It's three weeks now since the Nuffnang Blogopolis conference, which I attended and really enjoyed. I took away a lot of food for thought from the day, and I've been slowly masticating it in the back of my mind ever since, mulling over ideas, information and challenges presented by the day.
As I stated at the time, I found the technical information interesting and in some cases useful (I'm loving Smush.it, for example, and have started tracking stats, and am finding that interesting). However, the greatest benefit for me was in the reflection that the day prompted about the purpose, voice, and direction of my blog, and blogging generally. Several of the speakers started trains of thought in my mind that took some time to arrive at the station, but things have coalesced now.
My thoughts (and the conclusions I drew from them) ended up being gathered under four main heads - Monetization, Purpose, Ethics, and Voice. Because each is a whopper in and of itself, I've divided them into four separate posts. First up is Monetization.
One thing that struck me even at the time, and more in retrospect, as a bias / theme / focus of Blogopolis was the assumption, in some cases stated, in others implied, that most, if not all, people were aiming to directly monetize their blogs in some way. Perhaps this was predictable given that Nuffnang is an advertising network, and in reality it's probably true that a preponderance of bloggers are at least not averse to earning a little money from their blog (and many do want to develop it as a part- or full-time job).
This seems to me to be very far indeed from the whole story when it comes to blogging and money, though, and it flattened out, for me, what is actually a very rich, multifaceted picture. I know bloggers who actively reject any form of monetisation on their blogs, for many reasons. I know bloggers who accept some kinds of remunerative opportunities but not others, on criteria of their own (sometimes spelled out, sometimes not). I know bloggers who actively shill for advertising and sponsorship, up to and including tailoring their content to meet sponsors' requirements. I know bloggers who are open about running effectively online advertisement sites, with as much personal connection as a copywriter in an ad agency has to their finished product (ie. some, but not overwhelming).
I need to be clear here - I'm not suggesting that any of these approaches to money and blogs are wrong. I read and enjoy blogs in all of the above streams and several fine permutations thereon. So long as the writer is ethical in disclosing their commercial relationships, which appears to be pretty standard on most blogs these days, I cannot see that the very fact of monetization is problematic, any more than earning royalty income as a writer is wrong, or being paid to create advertising copy is wrong. If blogging is one's chosen profession and one is skilful and consistent enough to attract and hold an audience, then that is all to the good. And after all, why should a good blogger who devotes considerable effort to their work not be compensated for it, if that is the path they choose to pursue? Very few people are independently wealthy enough to devote masses of time that could otherwise have been used in paid work in providing quality content to an unremunerative hobby.
I think there is another case to be made here for the un-monetized blog. If a blogger does not wish to monetize their blog, even if their blog is popular enough to support it, does that in itself render their blog less "serious", less ready for "the next level" (as several speakers said)? I don't think for a minute that it does.
Bloggers can choose not to monetize because they are blogging for a cause or purpose which would be incongruent with accepting ads or sponsorship. They can choose not to monetize because they have consciously decided to blog raw, as therapy or self-expression, in a way that's too uncomfortable for advertisers to buy in. They can choose not to monetize because, for them, blogging is a passionate hobby, a personal or family record, a way of creating and sustaining community, a practice ground for a larger writing goal; any of these goals can make monetization a poor fit, or even impossible, for that blog.
What I want to say is that it is really OK to not want to monetize your blog, to make that choice with open eyes, or to choose some kinds of opportunities but reject others because they are inconsistent with why you blog. There was lots of talk at Blogopolis about voice and purpose and how important it was to be present in your blog (good discussions, and I enjoyed them all), but all of it was slanted towards how being authentic and having a sense of purpose etc was important because it built readership, which was, in turn, desirable because it built monetization opportunities. And this is all true, and it is a special feature of blogging that the personal, rather than being political, is the magnet that draws and holds. All this I agree with. But there are reasons to want to write in public, to want to attract and hold an audience, that are non-financial, and that does not make them less real or serious or important.
So let me say it explicitly here: I do not want to directly monetize this blog. I write here because I like to write, I like to log my family's development, I love to write about books in particular, and I like being part of a community of bloggers, I really value that connection. I do not want to have to blog in particular way or on a particular schedule. I do not want to see my blog as a potential income source, because for me, then I will start to treat it differently, treat it and think of it the way I thought about my paid work (which was also writing-based, although in a very different space). For me, to do that would spoil blogging; it would take this shining bijoux thing that I do for me, and make it just another thing to grind away at, with plans and schedules and forecasts and so on.
Thus, I've decided that I'll continue to accept DVDs and books for review / giveaways with great pleasure, as that fits very well with the purpose of my blog as it is evolving (see next post). I am not open to any form of brand partnership, sponsored posts or direct advertising. I'm leaving Nuffnang's box up for now, but am contemplating withdrawing from it also shortly. (Not because I don't like Nuffnang - I do, I think they're terrific - but I feel that I ought to walk the talk as much as I can).
In the next post, I'll talk about Purpose, which was one of the more profound areas of reflection that Blogopolis triggered for me.
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