Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to Make Money From Your Web Presence

It's Day 2 of Author Monetization Week! Yesterday we looked at, you know, making money off that whole book thing. But come on, that's SO 2007.

Even as early as 2008, Paul Krugman was wondering if authors would soon find that the ancillary market is the market. With the advent of the Kindle he saw low prices coming, and with low prices comes pressure to find new ways of making money, much as musicians turned increasingly to live venues to make up for plummeting music sales.

But non-celeb authors aren't exactly selling out nightclubs. So how about making a penny or two from ye olde blog?

Here are some ideas. Note that I am not currently monetizing my blog at all, unless you count my books (which we don't). But the gears, they are turning IN MY HEAD.

Advertising

The most obvious way to make some dinero from your web presence is through advertising. Now, there are lots and lots of ways of going about this. Some blog platforms, such as Blogger, offer integration with advertisers like Google's Ad Sense. It's pretty easy to set up by adding Ad Sense widgets/banners to your site, and the amount you earn will vary depending on your traffic and the number of people who click on your ads.

If you have very consistent traffic and/or a specific focus for your blog, you can also apply to join an ad network like BlogHer or Federated Media, which offer higher returns, sometimes as high or higher than $10 per thousand page views.

And if you get really huge and you're extremely in-the-know, you can sell those ads yourself.

Also, advertising doesn't stop with the blog! You can work through RSS feeders like Feedburner to add ads to your RSS feed and you can advertise in a newsletters as well. And don't forget about photos and slideshows, which can significantly increase your number of clicks.

Affiliate Marketing

Another way to make money from a web presence is with Affiliate Marketing.

What is affiliate marketing? Well, basically whenever your recommend a product (or book or movie or lawnmower), you can link to a vendor like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell's, or WalMart. Whenever someone clicks through that link and buys something (and often even when they buy more than the thing you linked to), you get a commission.

Before you go slapping links everywhere and Tweeting how much you love Three Wolf Moon T-shirts, remember that the FTC says you need to disclose your participation in the programs when recommending stuff, even via Twitter. (Disclosure: I don't participate in an affiliate program and find Three Wolf Moon T-shirts awesome)

How much can you make? As always, it depends on how much you sell, but some programs offer upwards of 6% or more on sales.

Merchandising

And, of course, you can sell stuff.

It's extremely easy to get set up in CafePress and design and start selling t-shirts, mugs, and more, especially if you are artistic. On every sale you get a 10% commission. You know you want a T-shirt that says "What do you have against rhetorical questions?"

With Merch, the sky is seriously the limit. You can use your presence to sell goods through Etsy or work with a store platform like Open Sky to create your own merchandising outlet. 

Controversy!

We're all good hearty Ron Swanson-style capitalists, right? Welllll... not so fast.

Author website monetization is not without its discontents, and there have been articles decrying the practice of book bloggers receiving money for the books they're reviewing. And some people feel there's a certain unseemliness to authors milking their web presence for all it's worth.

Doesn't it affect their impartiality? Shouldn't it be all about the readers?

I have lots of questions:
  • Do you think authors should open up the money-making spigot or does it corrupt the experience for readers?
  • Do you find blog ads obtrusive? How much is too much?
  • Do you think certain affiliate programs are better than others? 
  • Do you still trust a reviewer when you know they're participating in an affiliate program?
  • What are some other ways authors can monetize their web presence?
  • Do you want the rhetorical question t-shirt so badly you may die of want or just really really REALLY badly? No? What about a mug?






96 comments:

Richard Gibson said...

I have a paypal "donate" button on the most popular (and most content-rich) pages on my web site, related to oil statistics. Does not make me rich but it comes close to paying for my internet costs for a year.

Tim Susman said...

As an author who would love to make money from my writing, I think any way an author can make money is fine. I don't mind ads, honestly; they're everywhere anyway and easy to ignore, and marketing has gotten to the point where I'll occasionally find a useful ad. For the other stuff, as long as it doesn't become the primary raison d'etre of the author's blog, it's fine. I can buy things if I want to support the author, or I can choose not to buy things, and I don't feel any pressure to do so. Good for anyone who can make some bucks off their own talent and creativity.

If you liked this answer, I have a Paypal link ... ;)

Sarah said...

I wish I could remember the guy's name -- I read an article not long ago about a blogger/website owner who put out a very useful and popular newsletter on the airline industry.

Once or twice a year, he would do a donation drive -- along the lines of: "If you benefit from this service, please consider supporting it."

As I recall, he got enough in donations to make a full-time living. Which was good, because making the newsletter took up most of his time.

Emily Hill said...

Lordy, Nathan! I stopped reading your post at the mention of GoogleAds (but you're Bransford, after all, so I will take up the rest of your post in a moment ;) Actually, I advise my workshop attendees against using GoogleAds. It did. not. do. one. measurable thing for my book sales. But it did light up my phone line with a sales rep who called me OFTEN with the advice (to this new, insecure author) to up my budget! Create Buzz! Increase your presence! Well, $700 dumb-dollars later I pulled my GoogleAds and moved to the Goodreads community. I'm much, much happier.

Vivacia said...

I'm not a fan of too much advertising on blogs - I think it ruins the look and makes them seem cheap (ironically). A few ads are okay, though as I never click any I wonder how many others do...

On my own blog I've gone much the way you have Nathan and don't have it monetised at all, though I played with the options when I first set it up. But I prefer my blog to just be somewhere people can come and read about me, my writing (or lack thereof), reviews and know that I'm only doing it for it's own sake and not to make money.

Torrey Podmajersky said...

As @SmartBitches retweeted this morning, it would be awesome if authors could have subscription services. What if Amazon allowed, like in the kickstarter model, people to pre-auth payment for the next published work - which was automatically downloaded to the person's reader when released? I'd pay for that. In a mature model, it would subsidize (in credit) the author's next work.

Cathy Yardley said...

