An old friend wrote to me recently, and when he heard how I’m paying the bills these days, he wrote, “I’m shaking my head wondering how anyone can possibly make a living online.”
It is unusual, and all the more so because a major feature of my style is scientific skepticism, which doesn’t exactly win me any popularity contests. So my career is a bit of unicorn. Most people who try to wring money out of the internets are doomed to failure. Somehow I seem to have beaten the odds, and I’m doing just fine financially, certainly not getting “rich,” but earning a decent living on my own terms. For now.
I pulled that off by creating lots of good content on specific and poorly served topics, giving away half of it, and selling the other half in the form of a few detailed e-books about tough pain problems. “Easy”!
And yet the internet is filling up with competition — an almost unbelievable number of new blogs and e-books, thousands of them on exactly the same subject matter, maybe tens of thousands. An amazing number of actual experts in my field are now blogging, entertaining and educating readers at no charge. I have a familiar trio of familiar emotional reactions when I come across a promising new example:
- Eek! When I recognize what seems to be good content competing with the information I am making a living from. Can I stay competitive?
- Yuck! When I discover that it’s mediocre or even terrible. There are almost always serious problems: nearly inevitable glaring ignorance of science, sloppy clinical reasoning, and credulous acceptance or endorsement of bad ideas and treatments. Or the writing is weak. Or the design is ugly. Or any one of a dozen other common publishing shortcomings. In the rare cases when the content is actually good, it’s also sparse, ephemeral, an unsustainable project for the author (like a genuinely great blog with just a dozen posts before it was abandoned).
- Phew! As it sinks in that the majority of my “competition” continues to have serious problems and limitations, and isn’t much of a threat.
For instance, recently I noticed a blog that looked seemed super awesome at first — a clinician-writer with a clear voice, a strong focus, a lot of good content, a nice presentation, and just giving all of it away. (Eek!) For several minutes as I browsed around, my admiration and anxiety ramped up: it sure looked like stiff competition! But then — yuck — I started to see the flaws: overconfident, shallow, clueless “analysis” and a strong endorsement of a completely worthless treatment. And then another. And then another. Phew!
Most readers won’t even see such problems, but my readers and customers have never been “most readers.” All I’ve ever needed for PainScience.com to work is to attract the attention of that tiny percentage of a global audience that truly embraces a more rigorously analytical style. As long as almost all other health bloggers keep their minds too “open” to bad ideas, my more skeptical approach will be a breath of fresh air for my kind of reader — and I will still have a job.