In part due to attending Beer Bloggers’ Conference (BBC) earlier this year, I’m thinking a lot about money these days. The ticket is inexpensive. (Only $95, but attendees must write two posts about the conference to attend at that rate. I hosted a giveaway and I posted about folks’ thoughts on the con.) But, of course, even if it were a more expensive ticket, that’s not the most expensive part of the conference, for most folks. Plane/train tickets or gas, figuring out a place to stay, time off…

At least couple of people who attended made waves this year by crowd-funding to cover their costs. That’s a big part of what’s had money on my mind since then.

This is NOT a post to comment on the validity of those people’s choices. That has been endlessly debated over various social media and in blog posts. I’m not interested in re-hashing that debate. Especially as I expect it to reignite next summer when BBC happens again. I’m more interested in thinking about the motivations and/or needs behind doing so.

Blogging can be anything from a hobby to a job (yes, I’m treating it as a spectrum). I think for most, it’s a hobby. But, sometimes, it’s a hobby that can take up as much time as a job. And since everyone, but especially those who are hobbyists-who-put-in-job-like-hours, see there are folks making a living from blogging (Pinch of Yum being an astounding example, though I’m sure an outlier), something that can’t help but cross the mind is money. At least making some money, if not making a living. Maybe finding a way to cover costs such as hosting or blogging-related travel.

It crosses my mind, at least.

It doesn’t help when people ask if I’m making money from my blog. And when I admit that I am not (see below), they always suggest ads. Which, for the record, is a big part of how most blogs make money, if they make money. I always tell them I’m revolted by ads myself. I have adblocker on, as much as I can1. So why would I subject others to them? It seems pretty hypocritical. (FWIW, one of the original creators of an ad-based web would like to apologize for it; calling it the internet’s “original sin.”)

Those suggesting ads usually shrug and say some variant of, “But money.”

But money indeed. For those bloggers who are, like I am, advertising-adverse, there are still options, but they are limited and much harder to make work.

Some bloggers, like Erika at Northwest Edible Life, opt to avoid advertising like Google AdWords but take on sponsors. It’s not something I’ve ever looked into. To me, it feels like ads. Sooo… probably not my bag. That said, it’s a much more comfortable-to-me form of ads, as I know she’s only taken sponsorships from places she really believes in/uses products of and much more relevant to the readers of her blog. I expect other places who take on sponsors do the same.

Many blogs do some form of direct payment, either in exchange for something (sales) or not (donation). This model, honestly, appeals to me as both a blogger and a reader. Erika, has a “tip jar” that is not directly related to receiving something in return. One of my newest favorites, Angela at Kitchenista Diaries both has a spot where people can purchase recipes from her or, far more interesting, twelve minute “coaching” calls about cooking & food. THAT is neat. I could have used that years ago…

Erika’s also writing a cookbook (as did the Pinch of Yum folks; though theirs are all ebooks). That makes sense to me. It’s always seemed to me that the money in the webcomics I followed was in merchandise. Is that true? I can’t know; I don’t have any. But it seems likely enough that I’ve had some ideas and am working on some merch. If this happens, it likely won’t come out until mid-2015. (So, of course, missing the holiday season. Oops.)

Of all models for making money, the electronic “things”/other merchandise/donation/consulting ideas above resonate most with me. And, as I mentioned, merchandise is something I am actively working on, slow going as it is. But I find myself unsure if I have much to offer2, in any other way. It’s funny, because I answer cooking questions for friends regularly, but I still am shocked that anyone comes and asks me a damn thing. What do I know??

My solution, for now, has been to go back to Amazon’s affiliate program again. I realized that I keep linking to Amazon for various things, even when I link to other sites as well (see, for example, Bill’s coffee gift guide or the five kitchen things I use all the time).