I don't think that authors should put ads on their websites. A donate button makes sense, it's unobtrusive and I've noticed die-hard fans say that they'd do anything to make sure that their favorite authors kept writing. (That would be a "put up or shut up" test, I guess!) I agree with Vivaca, ads make the design look cheap, and amateurish. If you're that worried re: monetizing, create a separate income flow on a different website... don't dilute your author brand and turn off your readers by saying: "hi, how can you pay for me today?" JMO.

Charlie said...

Whenever I come across a blog that inundates me with advertising, I make it a point not to return there. It's too much.

Nathan Bransford said...

Emily-

I was actually talking about putting ads on your own site, not purchasing your own advertising.

Mr. D said...

We all have to make money to pay the bills. But, hey, that's what the day job is for.

chelsea said...

Mr. Bransford. In a world where blogs are too many to keep track of, too cluttered with ads, and too hard to trust, I am very choosy about which blogs I spend time reading. Currently, your blog is one of two blogs that I read anymore.

I do not expect my friends to try to sell me things, or post ads on their front doors when I visit their homes, and I don't like visiting blogs that do this, either. I appreciate that when I visit here, I feel invited to your private blogging home. That's why I keep coming back. That, and the content is fabulous.

I love your Cafe Press store, and I support creative, classy ways for authors to make money. Ads, I don't believe, are one of them.

Keep being awesome!

Sheila Cull said...

Again, really great useful information, thank you.

Butt you never answered my question, how do you find the time to research then write all this?!

Sheila Cull

Mercy Loomis said...

I generally have ads blocked, so I don't notice them. Still, I don't mind them when I do see them as long as they aren't pop-ups and there aren't so many of them that it makes it hard to find the content.

I have no problem with affiliate marketing as long as it's propery disclosed. I don't see it as being much different from getting review copies. (Someone will want to string me up for that statement, I'm sure.) I've gotten review copies of books before and still gave honest reviews; I occasionally link to other sites on my blog even though I don't get paid for it. Getting paid for it would be nice, but it wouldn't increase how often I linked. It still has to be relevant.

I love donate buttons and fund raisers. I love extra content that is only available to subscribers or those who plunk down a dollar. (I paid extra to download John Anealio's "I Should Be Writing" song because I liked it so much.)

I love Cafe Press too, although very often I don't need more stuff, if an author comes up with something really cool I may well buy it. I have a Krakens jersey, for crying out loud. (#81! Go, Denver, Go!)

And a rhetorical question mug sounds pretty good, actually...

Austin said...

Personally I prefer the donate button or merchandising methods. Those feel more honest to me. If you like what I'm doing, and want to see more, donate, or buy some of my stuff.

I'm not totally against ads, but I think you can tell a lot about the quality of a site by the quality of the ads (bad quality ads don't always translate to bad quality blogs, but they don't help). Cheap "punch the monkey" banner ads make a site look ugly, and those annoying ads that get linked to certain words in content and create pop-up bubbles cheapen the content.

If I were going to do an ad, I'd wait until I had a big enough audience to score a quality ad. Or maybe even go for a sponsorship deal.

Mira said...

What an interesting article!

Since I don't have a blog, I guess my focus here is more on this blog, and making you money, Nathan.

I was just thinking this weekend how you put in all this time for free, and that's not good! Social networking and adverstising for your book is definitely a factor, but I love the idea that you would receive additional compensation.

Here are my subjective impressions of various blog money-making options.

I like Richard's suggestion alot. I think a paypal button for donations is extremely appropriate for this blog. I'd click on it. :)

Personally, I hope that you don't have ads, just to be honest, because your site is powerful. It frequently crashes my I-phone, and it takes forever to load it on my less powerful computer.

In terms of click through ads, or being paid to review books, I think those are tricky. One of the most important things about you, Nathan, is your reputation for impartiality. That's the wrong word, but I can't think of a better one. Fair or not, when it's clear that someone is recommending things and getting paid to do so, it can raise questions about motivation. It's just a grey area, and I'm not sure it would be worth it given the smallish returns. Up to you, of course, but image is important.

I think a completely appropriate way to make money is through merchandising, either for your book or the blog itself. Wonderbar coffee mugs (Maybe Phitz coffee wants to do a promotion). The "rhetorical question" t-shirt would fall under this category.

And if you ever created something - you took up carpentry, or something - then I think that's cool, too. I guess your book falls under this category. :)

I hope this works out - for all that you give to us, I hope it is returned to you triple-fold. :)

Mira said...

Oh, and if your wife or family wanted to sell something here - photos and such - that could work.

But a paypal button and merchandising (merchandising ideas for the blog and/or book are endless) - that alone could bring in some karmic return. :)

Matthew MacNish said...

Please don't put Google AdSense ads on your blog Nathan.

I'll point to the line from The Social Network:

"The biggest thing The Facebook has going for it right now is that it's cool."

Don't ruin that. You have one of the coolest blogs on the web, writing/books related or otherwise. I can't see ads fitting into what you do.

However, a small store, that offered mugs, t-shirts, and other orange gear? That would rule. I would buy things from that kind of store, no question.

The problem for me is that you can't count on being able to trust the information you are getting from people who are selling something.

I don't intend to ever put ads on my blog, but if I had 5000 followers I might have to rethink that.

Excellent analysis as usual, Nathan, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Do you think authors should open up the money-making spigot or does it corrupt the experience for readers?

No, and yes. Stick to writing good books. (It's just too Melissa Rivers)

Do you find blog ads obtrusive?

Yes!!

Do you still trust a reviewer when you know they're participating in an affiliate program?

Absolutely not. I don't fully trust them when they aren't in a program because most of the time they have their own personal agenda anyway.

I'm not even going to bother answering the rest. Authors (or reviewers) promoting themselves is fine. But to start selling ad space is lacking in dignity and comes across as questionable at best. And, most of the time you only see the cheesiest of them all doing it.

Sean said...

