Monetizing blogs, especially female-centric blogs, has been a long-discussed, ever-evolving, passionate, competitive and aggressive debate.
[insert a slight cough followed by a crackly old lady voice here]
Long ago and right in front of our computer screens the World Wide Web was new and possibilities were indeed endless. Online opportunities were uncertain, exciting and hard to explain. Short domain names were aplenty. You, a mere human, could actually register for your own URL, and Alta Vista was the browser of choice. Some girl named Jenni was making money with her 24-7 webcam bedroom coverage, AOL was poised to buy Time Warner and third party domain registrations were demanding top dollar. (*True Story: I worked for a guy whose business partner had registered the domain name Windows95.com. The Windows95.com-domain-registering dude then sold the domain name to Microsoft for several million dollars. After that, the guy I worked for, feeling slighted by his business partner and rightly so, went a little crazy and spent countless hours registering every single domain name he could think in hopes of striking it big as well. He never did.) It was around this same time that Dave and his friend, Kevin, thought they should sell products online so they started the online mountain bike shop, Aardvark Cycles (using an “aa” name was intentional so they could come up first on a web browser). They were seen as forerunners and not long after they started their company they sold it to a local business. Those were the days.
It was a also time when the dot.com was booming and Dave and I somehow managed to hitch our wagon and join that crazy awesome ride (a few times). We thought the only way to cash out was to make it big. Most regular folks were afraid to purchase items online. “How can the internet be safe? They will steal your credit card information,” is what I often heard. The strange hybrid word, eCommerce, only made things worse yet cash-heavy Venture Capitalists were throwing money at cocktail napkin ideas. I was blogging daily yet my real job was trying to get a local company to believe in something called the internet. I was hired as their online marketing manager and my battle was uphill and then up some more. Their main product was a day planner and they would always look at me quizzically when I mentioned the internet and say (they really did), “why would anyone want to use their calendar online?”
And when I mentioned to friends and family that I had a blog on the side to make it easy for everyone to be a part (davybeth.com circa 1998), many of my friends looked at me with glassy-eyed confusion or asserted that I was cheap (because I wouldn’t pay to print my wedding plans).
I persevered, and according to 2012’s web sponsorship rate cards, by 2004 my website traffic would be worthy of some pretty good swag accompanied with a nice load of cash. Those were the days. For years I was often dismissed and received many an eye roll when I mentioned that I had a blog. “What? Why? How?” were the questions I was often asked. I was grateful to connect with friends who understood and was even more delighted to discover that some of these same friends had their own blogs.
And by 2004 I fully realized knew that I was no longer alone in my blogging pursuits. Many folks were blogging after 9-11 and the phrase, “moms who blogged” was working its way into popular dialog. It didn’t hurt that there were a couple of ballsy women out there (not even moms) who were making news because of what they were saying online. Now questions were being asked. People were getting comfortable shopping at gap.com. (You could NOT buy maternity clothes in-store at the time), and things were moving forward. Internet land grabs were a thing of the past. The dot.com had gone dot bust, layoffs were aplenty and people needed to find ways to support themselves.
Women are resourceful creatures and were figuring out how to make a place for themselves online. The internet was expanding in quadruple dog years, yet judgment was in the land, and those women, the women who were accepting money for their “online diaries,” were being accused of terrible, terrible things. These so-called money seekers were the sellouts (demon spawn — no, not really) who were bartering with their souls, or at least that was the word on the street. I remember the talk, “Well, if she is placing ads on her website, how can we really trust that she is writing for us or simply writing for the money?” That question was asked, discussed and debated yet those internet “money making” pioneers pushed forward. The year was 2005. It’s kind of funny if you think about it now. It was somehow ok for this dude from Utah to get a few million dollars for a domain name that probably took him twenty seconds to register, but it was not ok for women to support themselves? I don’t get it. I never really have.
As I recall the website advertising at the time consisted mainly of a top bar ad and maybe a few side bar ads. That’s it. Sponsorships, if there were any, were few and far between. It seemed more about getting a book deal. The closest I personally came to a sponsorship was writing a guest post for an online furniture store. What I did I get in return? A 35% discount for their high priced furniture; a discount I never used. I did not have to sell their product per se, I just needed to promote the idea of design on their website, not mine. I liked that there was no big push for me to direct people to their website or to encourage them directly to buy their product. It didn’t seem soulless. I felt like I was networking and building relationships with other types of blogs. The end.
