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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
anon 1:21 says
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.
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.
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.
When you have thousands of readers, you get power and influence as payment.
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.
I love the rhetorical question t-shirt! does this make me a participant in an affiliate programm?
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 says
I'm interested in the cafe press thing. I might check that out.
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.
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?
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.
Mira and Tara Maya—I do agree with you.
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..**
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 says
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 says
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 says
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.
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.
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 says
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.
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.
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 says
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 says
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 says
I want the t-shirt, and I want to wear it on the day I teach about speech introductions!
McKenzie McCann says
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 says
Most tech sites, including the one I work at, don't sell the products they review.
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.
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. says
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 says
You write books for children? maybe you should go into the priest-hood. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy, transition. Stop defending yourself! Please.
Sally Hepworth says
Interesting. As always
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 says
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…
What is the point of ads if everyone is ignoring them anyway?
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 says
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 says
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.
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 says
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?
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.
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.
Daughters of Avalon Publishing
Cab Sav says
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 says
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.
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 says
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.