With all of these blogs out there, I decided to put a button on my blog that will actually pay people for stopping by, and my traffic has increased ten fold. I'm no rocket surgeon but I'm ahead of the curve and that's what really counts.

Carrie said...

First of all the Three Wolf Shirt is awesome.
I'm on the fence about monetizing. I have the Google AdSense ads on my blog and they've been there for a year. So far I've mad 42 cents from them so I was thinking about removing them.

Ella Schwartz said...

Hi Nathan!

I think advertising on a blog is tricky. There are hundreds and thousands of blogs out there targeting writers (OK - I may be one of them), and if a potential reader suspects that the driving factor of that blog is something other than to share useful information, that reader will probably not come back. Your blog, Nathan, is one of a handful of blogs out there that I can rely on to provide me with awesome information without any gimmicks or secondary motives (thank you for that).

I don't think affiliate programs can make you a ton of money. Everybody is doing it. Even my kids' school has a referral link to Amazon on their website and they make pennies.

Tshirts? Would love to be able to sell tshirts, but I can't see that being a big money maker. I'm not even sure the big time authors could sell their face on a shirt. Would you really want to wear a tshirt with Stephen King or James Patterson's face on it, or even one of their characters?? I think not.

Katherine Hyde said...

Hey, we have to make money somehow! Since the system decrees that everyone involved in publishing can make a living except the author, we have to do what we have to do.

I don't find blog ads distracting. I just ignore them.

I don't wear T-shirts, but I would definitely go for the mug.

Anna said...

I have no problem with bloggers trying to make a living blogging, but it's very obnoxious when new bloggers start selling stuff right off the bat. I think there has to be a time investment first to make your blog the best it can be before selling stuff. Unless of course you're selling mugs or books. All is fair in love and promotion.

MAFW said...

I don't think there is anything wrong with a bit of advertising as long as it doesn't inundate the reader. I have several different sources that also help to promote other blogs including Adgitize and Entrecard. My blog is available on Kindle. I have advertising space (at a good price, mind you) available and also have an Amazon banner. I've yet to add a donate button, but you never know.

In reality, between what I spend on advertising and what I earn in my other endeavors, I usually end up with enough left over each month to have a nice dinner. By no means, am I getting rich.

Honestly, when I first started reading your blog and became a follower it was because you were an agent and I wanted to get a book deal. Now, even though you are no longer an agent, I still come back because I like the information.

Basically, if your content is good, people will keep coming back no matter what's on your site! Keychain, anyone?

Anonymous said...

I do find ads distracting and sort of "cheap" but I'm used to tuning them out so it wouldn't bug me. Think of the Huffington Post--ads, including ones that "miraculously" are for Ann Taylor or J Crew or somewhere I've just shopped online.

But something like that feels like a newspaper so ads are expected. I get the sentiment that a blog about writing is different somehow. It's more of a community, I guess, so pimping out your site can seem a bit unseemly.

Bottom line--if you need to, go for it; if not, maybe steer clear.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Adblock Plus.

D.G. Hudson said...

Yes I find blog ads intrusive if there are too many on the page and if pop-ups are in my face. That's one of the reasons I liked this blog when I first found it a few years ago - when you were an agent - it had basic info for all writers without multiple ads cluttering up the page.

I don't like marketers coming to my door or on my phone, why would I like it on my own blog page or those blogs I visit?

Subtle ads in the sidebar, I can tolerate, but if it's evident that the blog is pushing everything they can - I don't come back. Adverts for that person's own book are the only thing I want to see for sale on a writer's blog.

I've noticed some blogs (one in particular) that didn't have as much advertising initially as is there now; but the owner must have had someone in marketing take her on as a client because she now comes across as 'give me the money'. I still check it out on occasion only because she does have good posts.

No, the tshirt doesn't interest me, but I can always stick pens in a mug. What's your price, better not be more than $0.99...

If a person wants to sell their own merch, then have a link off the main page. That's acceptable.

Seriously, don't go ad crazy, Nathan, it would spoil a good blog. Keep it the way it is.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

For a children's-YA author, including ads on one's blog brings up the pickle of teachers and school librarians sending kids to your web presence to research author reports and...be exposed to additional advertising?

Given that there are already school officials/parents uncomfortable with the commercialism of book sales at real-space author school visits, I would expect that key segment of my audience to be quietly directed elsewhere.

jjdebenedictis said...

I SMITE ads with my trusty AdBlocker and Flashblocker add-ons. I loathe having my whole world wallpapered in advertisements, and the internet is one place I can do something about it. Mwahahaha!

Merchandising doesn't bother me, however, because it's content related to that particular blog, and obviously I'm happy with the blog itself or I wouldn't be there.

A random ad for a car doesn't relate to the blog, however, and thus I find it intrusive. SMITE!

The key, with advertising, is to target people who actually want that product. If you've done that, then everyone's happy. Merchandising is as close to this ideal as you can get.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I'm with MacNish - yes to the cafepress, no to the ads. I want to see authors selling THEIR OWN content on their blogs - I'm there because I like THEM, not lawnmowers. If they produce something (books, mugs, t-shirts, comics, comic-books, t-shirt-comics, etc.), I'm all in and will support them. I think that even strengthens the bond between author/creater and reader/consumer. But ads...no.

therese said...

I've made the choice to promote but not advertise on my blog. I do include links to friends novels and blogs and direct my readers to things of interest to me. I occasionally post that all my webbits are just for fun.

Sometimes I feel like I have to put a disclaimer on every link to let readers know I make no money from the promo. But I don't because it serves no purpose for the reader.

R.K.Gold said...

Advertiseing would all depend on how much (loyal) followers a particular blog has. Out of curiousity, what are the blog stats on some of the blogs you guys run? (If that's a rude question then please feel free to ignore me!)

Fawn Neun said...

I can't. I just can't.

We will promo books by our contributors to our lit zine on our blog and elsewhere, for which we assume they are also being paid. But otherwise - I just can't.

Tara Maya said...

