sell out

July 19, 2011 |  Category:   life rambling the biz

“Selling out” is kind of an annoying, throw away phrase, isn’t it? Like a visceral reaction to anything that goes mainstream or involves capitalism. But I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I think when we were kids, when we were out there regularly protesting the Persian Gulf War or protesting gentrification, or animal cruelty or pretty much anything else that we could protest, we swore that we would never compromise our beliefs. We tried to live outside the mainstream as much as we could within an urban environment, be politically and socially active, and temporarily drop out of society altogether during the summer months to camp out in the woods. So when did things change? I’m not in touch with the old gang from the East Village anymore. I don’t know what’s become of everyone, but there are ways you can find snippets of information if you were really curious, and I’ve been a bit surprised to learn that some of my old friends aren’t living their lives that differently from the ideals and lifestyles that we harbored when we were teenagers and in our early 20s. Why does this surprise me? Because I don’t? Would my 19 year old self shake my head at my 41 year old self because I have a mortgage? Because I’ve worked for ad agencies hawking products that I didn’t necessarily believe in? Because I’m not a vegan anymore and I wear leather? There isn’t anything wrong with any of this, of course. Some may call it “growing up”, but it does make me confront the fact that maybe those college years for me were more about experimentation and going through some sort of phase and less about making a decision to live life according to any radical beliefs. I have to admire some of my old friends for keeping true to themselves all these years, not that I feel like I’m not, but it’s like that often quoted Talking Heads song, “You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?”

It’s not to say that I did a complete 180 once I became an adult. I think I’ve done my best to generally avoid a corporate life and seek out projects with non profits and arts and culture clients, brief stints in ad agencies aside. But the truth is, I like buying stuff. I like wearing leather shoes (I mean I really, really like shoes). I like making money. And ok, let’s be honest, I can never camp in the woods like that ever again. Maybe for a few days, tops, but weeks would just bore me to tears.

What does this have to do with anything, you may ask? I’ve been asked why I’m so opposed to selling ads on the blog and while my strong knee-jerk reaction is “no way”, I’ve had to stop and really think about why. I guess my first thought is that advertising is literally everywhere and it’s hard to escape in the real world and online. Website, apps and blogs are resembling billboards and it gives me a headache. This is one space on the internet – my space – that I can control and keep free of advertising. This is also why if you email me to mention a product, talk about your business, donate a product for your blog giveaway, do a giveaway on my blog or write a sponsored post, I will turn you down (unless for charity in a few instances). I may occasionally write about small businesses of my friends that I want to support, but if I don’t know you then it doesn’t feel genuine to me. I want to be clear that I don’t think there is anything wrong with making money off of advertising on your blog if you have the readership to make it worthwhile, but it’s not something that feels right for me. As full disclosure, I did run a product and design blog in the mid 2000s that did make money off of ads as some of you may know, but it seemed appropriate in context there and was part of a larger network. I didn’t fully own that blog.

This decision isn’t without the occasional internal struggle, I won’t lie. My stance has been clear: no ads. But as the blog gains more readers I’m faced with a financial quandary from time to time. I will disclose that the monthly bill to host this blog on a server isn’t insignificant. It’s a real bill. As the blog attracts more readers and puts stress on the servers and I get notices from my hosting account that I’ve exceeded my bandwidth limit for yet another month and additional charges will get billed, I face the decision to upgrade servers for the 4th time which would also increase hosting costs. You might argue that the blog should be seen as a promotional vehicle for our business therefore costs should be folded into our expenses, and it is, but you and I know that this isn’t what the blog is about and I actually can’t measure how many sales are driven from blog traffic. My guess is that it’s only a few. So can I afford to keep this blog? For now, yes. In the future? I don’t know.

So I wonder sometimes, why am I so stubborn about the issue? Even though internet advertising isn’t what it used to be 5 years ago, I have a general idea of how much I could make if I sold ads on this blog. It could help pay for our health insurance. It could buy me some free time so I can focus on W&S projects that I never seem to have time for. After all, I spend so much time here. Sometimes it takes me 6 hours and lost sleep to write a single post. What is that worth?

I don’t know what the answer is, my friends. Some of you have expressed that you would be disappointed if I started selling ads. I wouldn’t worry as I still don’t think I could do it and I’d feel I was being hypocritical on something I feel pretty strongly about. I always believed if I had the ability to earn money by other means, I wouldn’t earn money through the blog. But sometimes I do wonder if I’m being stupid by turning stuff down, including a recent decision to turn down a crazy opportunity that would perhaps be a real shot at my 15 minutes of fame because it didn’t align with my beliefs.

Stupid integrity.

The girls had their first lemonade stand of the season this weekend. They made 10 dollars.

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  • Juliet July 23, 2011 at 10:43 am

    @Jenna Thank you, That means so much to me. Your reflections on life remind me why I love and married an artist and put into sharp relief, my soul-crushing ways.

