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Assessing the Value on "Water Cooler" Conversations; Micropayments for Blogs

Posted Jun 25 2013 12:00am

In response to my blog note of yesterday (see: Jason Lanier Theorizes about How to Fix the Digital Economy ), Ajit Alles submitted the following comment:

I think this desire to pay for everything erodes the social values of neighborliness and altruism - the desire to do things out of the goodness of one's heart. I, for one, would not read your blog if I had to pay for the privilege. The information and ideas are enjoyable, interesting and provocative, but not essential to my wellbeing. Your blog is like a water cooler discussion, and who would pay for that. I suggest that you read "Predictably Irrational" by Dan Ariely in which there is a chapter dealing with this topic. He states the case much more fluently and elegantly.

The major point of my note, quoting Lanier, was that the belief that web-based information should be free may be harming the economy. Some industries, notably print newspapers and the music industry, are suffering financially as a result. These effects, according to Lanier, are contributing to the hollowing-out of the middle class.

In his comment, Ajit compares the content of this blog to "water-cooler" discussions at work and says that "the information and ideas are enjoyable, interesting and provocative, but not essential to my wellbeing." I take no offense at this and suggest that he is generally correct. My goal for Lab Soft News has always been to predigest information for my readers. The blog then becomes an efficient means by which readers acquire information about lab medicine, lab software, and healthcare. I have always assumed that many of the readers scan the blog during coffee breaks at work.

The problem with Ajit's analogy to "water cooler conversation" is that it trivializes blog content and minimizes its intrinsic value. I would prefer an analogy to "hallway conversations" which I think is far more accurate. Every pathologist knows that "hallway conversations" with colleagues about patients or current news about lab medicine can be extremely important although often brief. Let me also suggest that the most important criterion for assessing the value of brief conversations at work, be they in the hall or around the coffee pot, is the extent to which they cause positive changes in diagnoses or plans.

Let me also say that the type of remuneration we are discussing here for blogs would be micropayments -- perhaps pennies per day. To use an e-book example, an author who auto-publishes and sells 100,000 copies of an e-book at $2.00 a copy is far better off than one who sells 5,000 hardcopy versions of a book $25.00 and shares the lesser profits with a publisher. We need to seriously ask why consumers will readily pay $4.00 for a Starbucks latte and balk at paying pennies for the useful information that may be contained in a blog.

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