I think it's reasonable for a book blogger to (a) receive free books for review, but not a fee for reviewing (b) earn a commission on sales if readers click through the link to Amazon or another online retailer and (c) have adds on their site.

As for writers, I don't know if extraneous ads are a good thing. Certainly writers should avoid ads that make the site ugly or hard to use. However, I have links to my books on my website, and if readers click directly from there to Amazon, I earn a tiny commission. It's not much, but it's like getting a few extra pennies of royalties for that book. To me, it's mostly helpful as a way of seeing if anyone who reads my blog actually buys my book. [Answer: the awesome ones do. ;) ]

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate
Conmergence: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction

Kristi Faith said...

I don't mind ads, but in all honesty, I tend to ignore them. It's few and far between that I will click through a link on someone's blog to purchase anything.

As for the tee-shirt. I'm sort of dying of need and want as I type..the mug doesn't do such a slogan justice.

Amber Slattery said...

I assume that most people are reading my blog in a reader, like I do. Ads don't show up in my reader. Or if they do I don't notice them.

I have ads on my blog. I'm not making any money off of them, at all. But I hand pick the ads and they are always from Amazon for music or books that I would recommend to friends. If I can find an ad for a book of a fellow blogger, I make it a point to add that ad, so that I can promote their work.

Marilyn Peake said...

I admire Paul Krugman immensely for his social consciousness. I’ll happily pay full price for his books, no problem.

Authors who become too immersed in merchandizing quickly lose my interest. The flood of impartial reviews and paid reviews that flooded the market a few years ago actually turned me off to reviews. I use my judgement when buying books, only using reviews sparingly now, whereas I used to purchase books based on reviews. This is one of the main reasons I now buy 99-cent books – many of the full-priced books aren’t worth the price despite great reviews, whereas many 99-cent books have won impressive awards. Certain awards mean a whole lot more to me than impartial reviews.

I rarely visit author sites that have ads. I find the ads obnoxious and it takes away from the overall experience. If this is the direction in which the publishing world is headed, I’ll probably read all the books I’ve purchased over the years and check out of the book biz world for a while.

I don’t read many writers' blogs anymore. I feel like chelsea – friends don’t try to sell me things every time I stop by to visit. It’s obnoxious and it turns me off. I know an extremely talented indie author who lost a lot of her readers when she turned into mostly a salesperson. I think a lot of people felt she lost her voice as an author. So now she sells services to authors about how to sell their books...even though her own fiction books don’t sell. Hmmmmm, where’s the credibility in that?

Nathan Bransford said...

I have to say, I'm really shocked that people here use ad blockers. I see them as the equivalent of pirating books. I can understand the rationale for keeping some sites free of ads at the admin's choice, but don't websites deserve to make money for the services/content they provide?

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan,

I don't block ads, but I completely ignore them. I've gotten really good at only seeing the main content on a website and blocking out everything around the edges. Too many ads and I stop visiting the sites. So, even though I don't block ads, the advertisers make no money off me because I don't even see the ads. They're obnoxious, and there are many sites for me to visit that have no ads whatsoever. Same for TV - I tune out the ads or surf channels until the ads are done.

Marilyn Peake said...

I should add that I don't expect services for free either. I pay for cable TV and happily pay for DVDs of my favorite TV show series. I just don't want to spend my time viewing ads that take away from my appreciation of art, whether it's books, TV shows, or movies. I don't think I'd go to art museums anymore if there were ads hanging next to the paintings.

jesse said...

I love the smell of cognitive dissonance in the morning.

salima said...

I understand people's repugnance with being overloaded by ads, but I think if it's tastefully done, it's OK. If they're discreet and not obtrusive and wouldn't get in the way of, say, a child researching stuff on your site. I hope the world could come to recognize that authors may be making LESS money with the ebook revolution than previously (and most non-authors hold a gross misconception that being published makes you rich) and that it's their place to support themselves somehow. And actually people thinking that it's "purer" for authors never to make a penny from anything other than traditional publishing, despite how little most authors make, is annoying. It's hinting that it makes someone less of a writer if they'd like to make a living at it. I realize many of us have an idealistic notion that writing is one of the last "unsullied" art forms and done with nothing but altruism and selflessness in mind, but it's as unrealistic as expecting all writers everywhere to content themselves with their 9-5 jobs in addition to writing full-time---without ever seeking other creative avenues for income. I feel sometimes that those same people would be OK with the authors selling steampunk lawnmowers as a side hobby, but not with the author generating extra revenue with their own blogging. That being said, I think it's critical that ads and merch be tastefully done. I won't go back to a site either if it's a sensory-overload pop-up experience. Even if people's expectations regarding authors become a bit more realistic, I think most of us turn to the authors we love for a grounding, centering experience filled with at least a little bit of integrity. A hard balancing act, but it can be done.

The Red Angel said...

I'm not a fan of advertisements, but I think that if ads are presented in a non-clutter blog environment then they're all right to deal with.

Great post, Nathan. :)

~TRA

http://xtheredangelx.blogspot.com

Marilyn Peake said...

salima,

I think you're completely misunderstanding the reason why many people are turned off by ads on writing sites. It isn't because we feel that writers shouldn't make money from their books. It's because ads on writers' sites detract from the writers' actual books and give the impression that the authors' books aren't very successful. Most writers who have become wildly successful haven't had ads for extraneous products on their websites. Instead, other sites have advertised the writer's books on their sites. Think HARRY POTTER - J. K. Rowling wrote her amazing books, and the advertisers chased after her. When you go to the HARRY POTTER site, you aren't met with any ads whatsoever. I think when writers' websites have too many ads, the writers are less likely to sell their books because it makes the books seem inferior and the writers desperate, and I think writers should be able to make money from their books. Seriously, what's the difference between selling steampunk lawnmowers in person or selling stampunk lawnmowers on a writer's website? I'm not saying that writing careers need to be "pure" or "art for art's sake". I'm saying I'd rather pay more for a product, money directly into the hands of the writer, than have to view extraneous obnoxious advertising noise. That's the kind of experience for which I'm willing to pay money.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Putting ads on a website isn't the same thing as putting them on a blog.

