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