Ruminating

SOME THOUGHTS ON THE ECONOMICS OF BLOGGING

I‘ve been thinking a lot in the past year about blogging, about making money, about the value of our time, research and knowledge, and I wanted to talk to you about it. I’m not the only one. I’ve read a few posts lately about affiliate links and blog advertising in the sewing community (most recently on OonaBalloona) so I figured I’d chime in with my take on the issue.

I’ve been a blog reader for much longer than I’ve been a blog writer. My RSS feed groans with subscriptions to hundreds and hundreds of blogs; food, fashion, sewing, design, music. I am incredibly grateful for access to all this amazing content. I used to be a huge magazine junkie but I only rarely pick up a copy of Vanity Fair these days because I essentially tailor a new magazine for myself each morning. After working on Closet Case Files for four years and understanding just how much time and energy goes into writing it, and after years of watching the blog world wobble on its little colt legs towards financial “adulthood”, I have grown incredibly comfortable and accustomed to the monetization of the industry.

Last year I left a stable, well-paid career for an unknown future, and I knew that if I didn’t want my hair to start falling out due to financial stress, I needed to diversify my income. I did a lot of research about how people make money blogging. I took the Beautiful Mess blogging course, I started listening to the Design*Sponge podcast, I read Blog, Inc. I began to pay close attention to how the blogs I loved were using links, ads and sponsored posts. I made note of what worked and what got on my nerves. And with all that information, I drafted a plan for how I could make a little side income from Closet Case File in an organic, natural way that I hoped wouldn’t alienate or annoy the readers who were here long before I made sewing my career.

It’s a really tricky balance, one I struggle with and think about daily. Making money from my blog still feels weird. Part of that weirdness stems from the fact that the vast majority of sewing blogs I follow don’t monetize. We are one of the last “pure” bastions of the web; we’re not blogging because we want to be famous or get free stuff or get sent on fancy trips. We do it because we love sewing, and we love talking about sewing. And when money enters into that love affair, it can feel compromising. It can feel like selling out.

But here’s the thing, at least for me: what we do, how we think, and who we are, has value. The internet is a marketplace no matter which way you look at it. We are selling ideas, images, opinions and thoughts every time we post. And if we can figure out ways to generate actual income from all that willing, happy labour, I don’t think it’s selling out. It’s selling smart. It’s giving our time and knowledge worth, and it’s valuing our contribution to the world.

So here’s what all of this means for me. Because I’ve figured out a way to make a little money from this blog every month, I am incentivized to write more often. And I love writing this blog. It’s my favourite thing to do in the whole world besides actually sewing, and distracts me from my “real work” more often than I’d like to admit (the business plan I desperately need to be working on is giving me SERIOUS stink eye right now). I am more motivated to write helpful tutorials, more encouraged to finish up projects so I can post them, more inspired to follow through on new ideas, more likely to invest money making my blog as pretty and well designed as possible. All because I know that my time, to some small degree, is being compensated. Granted, my hourly blog wage is akin to George Michael at the banana stand, but the fact that this banana stand makes a few bucks every day makes me want to keep manning the stand, ya dig?

So how am I making money? I belong to a few affiliate programs. I occasionally (not in every post) link to products I think are awesome. This could be scissors, fabric, books, snacks, whatever. If I like something and think you might like it, and it’s relevant to whatever I’m talking about, I’ll link to it. Not all my links are affiliates; I’d say its about half and half. I don’t need to make money from something to help promote it. Basically, if you click on an affiliate link and buy whatever it is, I make a small percentage from that sale, generally under 5%. To some degree, it’s providing a service. The internet is filled with “stuff”, and it’s always nice to have someone you trust suggest the stuff you might actually need. I cannot even tell you how many things I have happily purchased because someone with good taste recommended it. This is how I discovered Hasbeens, most of my make-up and skin-care products, almost every sewing tool I’ve ever used, my music library, and a few boyfriends (well, not the purchasing part).

I have sidebar and masthead ads now. Some are paid ads through Passionfruit, others are affiliate banners for companies I like. I try to keep it sewing/DIY related, but I might make exceptions for companies like Warby Parker who make my favorite eyeglasses on the planet. If you have a craft/DIY/sewing business and want to advertise over here, we should talk.

What I’m not doing: I’m not generating filler just to post. I write because I want to, and have more time and resources to do so then I did before. I don’t do invasive ads. I don’t do commercials with sound (the. worst). I won’t spam your social media feeds with paid content. I’ve never done a sponsored post. That may change if I start getting approached by awesome companies with things I think you’d like and there is a way to write about it in an engaging or interesting way, but that has not happened yet (most of the people emailing me for sponsored content want it done for free or else it’s so outside my range of interests it would be insulting to you if I accepted). I’m also not making money hand over fist. On average, Closet Case Files generates about $200-300 a month through advertising and affiliate links. That does take a little pressure off me financially, but it isn’t paying for trips to Rio. It might pay for a trip to the dentist. More often then not, it goes directly back into the blog.

In terms of disclosure, I have a policy in my sidebar and a much longer one you can read here. I feel like a general statement about my affiliate link policy is sufficient rather than including it in every individual post, but maybe you disagree. To be honest, I haven’t talked about this until now because it’s strangely taboo to be open about money in our culture. We’re not trading groceries in exchange for backrubs, after all, but we still have trouble discussing the basic reality of how we negotiate being a human who needs to spend money in order to survive (which is why I loved loved Sanae Ishida’s posts on her financial past). I also really want to stop feeling guilty for making money off a space I work really hard on, and I think the first step is to actually talk about it. Transparency is important to me.

So.

That’s what’s doing around here. I just want to be clear and open with you, and explain some of the changes I’ve made around the blog this year. If any of this is interesting to you let me know, and I can write some follow up posts on what I’ve learned about blog advertising. It can be complicated and makes you ask yourself a lot of hard questions, but it also feels good to work hard at something and get a little reward. There’s (sometimes) money in the banana stand.

Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!!!  ♥ ♥ ♥