A blog costs the blogger nothing, therefore, there's no reason a reader should feel inclined to back off the ad blocker.

With a forum, like Absolute Write, where the Admin has specifically asked people to refrain from using ad blockers because it affects the maintenance of the site, I don't use the ad block.

Two different things.

Hollister Ann Grant said...

I could totally go for an orange Space Monkeys t-shirt.

Tara Maya said...

Basically, if you don't have to pay an upfront fee (for instance, to read a blog or view a website) you should expect and respect ads. Otherwise, I agree with Nathan, that's the same as piracy.

Ads, especially ugly, cheesy or irrelevant ones, detract from art. I'd rather buy a tv show and watch ad-free than watch broadcast television and sit through a bunch of lame commercials.

One reason I fear the drive to make all books $.99 or free is that it will force writers to seek income from their books by placing ads in them, just as there are ads in magazines and newspapers. Not the end of the world, but I'd frankly rather read an ad-free $10 book than a $1 book with ads.

All too often, a person who complains the most about the ads in art is also a person who doesn't want to spend any money on a book, blog or show. Some consumers want it both ways. Valuable content that is offered for free, because the artist is their slave, who has no right to pay the mortgage.

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate
Conmergence: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction

Anonymous said...

I think the idea of a writer's blog (and even a website that you have to pay for) is that it exists as a means to get a following with the (let's be frank) hope that people will buy your book.

In exchange for the reader's attention to you (which you hope will result in the purchase of your book or at least be a collective stat to mention, if significant enough, in a query letter), you provide something. Entertainment. Writing advice. Publishing advice. Something.

That's the bargained for exchange. That's the implicit contract between the blogger and the reader. The blogger isn't getting nothing. Far from it.

I blog something of value. You buy my book. But not someone else's lawnmowers.

Anonymous said...

Tara Maya said, "All too often, a person who complains the most about the ads in art is also a person who doesn't want to spend any money on a book, blog or show. Some consumers want it both ways. Valuable content that is offered for free, because the artist is their slave, who has no right to pay the mortgage."

Do you have statistics to back that up? Most people I know who don't like ads buy expensive books. Most people I know who put lots of ads on their website prefer bargains and cheap stuff, which is the reason they purchase the cheapest website packages which automatically include ads.

MJR said...

I'm not a great fan of ads on blogs. On my Frogs Are Green blog (environmental blog I write with a friend), we've resisted advertising. I guess we find it kind of tacky and distracting. I really dislike the pop ups on some popular blogs that you have to close before you can read content. We do have a donate button and once in a while someone donates money and we sell frog t-shirts and posters(through Cafe Press).

I definitely could see doing Amazon's program, ie making a bit of money if someone clicks through and buys a book--haven't figured it out how to do that yet.

anon 1:21 said...

I hate ads and I buy books ALL THE TIME, paper, kindle AND ipad. I support writers. I buy their books. I even subscribe to literary journals like Glimmer Train and The Indiana Review and One Story. So that was a huge generalization.

Mira said...

I tend to agree with Anon 1:21.

I think this is partly a perception issue. I know when I briefly ran a blog, I worked very hard and definitely felt like I provided a valuable service. And I was acutely aware that I was doing it for free. And since I wasn't promoting a book, there was too little gain for me, and I stopped - for that reason and others as well.

As a blog reader and commentor, though, I believe that I am offering something in return: my time and presence, which do have value - at least to me.

Is that an equivalent exchange? For some blogs? Might be close. For this blog? No way do my little comments equal to Nathan's awesome posts. Which is why I'm in favor of monetizing this blog.

So, that's my perception on blogging.

But other people may see it differently. Nathan, you may see it differently. But the problem is that you can't sit down with every person who visits your site and explain your position on blogging and service.

So, I think it is useful to know that perceptions vary about blogging as a service.

Which means that it is much safer for a blogger to ask for donations or for exchange of money for merchandise, for example, because these are percieved as voluntary. Ad viewing, on the other hand, is involuntary.

So, I'd wonder if it is worth the loss of potential readership who are put off by certain forms of monetization, or if it would be better to find forms of monetization that are acceptable to most people and enhance the image of the blog?

Just some thoughts.

Mira said...

Also, and this is my last comment today (sorry) I really don't get why people think writers will make less money in the future.

I dont' think 99 cents will become the set point.

And regardless, we're talking two things:

a. selling in volume. Readership is increasing as we speak due to easier access through e-books.

b. not giving 90% of the profit to someone else.

And last point, Nathan, if it's a choice between you running ads or saying "forget this, this is too much work", please run ads.

I don't know what I'd do without this blog. Which is why I want that paypal button.

Anonymous said...

When you have thousands of readers, you get power and influence as payment.

salima said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Mira--that this is a perception issue. Marilyn, I had mentioned in my post that I would prefer to visit an author's blog if he/she has tastefully positioned ads rather than sensory overload-ones. I don't feel in that instance that it would be giving the impression that the author wasn't very successful. It completely depends on the types of ads. If JK Rowling hadn't generated mass income from her books and felt it was right to post ads as an additional way of making some money, I would have no problem with that, as long as the adds weren't obtrusive and I could still focus on the content of the site. That was my whole point---that I wouldn't want the issue to become black and white, and for people to be turned off by ads on blogs across the board. I would only want for people to understand that authors' motivations for posting ads did not amount to a quick selfish gain for the author, and that the author was not trying to detract from the value of his/her books. I guess I want people to understand that an author generating income in these ways MAY become an inevitable part of the publishing landscape. And I do agree that if Nathan decided to put ads on this site, it would totally be worth it, as what he provides for many of us is an invaluable public service of sorts.

Jck said...

I love the rhetorical question t-shirt! does this make me a participant in an affiliate programm?

salima said...

