The tool I use to blog - WordPress - is free. It's freely available to all to use, free to modify and remix to fit your needs. But it's not free to host it.
You can put your blog on WordPress.com for free, but then you're limited to what their infrastructure will allow and the set of themes/features you can use.
You can self-host your blog for as little as $5 thanks to companies like Linode and Digital Ocean. The opportunity cost of self-hosting is huge, though, as you become your own sysadmin. You have to both install and maintain your own software. Security patches are your responsibility. Major traffic spikes that take your site down - or an inevitable hack - suck hours out of your week.
Managed hosts like WPEngine[ref]I'm currently hosted on WPEngine thanks to a free account I managed to earn at a WordCamp a few years ago. Unfortunately that's a free account for just this site, and it comes with its own limitations as well.[/ref], Pagely, and PressLabs help lift the burden of systems maintenance from you. But they're not cheap either.
Any way you slice it, blogging on a space you own and control costs money. Blogging isn't free.
There's a constant battle between the costs involved with running a website - hosting, domain names, DNS hosting[ref]I use Amazon Route 53 to host DNS and lower the time-to-first-byte of this site. The performance is great, and it's less than a dollar a month. Still, it's an extra cost for the site ... they add up.[/ref], CDN, system backups, security monitoring.
My site is running free WordPress on a comped WPEngine account, and it still costs quite a deal of money to keep things going. If you run your own site, you're likely in the same boat.
For the longest time, I've considered running this site to be a sunk cost. I carve out some of my monthly budget to keep everything lit up and running. Others turn to things like page ads to cover their server costs; for some it's a reasonable way to break even. Others actually come out ahead.
I hate advertising, though, and won't throw new ads up on this site.
Instead, I want to try something a bit more inventive: patronage.
Once upon a time, artists made their living solely through the financial graces of well-off beneficiaries who wanted to enrich the world with further art.
I'd like to expand this site to a more contributor-driven model, but will likely need to (eventually) move to a paid hosting platform to do that.
I'd like to serve all content 100% of SSL, but need to purchase the appropriate certificates to do that.
I'd like to utilize more frequent backups and security audits to ensure content is always safe and always available - this would cost $40/month with VaultPress.
I'd like to begin pulling in (commissioned) photography to make the site more visually engaging, but have no budget to do that.
I'd like to do all of the above without either resorting to ad sales or exhausting my personal finances to do so. I'm turning to Gittip as a potential[ref]This is just an experiment. If the patronage model proves successful I'll make it much more formal and work out some official benefits for my sponsors above and beyond my undying gratitude.[/ref] way to help fund this.
Gittip is a patronage site. You can subscribe to automatically donate a fixed, weekly amount to anyone you want. It can be as little or as large as you'd like and is used to fund everything from blogs to vlogs to open source projects.
My goal is $25/week.[ref]I'll automatically contribute 10% of whatever donations I receive back to Gittip to help keep their platform and servers running.[/ref] If just five people want to pitch in, that's an espresso a week to help keep the site going.
Think we can do it?