At the time, I did not find it at all odd that bloggers were hoping to get paid for the words they were writing. If they had the traffic, why shouldn’t they get paid? I agreed and I saw these blogs as online magazines of sorts. I supported the argument that newspapers and magazines need advertisers to exist, why shouldn’t well read blogs be supported too? I was excited when I watched friends receive their first checks and didn’t mind when I was asked by my blogging friends to teach them about advertising and them set them up with our advertisers. It was easy for me. See, and like I mentioned above, Dave and I have worked in the internet really since the time you could work in the internet. In 1997 we started a website called, OSNews.com and since about 1998 we have been paid by advertisers month after month. Maybe it was because we were financially ok at the time, regardless, I never felt compelled to hustle up my own advertising. May I point out that I was awkward and comfortable being the wife of the super-hero-impressive-young-entrepreneur-hotshot in the family. I was also slightly insecure about my blog and when I heard of my other friends’ successes, I never wanted to step on their toes or take away from their opportunity. True story and if you don’t believe me, please read my last post on boundaries.
2006 came and my personal life made it hard for me to blog. I stepped away for a long while and eventually came back and was trying to blog again fulltime by 2011. And people, I will tell you what. I came back to a beast. No. I came back to a crazy new internet multi-faceted Monster. Women who had work offline nine – five jobs were now running the internet. These were business women who know who to come in, take over, bulldoze and make relationships. The simple ads of 2005 were long gone and all I heard about is, well, all I heard was a lot of stuff. When I came back I did what I thought I was supposed to do. I tried to network and I totally reached out. I am still grateful for those who reached back with their easy going acceptance. In attempts to let people know I was back, I also emailed the folks who had emailed me. That is what you do, right? Let me be more specific. When I really came back to blogging I sent out one announcement email that I copied and pasted to several hundred former readers and only those who had contacte me to let them know I was back. I assumed they would be grateful and I would say most were. I was also surprised at how some used my email and what they made it out to be. I should have been wiser. (No. I shouldn’t have been. I assume the best in others and if that is not the case then whatever…) I had been away long and while I was away, I did not read blogs. I needed to turtle and get my life on track. Instead daily, I read CNN.com, the NYtimes.com, People.com and played Peggle. Ask Dave.
Back on the web and totally overwhelmed I sought I did what my experience told me to do and I sought out professional advise from others who have made a business out of their online presence, (and received some unsolicited advise as well). I was curious and wanted to know what I needed to do so I could be current. After asking, here are some of the things I was admonished to do: I needed to hustle, go to blog conferences, social media meetings, seminars, read books and to not even think about talking to advertisers until I paid someone to redesign my out-of-date website. I needed to Tweet all day every day, but I needed to be careful not to post links to my blog. “People don’t like that.” I also need to follow people on Twitter, but not so many that I look like a “stalker.” (I totally suck at Twitter, by the way). I needed a Facebook fan page. I needed a lot of people to “like” my Facebook Page. If people didn’t like my Facebook fan page then having a fan page would mean nothing. I needed to Pinterest. I needed Instagram. I need to spend my day reading and commenting on other blogs. I needed to write just the right thing or I would completely lose my audience. I was told that I shouldn’t even think about money if I didn’t have at least 500 daily readers, and really with five hundred readers a day all I could receive was a gift for being part of a campaign. I heard the words authenticity, sell out and sentiments like, “no one blogs anymore so [insert New Jersey accent here] forget about it.” My expectations were low and I was grateful that people like Tammy, Quel, Andrea, Summer, Nino, Sara and Michelle found me or found me again.
What I didn’t bargain for was the extreme change in landscape. I should know better. Even back in the day I didn’t have the hustle and now I found myself sitting at a random lunch watching a really cool business relationship being stolen right out in front of me. Crazy crackers. Out of complete respect for those I knew before, I did listen, try, and then I realized that something somewhere was being lost in the translation. Somehow I was still thinking it was 2006 and when I mentioned advertising or tried to understand Sponsorship, I thought it meant a banner ad or a guest post. I stopped reaching out. I was not making sense and beginning to feel really insecure. Thank God for my gallbladder. What an awesome and complete distraction. I could only deal with my non eating, sick insides and my family. And as soon as my gallbladder felt a little better, I accidentally got pregnant. Yay? Then I stepped back again (because I am such a slow learner) and thought about all of it. During morning sickness and shock, I took time to process, to see and to remind myself what my purpose is online, not your purpose, mine.