I really agree with Mira (and Tara Maya). I also think it is largely an issue of perception. Marilyn, my whole point is that I wouldn't want this to become a black and white issue in which people were turned off by ads on blogs across the board. I would want people to understand that author's motivations were not to get rich any cheap way they could, and that the ads, especially if they are tasteful and non-obtrusive, were not there to detract from the quality of their books. I would want people to know that it was a sensible way for an author to help support him/herself (again, if done tastefully.) If JK Rowling hadn't generated mass income from her books and felt it was right to place some ads on her site in order to make extra money, I would have no problem with that, as long as I could still focus on the content of the site. I guess I want people to understand that authors generating income in these ways MAY become part of the publishing landscape. And if Nathan were to decide to post ads on his site, I think it would make perfect sense, as he's providing an invaluable public service of sorts, and probably spends hours compiling info and typing up these posts.

M Pax said...

I'm interested in the cafe press thing. I might check that out.

Anonymous said...

Nathan said, "I have to say, I'm really shocked that people here use ad blockers. I see them as the equivalent of pirating books."

You've got to be kidding me. I respect your opinion most days, Nathan, but not this time. Ad blockers are not illegal. If you want to draw outrageous analogies, spam is illegal, and ads are a lot more like spam than ad blocks are similar to piracy.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how ads would work. Say I come to your website with $25 to spend on books. I see an ad on your website for a $25 coffeemaker. I'm a writer. I sure do like coffee. I buy the coffeemaker. How does that help you sell your books and build your own career as a writer?

christinabaglivitinglof.com said...

I would never publish a book review in the same genre as my own (twin pregnancy; twins in school). It's too much of a conflict of interest. I find it hard to be impartial as I think my books are better.

salima said...

Mira and Tara Maya---I do agree with you.

Caroline said...

Actually I would kill for a t-shirt (or mug) that says "I'm going to the opium dens..." Which of course is a quote from Tom Wingfield in THE GLASS MENAGERIE. Favorite quote ever. **Runs to Cafe Press..**

salima said...

There we go! Was having trouble posting for a minute. I just wanted to clarify because I think my previous post may have read as inflammatory and that's definitely not what I intended. I just wanted to state that I don't want people to see this as a black and white issue, and to dismiss authors who do run ads as cheapening their books or less serious about forging a genuine connection with their readership. I do think it's a matter of perception. Marilyn, if JK Rowling hadn't amassed a huge income from her books and had decided to run a few ads as an additional way of making money, I would have no problem with that, provided I could still focus on the content of the site. It's all about how the ads are done. I guess I want people to see that this MAY become an inevitable part of many writer's publishing landscapes. If Nathan decides to run ads, for instance, I fully support that, as it probably takes him hours to compile the data and type up these posts.

Belinda Pollard said...

So long as you monetize tastefully and with integrity (ie only recommend things you really believe in), it wouldn't put me off at all. You obviously put many hours into this blog, and "the labourer is worthy of his hire".

I'm not sure why some people think it's a crime to make a living. It may be naivete - they think authors travel by stretch limo. Most authors that I know don't go anywhere NEAR making a living from their books.

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

Well, I make money selling crocheted hats and patterns on Etsy. It is how I get by in today's economy. You really have to be talented at what you make to sell and you have to market the heck out of it. It isn't something you just 'decide' to do. Plus, as my novel (someday)is named Stubborn Woman (stubbornwoman), that's what I call my shop. Getting a platform through the back door, I guess.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

I didn't say legally, but morally I don't really see a difference between ad blockers and pirating a book. You're preventing someone from being paid for a service you're consuming. I happen to work at a company that provides some extremely valuable free content and derives a lot of its income from advertising.

I think it's extremely cheeky to want free content on the Internet and not even so much as allow an advertisement on the page.

G said...

I have a mixed attitude about ads on blogs.

If they're done tastefully, not clogging up the blog so that you can read it and doesn't make the blog take forever and a day to load, then I don't have a problem reading the blog.

But if you have so many ads on your blog that prevents anyone from finding the content on your blog, chances are that I'm not gonna read it.

I don't use ads on mine because quite frankly the only place that I would be able to use is between my posts, and I alsways found that to be a distraction whenever I came across them.

Melissa said...

Successfully-monetized blogs and websites promote goods and services consumers already want to shell out for, e.g., eco-friendly household cleaners, organic baby food, videogames, weight loss “pills,” legal advice, etc. Anyone who’s ever created such a website is aware of this very important rule of thumb. There is an emphasis on quality of content, to a degree; however, if you’re just creating a review/informational site, you likely won’t have to exhaust too many brain cells creating content.

My thoughts on this are that there are two kinds of people who use the Internet. One is the person who already knows he/she wants to buy something, be it saltwater aquarium equipment or a Pilates DVD. They Google terms that take them to blogs where they can find etailer ads for said products. The other type of Internet user is in search of quality information – “think stuff” – and has no intention of purchasing a single thing. A writer’s blog should be, IMHO, the latter. I would never use Adsense on my writer’s blog; I might promote relevant books from Amazon that I like, but this is not the place where I want to flog other people’s wares.

OTOH, I’ve experimented with niche websites (pets, household products) that generate a tidy little income each month. They are based on purchasing trends that I first examined carefully; only after I determined that there was a “consumer market” did I invest time in setting up the site. If you don’t have a marketing background, don’t know SEO writing, don’t understand how long-string searches have affected site rankings and don’t know which types of content sites have been Google slapped right down to the bottom of the search pile, that blogging for money gig is gonna be a quick path to FAIL.

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

I do read lots of news, history and science pages and they have ads that I don't mind, though some can be a bit cheeky.

Anonymous said...

Nathan,

I never asked for the content to be free. I can always pay for blogs elsewhere. Problem solved. No? Publishers and computer tech sites are advertising their products through their blogs. Extremely huge sense of entitlement to expect consumers to buy their products and have to sit through their ads. Wow. If I come to this blog, for instance, and I buy five copies of your book, I'm then cheeky to not want to see additional ads? You will lose book buyers that way.

salima said...

