What’s with the shopping cart? Or: Art vs. commerce.

I started this site for two reasons. The primary reason: I needed a place where I could write what I needed to write regardless of whether I could make money doing it.

The secondary reason: To make money doing it.

Like so many others, I’m looking for the infamous “alternative income stream.” A former editor pointed out that it’s risky for a freelancer to rely on just one paycheck source. He’s right. After all, I am supporting myself, paying for my own health insurance and building my own retirement.  If my day job went away, I’d be so out of luck.

Plenty of people blog for free, for the sheer joy of words. Let me tell you something: Joy doesn’t pay the bills.

Two months after my first post I finally did put Google Adsense on the site, but frankly it doesn’t pay much. (I’ve heard that’s fairly standard for smaller sites.) I’ve also applied to run BlogHer ads; due to the waiting list, this process can take as long as human gestation.

Recently I found out about two other advertising possibilities, InTopic Media and Open Sky. I’m trying them both.

Here’s how it works

InTopic searches for keywords and company names in blog posts. You’ll know it’s an InTopic link because it will have a double underline, vs. the single-underline links that I put in myself. If you mouse over the link, a banner ad appears. Click and you go to that advertiser’s landing page; move away and the ad disappears.

Open Sky is a site combines social media and e-commerce, matching sellers (bloggers) with suppliers (producers of everything from cupcakes to organic beauty products). If I write about a product and someone buys it from my site, I get a percentage of the profit; the supplier gets his/her stated price first.

As an old print newshound, I have a horror of the blurring of the editorial and advertising departments. Yet I also need to learn to do things the way they’re done now – in a way that I can live with.

Selling – not selling out

Here’s what I promise:

  • I will not write about a product I have not tried and found to be swell.
  • I will not write about products that are incredibly expensive.
  • I will not lard my posts with popular keywords and name brands just to get more ads.

That last one may sound silly. But while researching an article about making money (legitimately) on the Internet, I learned about a job ad for a blog content writer. It included this sentence: “Ideally content should make sense, but not essential” (emphasis added). Whoever was doing the hiring wanted somebody who could string keywords into copy blocks to improve search engine optimization.

I won’t do that. Anyone who has read me since I started a few months ago should know that I don’t think of blog content as, well, content. This is work that I believe in, work that I hope will instruct or inspire. It has to be done well, because it has my name on it.

Some days it may also make milk come out of your nose. But that’s not essential, either.

All right, folks, what are your thoughts? Let’s hear ’em.

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  1. I say do what you need to do, Donna. If you continue to write blogs that are enjoyable to read then I’ll stick around. If I felt like every blog was a sales pitch with no other point to it…maybe not. (I can’t imagine you would do that). I support your efforts to make your blog pay. As long as you keep it as informative, interesting and fun to read as it is now, I will be reading!

  2. Donna Freedman

    @Deedee: Heavens, no! I will only do the Open Sky posts when I actually find a product to write about, i.e., one that I’ve checked out myself.
    Some people start blogs solely to pitch products. That’s not me. If all I did was sell stuff, how could I write about Dr. Demento or being in a shotgun tournament with Sarah Palin?
    Thanks for reading. I’ll work hard to give you something worth perusing.

  3. If you promise to make product pitches funny, I don’t care WHAT you’re pushing (well, so long as it’s legal and at least quasi-moral). :)

    • Donna Freedman

      @Nicole: Whaaaat? It has to be legal AND quasi-moral? I’m sorry. I can satisfy only one qualm per customer.

  4. lostAnnfound

    I agree with Dee Dee: you write good stuff I like to read, but if it gets to the point where it’s more like TV (more commercials than content), then it’s time to move on (but I hope that will not happen; I’ve been reading your articles for the past couple of years, starting on MSN Money).

    There are four InTopic ads (underlined words) in this article and three out of the four link to sites that pertain to the word, but the fourth one, “retirement”, links to a web site promoting prostate health. I’m still trying to see how the two tie in together :)

    • Donna Freedman

      @lostAnnfound: Hmmm…..retirement = aging = prostate difficulties, I guess.
      I just went in and changed the maximum number of underlines to five per post. It had been set at 11! Yowza.
      Again: I plan to write Open Sky posts as I receive/test products. I have ordered several (all organic) to try. If I don’t like them, I won’t write about them. Never more than once a week, I think, and probably less than that.
      Thanks for the input, everyone.

