Thursday, September 2, 2010

You know how you're never supposed to discuss money, politics, or religion?

I'm going to go ahead and disregard that advice.

Today, I want to talk about money and blogging. What's that, you say? You thought money in blogging was just a myth? Well, it is, mostly. If someone tells you they earn an honest-to-goodness living blogging, they're either lying or...well, no, I'm pretty sure they have to be lying.

But if you're in the blogging game, you know that monetization is the hot topic button of the moment. And I don't like to get terribly involved in hot topic buttons...except for when I do. So strap on your seat belts, kids, because here we go.

Product endorsement and promotional advertising is rampant in blogging these days. If you've been blogging for a while and your readership has grown to a certain level, you've been approached about this. As have I. The good news about this is that advertisers are realizing that people read blogs. A lot of people. And they want to reach these people and know that we, the bloggers, are a valuable means to this end. Which we are. The bad news about this is that they think we can be too easily bought. And why do they think that?

Because too many of us can be.

Let me explain. I don't mean that accepting endorsements or putting a price on your ad space amounts to selling out. Not at all. What I mean is that I've noticed some bloggers allowing promotional departments to buy far more than they're entitled to. Advertisers are paying for link or ad space, but coming away with entirely too much presence in the overall content of the blog.

This shouldn't be part of the bargain. Suddenly the blog you used to enjoy reading is all about coupon codes and instant coffee giveaways and it feels very hollow, doesn't it? Stripped clean to the bone of its former structure. And no one wants that. Not the advertisers, because you, the reader, have clicked away. Not the blogger, because once upon a time, she or he had something meaningful to say that's become buried under brands.

But it's such a double-edged sword, isn't it, because bloggers should be paid appropriately for their efforts. And no blogger should have to defend their right to earn a salary from something they've created and carefully honed. At your day job, for instance, no one would consider you a sell-out for accepting your paycheck at the end of the month. But that's because at your day job, your paycheck doesn't have the power to negatively color your work. (At least it shouldn't.) When we accept endorsements on our blog, it too often becomes a conflict of interest. To the writing. To the organic process of posting about what matters to us (which is why the readers the advertisers so desperately want are there in the first place). Vicious cycle 101.

I think this is especially hard for those of us who are in the writing or personal blog niche. Other niches seem to have more ready-made advertising opportunities. If I'm reading a foodie blog, for instance, I expect to see reviews of cooking tools. I want to see them because I benefit from them. On a travel blog (say my travel blog), I expect to see hotel reviews and guidebook giveaways. But on a writing blog? On a writing blog (or any personal blog, for that matter), we're supposed to be above all this, aren't we? We're supposed to be writing for the love of writing and no more, right?

We are. We really are. Which means that when we accept endorsements, they need to fit the entry in question. They need to conform to our style and the feel of our blog, and not the other way around. There are many bloggers out there doing this very well. I'd be glad to point you in their direction. Bloggers with absolutely no advertising at all on their site. Bloggers with tons of advertising on their site. The amount doesn't matter, as long as it jives with the tenor of the writing, the soul of the site, if you will. As long as it's a deliberate part of what the writer intends for her or his readership.

And then, to be honest, promotion and advertising can be a very useful tool. Those of you who blog know how this game works, but for those who don't, here's the run-down: if I do a giveaway or product review on occasion on my blog, my list of subscribers goes up. If my subscribers go up, my readership goes up. If my readership goes up, my Google page ranking goes up. If my Google page ranking goes up, I attract advertisers. If I attract advertisers, I can make a moderate (and I do mean moderate) monthly income. (See the ads on my top right-hand sidebar? Yep, there's that income.) And if I make a moderate monthly income, I can pay for things like website maintenance and decent graphics and the fruit loops I toss Toby's way when he interrupts my writing.

And the whole bloggy world remains free, free, free for all readers everywhere, as it should.

So yes. You'll see me promoting things from time to time, but only if an advertiser's agenda dovetails with my own. And only if I can endorse it while still delivering what you, the reader, expects of me. Because otherwise, I'm pretty sure (although it's yet to be scientifically proven) that a piece of my soul is chipped away horcrux-style with every misguided embedded link and errant ad.

And we can't be having that, now can we?
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