Morality of Paywalls

The paywall for Failed Normal has been built, and we’re close to posts and videos being moved behind it. I’ve decided that for this site we’ll keep somewhere between 1 week to 1 month of new content in the open to the public area, and then place older content behind the paywall.  This will give the site the advertising benefit of new consumers being able to see what the content is like before they decide whether they want to join and gain access to the entire trove.  I wanted to talk about this decision because I know for many people the very idea of a paywall seems immoral. The idea of locking away knowledge from needy people simply to earn money has become something of a sin.

I look at this situation a few ways.  The first way is that the advertising model for content creation is failing.  As a video creator I was there when vendors didn’t care about creators, I was there when they threw money at every stupid idea they were given, and I am here now as they have become cheap and demanding.  The fact is ad buyers now have so many options for spending their money they have rightfully become ever more demanding.  When there were only a few options for them to spend money they had to be accommodating, but now that every 18 year old with a video camera is trying to become the next PewDiePie the ad buyers can dictate their terms.  The issue is that for anyone over 18 their terms suck.  ($100-$200 to produce a video that they get final approval over.) Creators have to cater more and more to the advertisers to earn less and less.   By having the end consumer pay for the product then the creator only has to concern themselves with the consumer.

At this point Patreon will be brought up.  Don’t lock away the content, but rather have the people that can pay for content pay for it.  The issue with a Patreon model for content is that if you’re doing technical type content one of the issues is how to deal with idiots?  Shhhh…. I’m going to tell you a secret… I enjoy interacting with motivated and excited people trying to drive ahead in tech and business.  Bouncing ideas around about how to strap mesh wireless access points to seagulls to create the backbone of an ISP is awesome! Quibbling about whether you can pay the rent off of swapping hard drives is not. When your site is open you get sooo many of what I term the “F’ed”.  These are people that are screwed, they have been lied to about the how they can change their lives by getting a piece of paper, and now just as a drowning person will kill their rescuer they will try to drag everyone down with them. They don’t want to solve problems.  They don’t want to make the world better.  They want to get paid for a piece of paper that they don’t even want to pay for.   By putting up a simple paywall these people are kept away.  If knowledge isn’t worth $5 to you then that is all that needs to be said.

On this train of thought you also tamp down on the trolls and troublemakers.  Any paywall will require enough identification so that the system can be paid.  Whether through PayPal, Stripe, etc there will be a back trackable trail to members.  Creating a new hotmail account is one thing, a PayPal account is another.

The final thing to say is that the paywall will provide a reliable form of income, and an easy way to scale infrastructure. Obviously there will be churn in members, but it is doubtful 50% would leave in a month.  By being able to track trends it makes it easier to find solutions within a reasonable amount of time. If membership decreases by 5% per month it means we have 10 months before things become critical.  On the other hand advertisers can pull their money on a whim.  With resource usage if our system resources are being used by paying members it’s easier to budget and plan for scaling.  We can look at resource usage logs, determine how many users equal how many resources, and then have a simple equation for upgrades. (Every 1000 members requires an additional vCore and 512MB of RAM). Scaling becomes a math problem and not an ever imminent disaster. If I need to contract a tech to do a rush upgrade it’s not so painful because that means a whole bunch of new members just prepaid for their first months membership.

The past 10 years have been a golden age for online content.  Good creators have been paid well, and consumers have had a bounty to choose from.  The problem is the basic business model doesn’t work. There are only so many ad dollars to go around, and resources are simply not free. Just listen to creators and you’ll hear the problems spelled out… inconsistent and falling revenue… always having to run at 100 miles per hour simply to stay in place… being harassed by trolls and miscreants… trying to communicate and be helpful only to sink under the morass of despair and hate…

Paywalls solve these issues. You get a business model you can plan a life around, and a community that is a community is enjoyable to deal with.


  1. Too many people want something for nothing in our society. In addition, my experience has shown me that many people have a fundamental misunderstanding of the basic business principle that requires a biz to make a profit in order to be able to provide goods and services to consumers.

    Even better, ask the same consumer who feels that a paywall is immoral for whatever reason if they go to their job for free. 100% will say no because who the fuck would do that. The follow up rhetorical question is “So should I work for free then?” Of course not. This usually shuts them up for awhile.

  2. The biggest leaps I made in programming was when I started trying to use it to solve/automate problems or tasks in my job. It just doesn’t stick trying to learn from a book if you don’t do the practice problems.

    Some problems are boring or uninteresting though which makes it harder to play with new knowledge. I can’t deny, I had to put in the effort to find projects (even settle for simple ones) before I made any real progress. My best investments for myself were project driven Udemy trainings that got me started quickly and allowed me to find parallels to draw from to implement my own solutions.

    Knowledge in a specific domain area is valuable when you apply technology to do things with it. Best advice you ever gave Eli: ‘Find a problem and try to solve it using the technology you’re trying to learn.’

  3. Congratulations on taking the leap and exiting from YouTube Eli. Now, don’t go back. If you are like me you’ll even purge your channels and completely delete everything off of the platform but if you are still making some money that wouldn’t be a wise decision for you.

    Never the less, I look forward to being an active member of Failed Normal as we continue to navigate this modern world.

  4. Why would anyone in 2017 complain about information not being free? There is more free information available to anyone with an internet connection on any conceivable topic than any human being could ever hope to consume. Why do people think they’re owed more information? Fuck YouTube.

  5. Sorry, please excuse my other remark about exclusive content. I had not read your article on how the pay wall is supposed to work. Sorry, for making such a mistake.

  6. For the price of a cup of coffee……
    You know what they said about free legal advise,right? Same can be said here.
    Im from the time of dial ups and Free BBS and found you find better ppl in them when you pay for them. It weeds out the ppl that want “FREE STUFF” and doesn’t distract from the theme of the discussion or bog it down with unrealistic questions for explanations.
    All the best to you Eli.

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