anyone decided to sell an ebook and make a profit. If the content was or seemed worth it I’d buy it, if not I wouldn’t. If someone is writing well enough to make money off of it, good for them. If it stinks they won’t make money, and that would be that.

    I don’t feel betrayed if a business wants to charge higher prices, move their location, change something that I wouldn’t want changed. Perhaps I’d be annoyed but I don’t feel that business owners, corporations, bloggers, etc owe me anything and therefore I can’t imagine that I’d feel betrayed or wounded or whatever.

  35. Chris says:

    Trent, I agree with the critics of this post. I understand that you feel disappointed, and I understand if you don’t want to read the blog in question anymore. It’s the judgment about how the author is turning his readers into “nothing more than paying customers” and calling it a “cold slap in the face” that I find uncharacteristically dramatic.

    When the members of his audience that do not find his e-books valuable leave, he will be left with an audience that does, and hopefully he’ll still make a living. I wish you the same success as a writer, Trent, however you ultimately end up doing that; I would certainly be one of your customers.

    When the freely available information about athletic stats is published in card format, the resulting product can be very valuable indeed. I think there is a stigma attached to blogs that makes their monetization seem disreputable, but people have been publishing information for a living for a long time.

  36. Michelle says:

    Blogs have to make money somehow to continue on. Some do it by selling their content, others do it by selling advertising space. Some readers would rather pay for content than look at ads and others dont mind the ads. Its really a matter of opinion and neither disrespects the reader any more than the other. I personally would rather ignore an ad than have to pay for content, but that is just me

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