Over the years, I have experimented with different question and answer systems on my various gardening websites. The one that is working the best is the premium site at DougGreensGarden.com. At that site, gardeners pay a small monthly subscription fee for full access to the over 1000 how-to articles as well as a question and answer forum. I guarantee to answer questions as fast as possible on that site, and I regularly write an entire post about the details of dealing with a problem that one of my readers asks.
As an experiment, I have enabled the commenting system on simplegiftsfarm.com and have put up a page explaining my policy about answering questions for free.
In short, in contrast to the DougGreensGarden.com site where there is a guaranteed response, the SimpleGiftsFarm site has no guaranteed response and no timeline.
In the past, I have received outraged emails from readers demanding to know why I have not answered their question. It seems no matter how I explain the “no guarantee, no timeline,” readers seem to expect and demand an answer.
The sense of entitlement online has been a problem in the past. I do not know whether that continues.
The entitlement of social media
There seems to be an expectation on the part of many folks that creatives will spend time on social media answering their questions and gathering “likes”. Perhaps I’m being a little hard-nosed about this, but I see little upside for me spending time answering gardening questions on Facebook or other social media channel. I wrote a three-part article here, but the short version is I do not see the value of a “like.”
What’s different this time?
I have decided that if I’m going to help people, and I do want to do this, that I will do it on my own time and energy. If a reader chooses to join the premium site, they have demonstrated a willingness to support me. And I will do almost anything for those folks.
However, if somebody wants me to work for free, and they choose not to support me, then I feel no obligation to spend my writing time helping them. I no longer feel guilty deleting comments or questions of folks who are clearly not doing the work themselves by not searching for answers on the site.
The genesis of that atttitude came from the reader who asked a question on Facebook and when I took the time to answer with a link to an article answering her question, she responded by saying she didn’t have the time to read the article, she wanted me to summarize it for her on Facebook. While that happened some time ago now, the impact of that has now matured in my creative core.
How is this spreading across my creative life?
The sense of entitlement, of receiving things for free, really reached its peak with my gardening newsletter. After running a series of tests and evaluating the clicks to newsletter links, it became crystal clear the vast majority of readers were only interested in the free content. It was costing me more money to run the newsletter than I was making from it.
Whether this was because I was not very good at monetizing the newsletter, or whether the gardening population is mainly interested in free content is irrelevant. The outcome was clearly not profitable.
I shut down the gardening newsletter.
Updates to SimpleGiftsFarm and this site are now delivered via Google FeedBurner automatically. This is a free service that runs in the background and I have no input to the subscriptions.
The impact of this on my fiction career really deserves its own post, and I have put it on my to-write list. I do have a mailing list for those.
Putting a question and answer system onto a single website is yet-another-experiment. We’ll see how it turns out and I’ll report back here.