I, Beth Adams, have written since I could write. I have boxes full of hand written journals and diaries. The classes I focused on in high school and college were writing classes. Writing has those subjective aspects. Some folks will love you. Some will hate you. Before I publish my post, every post since the beginning of my blogging has always been well edited (by my super-hero-grammarian-editing-aficionado, Dave).
That was my goal: well-articulated and well edited posts and sometimes it all came together like a song.
Now that my boys are older and another child does not seem to be in my cards, I would love to make money doing the thing I love to do. I really would. When I add up the numbers, however, I see that I could probably make more money working at the Gap and no, they did not pay me to say this. The market is tight. People are aggressive, fierce and many seem to be sponsored for everything. I know and totally understand how cool it is to get free Playstations and vacations. I know that getting a sponsorship has a certain prestige and I even get the woman who offered that I should buy my own stuff and give it away on my website. “It’s the only way you are going to get people to come back.” Hey and seriously with all the travel we do, if I every get a travel sponsor, I will happily accept and I will also let you know.
Coming from someone who has received advertising for a technology website month after month since 1998, I do not know if I buy it. If the only reason you click on my website is so you can win something, if the only thing I can write about is Cheerios or Smart Water, then what is the point? I started blogging to plan my wedding. I continued because I was traveling the United States with my young and small family. I was able to blog day after for two simple reasons. I am a stay-at-home mom and I love to write. I love to tell my story and I love that people actually seem interested in what I have to say. Maybe I am lazy or maybe I just feel like my writing will become way to filtered pursuing an extra freebie or $50. here or there. I really respect that people have to do what they have to do to make a living or be number one or do whatever fills their world. For me, it’s writing. It’s the process of working through an issue via my written word. I love that people have been there for both of my really heartbreaking miscarriages. I am blessed that other Stevens-Johnsons Syndrome sufferers found us because I wrote about Kyle. I love that people walk up to me and say, “is it weird that I know more about you than you know about me?” The answer, “No, it is not weird. I like it.” I am grateful for all of those who have hustled and blazed a trail for all the others to move ahead. Instead of knocking each other down, I love the idea of owning our spot and respecting each other for who we are. Isn’t it cool that women have been so successful on the World Wide Web?
Here is where it is at: I have been on the internet in one form or another for a very long time. I am an outlier. I always have been. I want to be myself and not the person I have been told I should be. My website is what it is. I will redesign it when I can or when I figure it out. Dave even sent me an offer to get a really cool Word Press template this morning. I am always happy to link to anyone yet I need help setting up a proper links page. I know. I am so 2005. Do people even link anymore? I will not have advertising on my website because I am not good at the hustle or better, because I do not want to clutter my words. Sponsorships seem super cool awesometastic (Kyle’s word), but I feel like the market is super saturated and to get a sponsorship of my own may not be worth the price I will have to pay.
If, by some small miracle and because of this blog, I ever get a job offer or a book deal (who doesn’t want a book deal?) or get off my lazy butt and self-publish (thank you Gayla!), I will jump up and down with glee and then I will let you know. Until then, thank you so much for reading, commenting and for standing by my side.
Disclaimer/Just-in-case: If you did not pick up on this earlier, please know this post comes from a happy place, not a sad, feeling stiffed or feeling-left-out place. I am big gril who feels blessed and grateful. I am more of an if-I-can’t-join-them-because-I-am-a-little-weird-and-perhaps-a-little-oppositional-I-will-appreciate-all-of-us-and-will-find-another-way sort of gal.
P.S. If you ever read about how much I love every little morsel of my Kellogg’s Cocoa Krispies or how I could live at the Hilton Los Cabos forever or my great respect for OPI Nail polish’s tried and true color,Lincoln-Park-After-Dark, please know that I am not being paid to market or advertise a product here. I am sharing because I want to. If I ever get paid for anything on this website, as I promised, I will let you know!