Motivation crowding theory and practice
A programming note: There is now a paid-subscription version of this newsletter. Nothing will change for non-subscribers — there will still be a post every Friday, for better or worse — but readers now also have the option to subscribe for $5 a month (or $50 a year). Subscribers will have access to “bonus” content, which for now will take the form of an extra post each week, likely to be published Wednesday.
I have been reluctant to monetize this newsletter and even more hesitant to promote it as such, so I’m sorry if this announcement is a bit awkward. I feel like I’m suddenly popping up in your inbox to inform you that, as EPMD put it, “You’re a customer,” as if I weren’t grateful for the support I’ve already experienced from people just reading what I write. It’s hard for me to think of my writing as having value as a product, and I don’t want to find myself thinking of anybody who might read it as being a client.
Often newsletter writers frame their paywalled content as a sideshow, a reward for subscribing that is then partly disavowed to preserve the sense that writing is not really being commodified overall. It helps configures paying readers not as customers demanding satisfaction but as patrons who are expressing their appreciation, which seems like a better way of arranging what can only be a delicate set of social relations.
In practice this means that the paywalled content often takes a more casual or service-oriented form: some recommendations, some links and quick commentary, some personal anecdotes. I used to do more of that kind of thing when I was writing a daily blog in the 2000s (archived here); perhaps that voice will re-emerge in the paywalled content offered here. At any rate, I will probably be experimenting with different approaches for the first few months (caveat emptor) and would welcome any feedback on what seems to be working.
I’ve enjoyed the freedom of proceeding as though monetary exchange plays no part in motivating what I do here, but at the same time, I’ve been plagued with the belief that, despite the professional work I’ve done, I’m still an irredeemable amateur for whom writing will never be anything more than a hobby, and that I should consign myself to the habit of scrutinizing the world for the always abundant evidence that what I do doesn’t really matter. I don’t know that having paid subscribers will somehow make me feel less like a phony, but either way, I hope to discover the degree to which I can sustainably write this newsletter as a job.
Thanks as always for reading, and for subscribing if you so choose!