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, especially because the main feature of my style is “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 beat the odds, and I’m doing just fine financially.1
I pulled it 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 really detailed ebooks about tough pain problems. “Easy”!
And yet the internet is filling up with competition — an almost unbelievable number of new blogs, 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 emotional reactions when I come across a promising new blog:
- Eek! When I recognize what seems to be good, free content competing with the information I make a living from. Can I remain competitive?
- Yuck! When I discover (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.)
- Phew! As it sinks in that the majority of my “competition” still has serious problems and limitations, while I still have a rare and well-presented perspective that makes my website popular and my book worth buying.
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 find 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 see the problem, but my customers have never been “most readers.” All I’ve ever needed for my business to work is the customers who like the feel of a more rigorously analytical style. As long as almost all other health bloggers keep their minds too “open” to bad ideas, my more skeptical tone will be a breath of fresh air for *my* kind of reader — and I will still have a job.
I’m not too keen on disclosing my financial status (having money still kind of embarasses me), so let’s just say that pretty much any ordinary working person would consider my freedom and income a major upgrade. ↩