Cognitive Monthly

I am pretty much on record that I would not pay for anything online (to be precise, to pay for content - I certainly use the Web for shopping). But with some caveats. I have been known to hit a PayPal button of people who provide content and information I find valuable. And I would presumably pay, though not being happy about it, if the information behind the pay wall is a) unique (i.e., not found anywhere else by any other means) and b) indispensable for my work (i.e., I would feel handicapped without it).

But I am not subscribed to, or paying for, anything right now and haven't been in years. Not even Faculty of 1000 which, one can argue, is important for my work. If I need a reprint of a paper for personal use (or perhaps to consider blogging about) I get it from the author, or if that does not work, from a friend with access.

So, I am intrigued by the announcement of 'Cognitive Monthly', a $2 per issue publication by Dave and Greta Munger. I got the reviewer copy of the first issue. I read it. I loved it. Would I pay $2 for something like that every month? I had to think about it long and hard, but my final answer is, actually, Yes. Why?

This is not an easy question to answer. I think a big part of my decision is the fact that I know Dave and Greta very well, in person, so I am positively predisposed to help them in this endeavor.

I am also a long-time regular reader of 'Cognitive Daily' - I know from experience that their posts are interesting to me. I am personally very interested in cognitive psychology of sensory perception, human behavior in traffic (driving, biking, etc.), human behavior in respect to social norms, ideology and fashion, etc. Even in busiest weeks, I'll read at least the Science Friday post (and often participate in their research polls). Thus, I am wondering if I would have said Yes if I was unaware of Cognitive Daily from before.

The first issue, about the way theatrical productions use various illusions (light, sound, etc.) to draw the audience in, so the audience gets transported into a different place and time, is absolutely fascinating. Also, the production level of the issue is much greater than any one of their blog posts - it is longer, has a great introduction to the historical context, lots of interesting information, is written really well - this is a full-blown article that could appear in any reputable (popular science or general interest) magazine. And yet they say that this one is just a trial and that the future issues will be even more thorough. So, it is definitely an extremely high quality product, not just a quick blog post that comes and goes.

So, this is definitely fulfilling my criterion a) - it is unique. But is it b) as well? I can function professionally just fine without it, so why would I buy this every month anyway? I don't know. I just feel that the personal education and enrichment I got from reading this article was worth $2 to me. It is hard to be rational about this - I just liked reading it and it was worth it to me. And I can't wait for the next issue. I am actually - gasp - excited about it.

Perhaps they can do a Science Friday poll and post about this - are you more likely to pay for something if you are told in advance to think about this question? I read a lot of stuff online and never think "would I pay for this?". But I did this time because I was asked to keep that question in the back of my mind while reading it. Did this make me more predisposed to try to give the piece a monetary value and, in comparison to $2 they are asking the deal looked good?

Give it a try yourself - you can get their stuff at (here is the first issue) in color, or on Amazon for Kindle (first issue) in black and white. Take a look and decide for yourself.

I am going to be watching this experiment with interest. If someone as jaded as I am got excited and is willing to pay for more of that "fix", I am wondering if that will work for others as well. What will be the numbers of buyers on any given month, what percentage of those will be return customers, how will the word-of-mouth affect sales of any given issue (e.g., if one of them gets a lot of play on Twitter etc., and another one not so much), etc.? Definitely an interesting experiment.

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Interesting in light of this tweet: "RT @LilyQ Informal poll in class. Only three (out of nearly 200) students would read Times online if the paper charges for content." And that was J-school class!