I’m planning a short post soon about being an Amazon affiliate, specifically. But, for now, let me just say we really haven’t made much. Back in the first iteration of us being Amazon affiliates3, we found out we’d made $1.40 when the account was closed. But even today when we ask Amazon to apply that money to an order, they never do. So it’s like $1.40 of play money. Currently, we have done a lot better, at a bit under $50 as of today, which is exciting. I guess I just covered my domain registration for a couple years. FABULOUS. Not sarcastic; actually wonderful. I mean, I’ve covered it once I figure out how get Amazon to apply money to my account…

It’s been interesting, musing on all of this. I asked a couple of friends to look over this post, and my friend Marybeth asked me what money does and doesn’t mean to me, particularly in relation to the blog.

And part of the answer is that I’d like to be able to cover some to all of the costs associated with blogging, but I don’t want to do so in a way that feels “gross” to me (see putting ads on the site) or in ways that are likely to get my server or your home machine running malware (ad networks are notorious for this problem).

I’d like to be able to expand what I do with the blog. For example, I’m really proud of my post about the science of eating spent grain, but that sort of post can be difficult, time-consuming, and (most important) potentially expensive. I was lucky enough to be able to find most of the references in that post for free, but a few of the ones I wanted to follow up on weren’t available through my usual sources. If I want them, I’m going to have to buy access to them. This is rare, but it happens.

Finally, and perhaps most of all, in the end it’s another piece of validation that what I’m doing is of value. That is what money means to me and to this online space. That and, honestly, more than a bit of validation. Turning MetaCookbook into an at all paying endeavor seemed like a complete pipe-dream, until this month. And that I’ve come to a place where I can buy a journal article or pay for my domain registration for a few years via my blog means the absolute world to me.

So do the comments (here and in real life), the tweets, the emails, and so on.

Thank you all.


2 I suppose I could offer a 12ish call for “how to translate a beer menu at a brewery.” 😉

3 Amazon temporarily closed down their affiliate/associate program in Illinois, due to tax laws. They are back in the state now, and it took us awhile to sign up again. We weren’t sure about it. We’re trying it for now.

2 thoughts on “Money

  1. It’s so hard. You have my sympathies as you work through this and find the best route for you. I wish more bloggers could have honest discussions about these issues.

    I, too, browse with Ad Block and sometimes, just to see what other sites look like “raw” I’ll pause it. It feels like getting eyeball punched half the time, doesn’t it? Especially the graphic video ads coming in from somewhere else. That’s a big reason why I don’t do keyword-type advertizing on my site. I don’t want ads for RoundUp or HotPockets or some shit popping up on my site because of user keyword searches and being even indirectly responsible for promoting something like that.

    I’m currently unsponsored on my site and losing about $120 a month in hosting and email-list fees alone. The book will be a break-even proposition at best unless it sells shockingly well, which I don’t expect, and even if it does, that doesn’t solve the issue of the blog itself being financially sustainable. (In traditional publishing, the author gets very little of the sales price of the book and so for someone with their own platform, ebooks can actually make a lot more financial sense.) So it comes back to, it’s hard. Like you, I think the way to make my site sustainable in a way I can ethically live with long term is probably to create unique products and/or services and sell them.

    Let me know if you find a magic bullet, I want in on it. 🙂

    • I wish more bloggers were discussing these issues too. Producing content is work, even when it’s fun. And we all find different ways to get something out of it. While there’s definitely some “for the love of it” going on, that dismisses the truth that “work” is a four-letter word. (Now maybe I am just rambling.)

      Yup, the internet without AdBlock is a visual travesty! So awful. And, as you say, sometimes that travesty is compounded when ad networks serve up ads that are jarringly different than the thrust of the blog. Hot Pockets on your blog would be weird as shit. Some bloggers try to get around this by having a box that says something like, “I have no control over what’s in this box, it’s from an ad network.” And all I can think is, “No, you can opt not to have that network, or ads at all. And I know some networks let you set limits on what you show.”

      Why are you unsponsored, if I may ask? Lack of interest on your part, or just no good fits?

      Selling products and services may be that magic bullet. Damn! 😉

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