Sorry about the millions of posts by me! They weren't publishing at first and I was trying to remember what I'd written!

Marilyn Peake said...

salima,

Great having this discussion with you! I agree, it's not a black-and-white issue. I just happened to notice over the years that many writers who concentrate on writing and develop websites that embrace their writing eventually become successful at selling their books. Many novelists who jump ship too early and focus on advertising end up quitting writing altogether...or eventually publish a book about how to succeed at selling books, after they can't sell their own novels. (Oh, the irony.) This is a personal choice for me. I like my own website to be artistic and free of advertising. I recently paid for artwork, just to add extra eye candy to my site. That's my own personal choice, and I'm sticking with it. :)

A Paperback Writer said...

If someone is being paid to review a book, then it's not a review; it's a commercial. If you paid me enough to say nice things about ANYTHING, I'd probably do it (okay, well, within reason). I would never trust a paid book review.

As for advertising on blogs, I loathe it.

Greta Marlow said...

I want the t-shirt, and I want to wear it on the day I teach about speech introductions!

McKenzie McCann said...

Hm, well, I'm not really out for money. But it would be quite fun to make my own merchandise. Although, I'm not really sure what I would sell. I like your rhetorical t-shirt. It make me chuckle.

Nathan Bransford said...

Anon

Most tech sites, including the one I work at, don't sell the products they review.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, you can hardly compare a tech company with an individual author. CNET is publically traded, once valued at $12 billion and bought by CBS a few years back for $1.8 billion. Please don't try to make us feel sorry for them because they might not make money on the products they sell.

Lucy said...

I hereby make this impartial, unprejudiced and rational declaration:

Ads on blogs should be tarred, feathered, shot at dawn and buried at the crossroads at midnight.

Gregory K. said...

Interesting post, as always, Nathan. Besides the fact that most author sites don't have the type of traffic to make lots of money on ads, I think that focusing on monetization based on ads or affiliate marketing or selling merchandise undervalues what a strong presence can do. I actually wrote about just that today. The short version is that you make money by recognizing opportunities... and that your content/presence creates those opportunities. I think that is where a lot of authors can monetize.

Though a good mug is always useful!

Jeff S Fischer said...

You write books for children? maybe you should go into the priest-hood. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy, transition. Stop defending yourself! Please.

Sally Hepworth said...

Interesting. As always

Mira said...

Jeff,

In your own way, I think that you are being supportive of Nathan, and trying to help him out, but I disagree with your perspective.

Research has shown that an inclusive, democratic management style is the most effective. It fosters creativity and community (and productivity, but that doesn't matter so much here). This is the style that Nathan uses.

It's also the only style that works well when you're dealing with a completely voluntary situation like a blog.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

Seriously considering a mug and t-shirt, since I own the 'art' on at least the cover of my first novel (a photo I took of worshippers at the edge of the Ganges River, from a boat on the river in Varanasi).

I've actually had friends suggest they're more interested in such "merch" than, say, buying or even actually maybe reading my, er, book...

Otherwise, yes, if money is the thng, there are lots of ways to "monetize." And everyone is into it--just look at the "Happy Meal" toys that sometimes come out before the movie, which is made to sell the toys, is even out.

I love your rhetorical question t-shirt idea. Better get one made (to copywrite it) before someone steals it...

Thanks for an always thought-provoking and entertaining blog. And for considering Krugman's arguments as well...

chelsea said...

What is the point of ads if everyone is ignoring them anyway?

jjdebenedictis said...

I'm really shocked that people here use ad blockers. I see them as the equivalent of pirating books.

I am sorry, but that logic seems absurd. If I refrain from looking at a billboard, am I engaging in theft?

If I hang up on a telemarketer before even hearing what the product is, how am I stealing?

I have a right to be uninterested in a product.

[D]on't websites deserve to make money for the services/content they provide?

Certainly, but me stopping the ads from displaying on my monitor doesn't stop the website from being paid by the companies displaying those ads.

And as for those ads where the website gets a commission on clicks--I wasn't going to click anyway. They're not losing a dime.

I am not obligated to be a captive audience to a website's advertisers.

Nathan Bransford said...

jjdebenedictis-

Ad blockers decrease revenue for websites that have ads. I really don't think it's "absurd" to suggest that if you're consuming a website's services, for free, the least you can do is allow ads on the page. How else are those websites supposed to make money and employ people?

And is it really that much of an imposition? If you find the ads obtrusive stop visiting the site.

anon 1:21 said...

I still think there is a difference between a website like the NYT or Politico, which is really just an online newspaper or magazine and a writer's blog. I'm going there to get news. An ad is fine.

Most writers do not start a blog to employ people and make money. They do it to connect and get an audience. They want traffic and comments, not money. My traffic and commenting is my payment. I'm not usually visiting a writer's blog to get something I really need. Sometimes, the posts are even boring, but if I like the blog and the writer, I'll comment anyway because I know that people like to have lots of comments.

If I like your blog, I'll probably buy your book, even if it's not something I'd normally read, just to support you. I think that's why most people blog. To get an audience, not ad revenue.

I think there are two different conversations going on--one about something like Nathan's employer and one about a blogspot writer's blog.

Now, Nathan's blog may fall more into the former column--a place people actually go to get information. How to write a query. How to get an agent. How to format your manuscript (and for God's sake, Nathan, does the title of a chapter go at the top of the page with six spaces before the chapter starts, or six spaces down and then two more for the text????)

My point is, that I wouldn't mind if Nathan had ads on this site, becaues I use the information on this site and I'd probably but it in book format if he sold it. (There's an idea, Nathan?)

But if I go to Joe Schmoe's "I'm unpublished, I write and here's a pic of my cat" I'm really there to be nice, not to get anything. Certainly nothing worth paying for. But maybe something better will result--friendship. Stranger things have happened.

jjdebenedictis said...