  5. I really enjoy your fearless writing. Multiple streams of income are absolutely necessary for the self-employed. Go for it. I don’t think you are going to compromise yourself–not your style as far as I can tell.

  6. I had to click through from my RSS feed to see the lines, so they don’t bother me a bit 😉 (Actually, they don’t bother me anyway.)

  7. I always like your blog and enjoy the content. You have been such an inspiration for me. I’ll keep reading as long as you still have a sense of humor!! Thank you for stopping by my blog :) I’ll try not to be such a lurker.

  8. I don’t like all the blurring of ad and editorial contenet on the ‘net. Drives me crazy in fact, but it comes from having a newspaper dude in the house. I’ll be the one ignoring the double underlines!
    I quit reading blogs that have pop-ups and so many ads that I can’t find the content. You do what you need to do, and we’ll do what we need to….that’s what I love about free speech, and the freedom to take my mouse wherever I want. Thanks for the disclosure, by the way.

  9. I enjoy your blog and the topics you write about. Regarding ads, I don’t know how the process works, but as long as they don’t dominate the site, they won’t bother me. I switched from Yahoo mail to GMail because I could no longer tolerate all the ads in Yahoo. Due to concerns about computer safety, I rarely click on any ad regardless which site it’s on. When I do a Google search, I am very careful about which links I follow. The internet is a wonderful tool, but like anything, if it’s used in the wrong way, innocent people get hurt. I wish you every success.

  10. I will say the intopic links bug me. I hate having to make sure my mouse is not anywhwere near one as I scroll through a page. So as long as I don’t have to keep moving the mouse like a game of pong, I will be ok with them. Otherwise advertise away, I think most folks can tell ads from editorial content these days. . .

  11. Underline it in purple, highlight it in yellow, I don’t care…I enjoy your writing style and that’s why I’m here.

  12. Donna Freedman

    @Karla: Shucks. Thanks.

  13. I read your articles long before the blog started. Your integrity impresses me, so I trust you will not bombard us with ads and don’t need to express my opinion on that aspect of your past or future posts. When did you write to article about surviving on minimum wage? That was one of the first of your posts I read and remembered the title.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Practical Parsimony: I wasn’t surviving on minimum wage per se. The article was called “Surviving (and thriving) on $12,000 a year.” It was published in January 2007.
      And no, I will not bombard you with ads…This is not a shopping site.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  14. Pretty much my thoughts, too. Occasionally at FaM I’ll write about a product and link it to Amazon Associates, but only if I’ve used the product myself. AA, btw, earns even less than AdSense.

    The big problem with AdSense, IMHO, is the total lack of anything even vaguely like customer service. Google is holding on to about $540 that came in when my site had a huge traffic spike last spring. It continues to disburse the regular piddly monthly earnings, but that $500+ just sits there. With no one to ask about it, I guess I just have to write that money off.

    It annoys me so much that I’m seriously thinking of getting rid of AdSense. Despite its allegedly glorious Alexa ranking that puts it among the top 60 or 70 PF sites, the site doesn’t earn enough to justify the extra aggravation AdSense entails.

    For a while it was making its goal — $200 a month — but for the past three months it’s dropped below that. Next year, if I can line up enough adjunct courses to guarantee enough cash comes in to make ends meet, I probably will drop AdSense.

    As a reader, I deeply dislike text links that pop up infuriating ads. They block the view of what I’m reading, distract from the writer’s narrative, and spoil the reading experience. It’s hard to avoid accidentally mouse-overing the damn things. Consequently, I tend to stop reading a post where that happens and eventually to abandon sites use them. Since I don’t do things to my readers that I don’t like having done to me, I’ve never put text-link pop-ups on my site.

    There are several other advertising networks, none of whose names come to me offhand. But google Advertising + Problogger and some good discussions will come up.


  1. Carnival of Personal Finance #273 – Labor Day Edition - [...] Freedman from Surviving and Thriving presents What’s with the shopping cart? Or: Art vs. commerce., and says, “Plenty of …

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