hobby content creation, monetization, enshittification

A poster on Mastodon (sorry can’t find it), recently said something like “every website you’ve used for the last ten years has gotten continually worse”, a nod to Doctorow’s enshittification. IMO that applies to for-profit sites rather than hobby sites.


A related problem is hobby sites that wish they were for-profit sites, and moan relentlessly that their audience won’t support them in the manner they are accustomed (or aspiring) to.

Example: dude has a podcast about a hobby topic and fancies himself a Radio Personality with Very High Production Values. Bought a professional mic, boom, outsources editing and distributes in 512kbps Dolby 2000 or whatev. “OMG, my expenses are killing me, y’all gotta donate.”

Newsflash: if customers wanted what you are selling they’d be buying it. Maybe they want to hear about Netflix new releases (or whatever) recorded on an iPhone and distributed at 32kbps and aren’t ya know, interested in underwriting your fantasy life. Loyal listeners will gladly contribute in other ways, like helping distribute your content with their excess bandwidth over P2P. But then you’d lose all that sweet, sweet walled-garden Spotify/iTunes analytics, amirite?

RV Travel

I’ve been reading RV Travel for a few years, and even through them a few bucks when I had a salary. But I recently unsubbed from the newsletters because of incessant bellyaching about how the market isn’t giving them what they want.

Readers are frustrated. Here’s why. Last week in this space I asked you to please be patient with us as we transition to the new system. It will take us at least a month, even two, to get most everything working properly. Until then, some ads may be too “in your face” and some of the ads may displease you. Let me reassure you that we’re working hard to make things better.

You are frustrated because you can’t stay afloat selling your hobby content. The readers are frustrated because of your choices made trying to make it work..

I urge you to read this newsletter on a computer rather than a mobile device. It is so much easier to navigate and it looks much better.

“Best viewed in [fill in the blank]” has been a marker of clueless content creators since the 90s. The users choose how they want to consume content, not you.

Our server costs alone are staggering

Hmmm, should we control costs or expect readership to pay for our choices?

We were very close to cutting our editorial budget: not enough money to pay writers decently.

What if the audience doesn’t want or need a professional editorial staff?

I will not seek out “content creators” or crank out copy with A.I. just to fill space. What you would end up with would be generic, boring, wordy, inaccurate word-crap.

  1. there are passionate amateurs with expertise that would contribute content in return for a link back to their site/channel/whatever.
  2. there is no reason to “fill space”; publish content when you have it. You are not the NYT that millions rely on for daily contnet
  3. you assume that your paid staff isn’t already writing “generic, boring, wordy, inaccurate word-crap”.

Many of you wrote us this past week to complain. “I’m done with RV Travel,” some said. Others who have donated to us in the past said, “No more.”

Your audience, including this donor, is saying things you need to listen to carefully. It is not the audience’s job to support your project. It’s your job to make content so valuable to the audience that they like it more than they like their own money.

Last Thursday, Google announced that it’s changing its search engine to deliver results on its main search page using artificial intelligence. This is terrible news for most small publishers (and most big ones, too). There will no longer be a need for you and me to click through to individual websites to get information.

Readers never had to drill down for basic information until SEO-obsessed sites started actively hiding content from that view and gaming the system to artificially-increase search engine rank.

With more than 20,000 articles on RVtravel.com, we know that Google’s bots will raid us and make off with enough information to respond to millions of queries. No need for those people to click to RVtravel.com for information. Shame on you, Google. Consequently, we are currently busy archiving a whole bunch of our oldest articles to keep Google and other word thieves from pirating what my writers and I worked so hard to produce — for more than 20 years!

Shame on you for willfully failing to understand how search works, and hiding content from your users.

Never in my entire publishing career (which spans 3/4 of my life) have I been so challenged.

What’s the lesson? Keep the whole staff no matter what readers actually want?


Publisher: Chuck Woodbury
Editor: Emily Woodbury
Associate editor: Diane McGovern
Senior editors: Russ and Tiña De Maris
Financial affairs director: Gail Meyring
IT wrangler: Kim Christiansen
Senior writers: Nanci Dixon, Gail Marsh, Dave Solberg and Cheri Sicard
Contributors: Roger Marble, Dave Helgeson, Janet Groene, J.R. Montigel, Randall Brink, Dustin Simpson, Dale Wade, Jan Steele and Tony Barthel

Woodbury founded what was to become RVtravel.com with a $30 investment, not sure exactly what the website would become. But he sensed, with his experience in traditional publishing, that the World Wide Web would be big some day and he wanted to be a part of it.

How’s the carpetbagging going?

What Google is doing is hinting (strongly) that for a monthly fee it will one day soon provide instant search results based on artificial intelligence. So, you and I will pay Google for the service and from then on when we search for a particular topic, the response will pop right up on Google, courtesy of A.I. No need to visit websites that today would be where we would go for answers

But muh buggy whip sales!

It’s sort of like if you operated a retail tourist shop a block off the main highway, and relied on a prominent billboard to alert travelers you were there. Then one day local officials remove the billboard. Suddenly, nobody finds you. Consider what happened to tourist shops along Route 66 when Interstate 40 opened, bypassing them. Most went belly-up.

And they should have gone belly up. Any biz that relies on something they cannot control is at the mercy of external forces. Build a biz so fantastic, so customer-focused that word of mouth gets you more traffic than the billboard does.

And yet, as publishers know, attracting readers for free is a whole lot easier than asking them to pay, which requires superior content

The problem for those that believe the market owes them a living is there will always be someone out there better than you who gives away the content for free, or at least at a cost the customers accept.

I’ll shut down this website before I do that.

I unsubscribed, which is a way of saying “I unilaterally shut down my readership”

a modest proposal

For hobby sites that want to break even (or maybe make a profit)

  1. be radically open about expenses. Show where every dollar goes. (I can hear sphincters tightening around the Content Creation world)
  2. continually work to control those expenses
  3. allow supporters to choose the expenses above they want to underwrite (even more sphinter tightening)
  4. allow supporters to support you in non-monetary ways like bandwidth sharing, distributed editing and transcript production, etc.
  5. listen to what supporters say they want
  6. and try those things out; if they can support themselves (no cost, or underwritten cost) then keep them.