One of the concepts thrown around in web3 is “token-gating” content. Like many things in web3, it seems to be taken for granted that it is a good idea, but I’m not sure I agree. Token-gating when it comes to content doesn’t seem functionally different than having a paywall. This post is a few of my thoughts on the topic through the lens of writing on the internet.
There are many different types of writers, but for simplicity, let’s split writers into experienced and less experienced writers. For both types of writers, token-gating shrinks the reach of their writing. For less experienced writers, no one is gonna pay for your writing because you don’t have a track record of your writing having any value. For experienced writers, it doesn’t make sense because if your writing is good, shouldn’t you want to reach the largest number of readers possible and spread your good ideas?
An argument could be made that monetizing writing through gated access makes sense for experienced writers because their writing is good, so they should be rewarded for it. But if you’re a less experienced writer, is the goal to write in the open and become experienced enough to hide your writing behind a gate? It doesn’t seem like a very enticing goal.
Now the obvious and more difficult aspect to contend with is monetization. We want writers to be able to make money through their writing, and if all their work is openly available, how will they make money? Before going into what I believe to be a good model for monetizing writing, I will explain why gating writing is not good. Aside from limited reach, paying for something when you don’t know what you’re gonna get seem like a bad dynamic.
The Substack model seems to work up to a point; a few times, I’ve paid for a Substack subscription that was not what was expected. Even for renowned writers, for example, I signed up for Chuck Palahniuk’s Substack, and it turns out that even though I loved the first post that I read, most of his posts are geared toward people interested in learning about writing fiction. So the dynamic was I read something I really liked, I wanted to reward the author, and the only way to reward them was to commit to a recurring payment for his future writing, not the writing that I already knew I enjoyed.
Another example is Every — I’ve liked a few of their posts, but there’s no guarantee that I will like the rest of them. So why would I commit to paying $200 per year in the hopes that they keep up their quality? It is a lot more digestible to pay $10 for 20 of their good posts or $20 for 10 of their really good posts and associate my online persona with said posts. And associating online persona to content is where the real innovation lies.
We’re in a new era of the internet, and building resilient identities through association with different types of content on permissionless systems caused the last crypto bull run through NFTs. How does this relate to writing? Well, writing is content, and association with different writing is a strong signal. Mirror’s Writing NFTs are an evolution of the “like.” The “like” will become meaningless — as Kyle Chayka says on the Like Inflation, “a single like on the internet just doesn’t seem to go as far as it used to.” So one of the ways for writers to make money will be to make their writing public so that it reaches as many people as possible and pair it with giving their readers the opportunity to form a strong identity bond with their writing by collecting it as an NFT*.*
Writing is also a form of art, and it should be free to access because ideas should have the capacity to reach as many people as possible. Hiding it behind a gate seems detrimental to human flourishing. If your ideas are good, everyone should have the opportunity to experience them, and if they’re bad, everyone should have the opportunity to tell you why they’re bad.
Since collecting is a new internet gesture, it’ll take time for it to get to the point where many people can actually make a living by selling their ideas as collectible assets. In the meantime, for writing to be more viable as a provider of financial stability, we will need supplemental funding models such as crowdfunding, which may be awkward at the beginning, but simply transforming paywalls with a credit card charged every month to buy a token that expires every season seems like the web3 version of a faster horse.