Here’s a loaded question that I was asked yesterday during an IM chat with a reader of The Simple Dollar. I gave a quick response to the reader, but I spent a lot of time considering this question, mostly in terms of my own site. Is The Simple Dollar an adequate replacement for financial books and magazines?
My simple answer is no, but it comes with some strings attached.
Let’s address personal finance books first. Personal finance books have a huge advantage over blogs: the continued narrative. A book can cover a specific topic with a depth that is far outside the normal realm of a blog. Even books that break things down into a series of tips still benefit from the advantage of having these tips available always in a specific order, with a coherent and cohesive voice and perspective. In short, personal finance books are better than personal finance blogs because they can address specific topics in depth.
Now, what about personal finance magazines? Much like blogs, individual issues of financial magazines cover a variety of personal finance issues, and the individual pieces, though longer than a typical blog (The Simple Dollar is a wordy semi-exception to this “rule”), are relatively short and quickly digestible. There’s only one real advantage that personal finance magazines have over blogs, and that’s the strong editorial staff. Almost every blog you read has a writing and editorial staff of one. Take out an issue of Money Magazine and take a look at the writing and editorial staff there: a lot of people. This means that individual articles (at least, the print ones – I’m not talking about their websites) are pored over carefully. Not only this, a blog writer is stuck with only a single voice: a financial magazine has a wide variety of voices. In short, personal finance magazines are better than personal finance blogs because of the breadth of different voices and perspectives and the editorial quality.
So why bother reading personal finance blogs at all? The core of the matter is that there are several key roles that blogs fulfill that are simply outside of the realm of personal finance books and magazines. Here are a few of them:
Timeliness Blogs can discuss events as they happen. Print media has a much, much longer lead time and thus must rely on more in-depth reporting to have anything worthwhile to say.
Unfettered voices This is my blog. I can say what I want. Print media has to worry about advertisers, public relations, lawyers, and so forth.
Fact-checking No matter how good the fact-checking is, mainstream media messes up sometimes; it’s inevitable. Blogs are more error-prone, but with so many individual interested voices out there, blogs become a very powerful check against statements made against mainstream media. We can be the doubtful Thomases.
In short, personal finance books, magazines, and blogs are all complementary to each other. If you’re learning about personal finance and wish to be fully engaged, you should be utilizing all three resources.
This whole argument holds true when comparing any blog to mainstream media, to be honest. There are roles for both, and anyone who says that one should exist while the other should not is looking at it without a wide perspective.