Ad blockers decrease revenue for websites that have ads.

Well, no, they don't, because a person who blocks ads clearly isn't interested in becoming anyone's customer. There's no lost revenue from non-customers.

If you find the ads obtrusive stop visiting the site.

Or, alternately, I could use Adblocker and get the best of both worlds. Can you at least see why I'm not finding your logic persuasive?

If a company doesn't want me reading their content for free, they can put it behind a paywall. If they don't, that means they've weighed the costs and benefits and have decided that--in spite of looky-loos such as myself who don't feel obligated to help them earn a living--it's still more profitable for them to provide their content to anyone who wants to look at it.

I understand they want me to look at their ads, but I do not want to, and I see no reason to place some random business person's wishes before my own.

Just as I am allowed to say no to a telemarketer before listening to their pitch, I am allowed to say no to a pop-up ad before I've read it. Or, to spin this a different way, a literary agent is allowed to say, "When I'm at a conference, don't pitch me in the bathroom or while I'm eating," correct? It's the same principle--we're all allowed to dictate how far other people may intrude into our lives to serve their own purposes.

Nathan Bransford said...

jjbenedictis-

Ad blockers prevent ads from loading, thus they deprive sites of revenue. They absolutely do decrease a site's revenue. Not every site is selling something, nor do I think we'd want them to.

If a company doesn't want me reading their content for free, they can put it behind a paywall.

Or they can keep it free but pay for it with advertising. It's a pretty good system, assuming people don't try and subvert it. You're using the product, why deprive someone of revenue for providing it?

jjdebenedictis said...

Nathan,

Here's another way to think about it:

When I arrive at a website, I see all of the ads. I have to right-click on each of them and tell the Adblocker program to block them.

So I have been exposed to every single advertisement and have consciously declined the advertiser's offer.

Smart advertisers do not continue to spam people who have heard their message and decided they are not interested. This would only serve to alienate a person who might in future become a customer.

So by self-filtering, I'm helping the advertiser save money. They aren't paying to advertise to someone who isn't interested in their product.

And yes, the website whose content I'm interested in is now losing that income. However, I can't buy into the idea that I'm being immoral by blocking ads given the website was unfairly profiting at the advertiser's expense.

If advertisers could selectively advertise only to those people who hadn't already seen their ads (and decided they weren't interested), then they would do so. What I'm doing is not wrong.

I understand that you believe there is a social contract I should honour here--that I ought to facilitate the people who provide the content I value in their goal of continuing to provide that content.

The thing is, I want to honour that social contract too, but what I don't want is my whole damned world wallpapered with advertisements.

Ads are on buses, billboards, the inside of toilet stalls, and even my own clothing. I view this as a form of pollution, and I've never been given any say in how much or little of it gets thrown in my face from day to day.

So when you say I should feel guilty about exercising a bit of freedom in one of the few places where I still can, I just cannot muster the energy to. You make strong and valid points, Nathan, but I am not willing to give up the tiny scrap of power I still retain in this matter. The internet is one of the few places where I can say, "No ads, please," and make it stick.

Tambra said...

I found this topic quite appropriate. I've started my own pubishing company and have a Cafe Press link. Etsy is something I'm thinking about this summer. Besides writing I design greeting cards (not computer generated) and other crafty items. Also, I'm a watercolorist and hopefully be able to start on my fantasy art series.

I'm a creative person and it's also my business. I want to be paid for the work I do whether its for my books, watercolors or greeting cards.

The United States has a different attitude about the creative arts than they do over in Europe (from what I've been told anyway).

This is America, no reason why I can't be the next Amazon/Kindle millionaire.

Hugs,
Tambra Kendall
Daughters of Avalon Publishing

Cab Sav said...

My 2c worth.

I have no issues with advertisements, provided the ads aren't too intrusive. If they flash too much, if I am forced to watch an ad before I can read the content, or if I can't see the content because the ads are too instrusive, I leave the site and don't go back.

I put ads on my blogs. They're mostly in hiatus waiting for a redesign, but one of them is about writing. From my experience, putting advertising on a blog about writing doesn't bring in much money. At least not the way I do it. My other blogs, without any effort to market them, ended up paying their server fees (eventually).

If I ever become a published writer I will set up a different blog. The whole blog basically becomes an advertisement for my 'brand' -- my writer's name. I wouldn't put things like Google AdWords on this. The only thing I want to sell there is myself as a writer, and my books. I would sell related merchandising. A t-shirt or a mug to me is part of the brand.

J. T. Shea said...

Sheila, cloning! There's obviously more than one Nathan. And/or he/they has/have a time machine. A Honda Accord, I believe. Or maybe two identical Honda Accords. De Loreans are too conspicuous.

Nathan, you're shocked your commenters use ad blockers? The equivalent of pirating books? Prepare to be even more shocked. When I record TV shows, I leave out the ad breaks! And I hardly ever buy the stuff in the few ads I do see or hear. I am indeed extremely cheeky. MMMWWWAAAHHHAAAHHHAAA!

Salima, I might be interested in a steampunk lawnmower though. Or an orange Space Monkeys teeshirt, Hollister, or a...oh blast!

Christinabaglivitinglof, 'Twin pregnancy: twins in school' is a genre now? Is publishing getting a bit overspecialized?

Jjdebenedictis, I always close my eyes driving past ad billboards.

BTW, Cnet offers lots of ad blockers to download, along with rave reviews.

LA said...

I'm late to the party on this, but I would be careful about affiliate marketing. From what I hear, Google hates them and can penalize a website (un-index it). For my two cents, its more important for an author to get their blog indexed and a decent page rank than to advertise.

Katie: writer, reader, daydreamer said...

I don't mind a few ads that have the same theme as the blog itself. I think a donate button is a good idea as it reminds the reader you are providing a service and it allows them to determine what they are comfortable giving. But when ads dominate the blog or website and they are scattered throughout it (as opposed to a few along the side) it turns me off the site as I just think they are doing it primarily for the money.

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