    @Linda Have you read Jenna’s entry “Superman”? Like that. I couldn’t ask for a better dad for our kids. He’s not that great at multi-tasking (i.e. efficiency is not his strong point and neither is managing finances for that matter), and yes, from time to time I worry about not being there to impart my left-brained ways on the kids. But I know that he has more patience than I could ever muster for the marathon of raising our shorties and I can depend on him to care for them day in and day out. Growing up my friends’ parents had a similar arrangement. The mom worked crazy hours (leaving the house at 5 am every day to commute to NYC) and the dad was an artist and community activist who tended their homestead, raised chickens and goats etc, made homemade pasta etc. I thought they had the best of both worlds. I remember being at their house before I was married and telling the mom how I would like to be like her. She said, You miss out on a lot. I didn’t realize until I became the breadwinner myself, how much you really give up when you work the hours I do to support the family. It has been hard on my marriage. And sometimes I feel like I alone deal with the stress of having put all our financial eggs into basket because I’m always the one carrying that basket. It’s not that my husband doesn’t care about our financial future, it’s just that he’s never had a career like mine and doesn’t understand the stress and competition I face every day. His jobs have always been “trade jobs”, the 8-hour shift type jobs where after you clock out you don’t have to think about work any more (until you get laid off, as he did on 9/11). My job requires me to drop everything at any time to attend to its demands (miss family vacations, reunions). His layoff is really what precipitated the choice for him to be the full-time caretaker of the kids. But he’s without a doubt the better parent and just awesome with the kids; I think the fact that he’s an artist has a lot to do with it. He is not a type-A personality (thank god) and is able meet the kids on their own terms and at their pace. Not every dad is made for this role. I remember when our daughter was in a Waldorf preschool program, many years ago, there was a dad there, who became the stay-at-home dad by default – also a layoff. He was very unhappy, angry even, you could tell many moments with the kids tested his patience. You don’t know until you are taking care of kids, whether you have the patience for it. I would say patience is critical for being a full-time parent. A great blog for full-time dads is: I particularly love the entries of “Chicago Pop”. His trials and tribulations are hilarious. Every good wish to you and your boyfriend no matter what the future holds.

  • Cynthea July 23, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    I admire your blog for not having ads. I stopped reading some blogs I used to like (cup of jo, for example) because it just seemed that the ads and promos had taken over the content. It is pretty transparent to readers when something is a plug and when it comes from genuine passion. Anyway, it’s your blog, it’s lovely, and I’m sure you’ll figure out a way to manage!

  • Marisa and Creative Thursday July 23, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    it’s so nice to know we can change our minds. life’s an evolution after all. and changing your mind does not mean you’re compromising your integrity.

  • Anna July 23, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    I think you’re awesome. It is nice to not see ads of DIY cutiez cluttering up your page. But whatever you do, I’ll like it, I’m sure.

  • Alicia July 24, 2011 at 11:02 am

    You know what I think would be cool is if you accepted advertising from companies that you felt comfortable supporting and then created the ad yourself to display on the blog. I know that would add time that you’re spending on this, but I’d enjoy seeing ads that were at least a little bit endorsed by you and were integrated into the look of the blog. I hate ads because they look out of place, they look like the blog owner doesn’t really care about the ad at all except to make money off it, and some ads are really ugly. I dunno, just my suggestion!

  • A of Little Alexander July 24, 2011 at 11:07 am

    It is so much harder to be in the middle than at the extremes. I think you have to make fewer tough choices if you live out in the woods and say no to everything corporate or commercial or consumerist. Or if you don’t think about this ‘integrity’ thing at all, and do what makes money whenever and wherever you can. For the rest of us, every new (or renewed) situation becomes another decision of where to draw lines.

    Here’s to the struggle. It is what makes us who we are.

  • kimia kline July 25, 2011 at 4:18 am

    …or you could add a donate button.

  • Coco July 27, 2011 at 5:49 am

    I love reading your blog and find great inspiration within it’s newly discovered pages. The way you write and photograph so intimately is a rare gift. I respect your decision not to have advertising on the site, but I would support your decision if you ever changed your mind, as it would be heart breaking to lose this beautiful blog.

  • Erin August 2, 2011 at 12:56 am

    I also like the idea of a “donate button,” as a way for readers to pay for the wonderful content you provide. Maybe you could try it as a last resort if you are still feeling icky about putting up ads? It could be kind of like anonymous sponsorship, in that there would be no sidebar or banner ads. I would certainly be willing to chip in to help defray the costs of your fantastic blog.

    I guess in the meantime I will just go buy more of your cookies. Cookie based sponsorship! 🙂

  • Valerie August 11, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    good jobs, girls 🙂

    i love integrity. i really do.
    however don’t go starving either ! i have no idea how much it may cost to maintain a blog like this, i blog @ a free hoster, but ads don’t put me off reading. sponsored posts in disguise or not do.
    maybe one of the thing i like the most about what shows here is that you’re a free spirit. and i doubt anything will ever change this.

  • Judith September 4, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    Dear Jenna,
    I’ve been a follower for the past few years. The amount of inspiration you give is priceless. Thank you so much for your honesty and insight. It is so refreshing to hear a good honest opinion these days. I send my best and much success to you and your family!!!

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