Internet and even cable TV/phone have been dicey all day here in Central Texas. I’m sure it’s the cold, but it’s not that cold. So I haven’t been able to thank you all for the great response to this post begging for money, some of which came with gems of humor thrown in: after reading how tough the last few months have been for me, one person wrote “I’m NOT going to pray for you … instead I’m giving you something that will actually help!” and they enclosed a nice paypal donation. I laughed pretty hard and my shame for having to hold my hat out vanished with that short sentenced reminding me of what we’re all about.
In addition, a motherboard and processor has arrived from readed “M,” it’s one hell of a start to a nice system. Well, it’s a dreary day, they say money can’t buy love, but I sure feel gabby with you folks, and so I thought it might be a refreshing change from most blog posts these days to talk a little bit inside baseball on how bloggers and websites are making money, outside of ad revenues and blegging. IOW, the new stuff, some of it on the up and up, some of it a little invasive in my view, some of it going on when you have no idea and no say about it — even though it’s learning ALL about you.
In the old days on a contract, traffic-based gig, I got paid between 0.25 and 0.75 cents per page view, as determined by whose ever software counted the hits, usually meaning unique IP hits a day sans bots. Today, it’s more like a few pennies per one thousand page views; a thousand legit, unique IP non-bot views is called an “impression” in the lingo. That means that even people who have worked hard for years and built up a strong, loyal base of regs, like PZ Myers or Ed Brayton here on FTB, don’t get paid anywhere near the same magnitude of what a local newscaster or regional cable panel show host would get if they had the same number of people watching.
But blogs can make money other ways, too. For example for some publishers and manufacturers, there are codes we can embed in a post reviewing a book or CD, and people reading our reviews who end up clicking our link and ordering the item generate a small commission for us. I don’t see anything unethical in that, it doesn’t cost the buyer any extra, and it’s very, very tiny, readers would have to order hundreds of copies before we’d even notice it, and it amounts to the same if the review is positive or negative. As best I know we’ve never done that here at FTB, but mostly because it’s so small it hardly seems worth learning how to do.
Sites can offer an ad free option where readers pay a small amount and don’t see adds, and some sites have a free section and a premium section, where readers who pay a small subscription fee get benefits free readers don’t get. Talking Points Memo has that now, but it isn’t just limited to blogs, Amazon has a similar deal and they’ve been pushing it a lot lately. If we could offer an ad free deal and thought readers cared enough to do it, we probably would. But honestly, I hardly even notice the ads. And there are no plans on FTB I know of to even discuss much less implement, some sort of extra subscription FTB “Prime” section right now.
Most websites are interactive to some degree and often require creating a screen name, mainly to keep spam and assholes and the like from trolling comments in the case of blogs or reviews in the case of Angie’s List, that kind of thing. For years now, when a site has a big database of names and emails, it’s become common to get solicitired for that commodity, other people have been willing to pay for it since before the millennia. Again the amounts are small, a few dollars per impression, but for big sites it can add up and there are all kinds of packages, you can rent the list for a fixed time, offer exclusives where only that vender gets it for that specified period, or even where the origin website shares in any revenue generated. I don’t think WordPress does it as part of their TOS for any sites on their platform, and to the best of my knowledge not only is it something FTB does not do, we have no plans of ever doing it. I’ve never even heard a single FTB blogger so much as put it up discussion.
Another way sites/communities make a little side dough is by creating lists for newsletters and alerts. That is, directly sending you emails to the address you create if you sign up. This has some benefits and some drawbacks. On the benefits side, there can be a voluntary sign up where the reader can select if you want to be included, often with categories that you care most about. So if you’re especially interested in atheist issues in Australia, or wingnut politics in Mississippi, you can select that option provided it’s listed in the selection menu.
With enough people, such a list can turn a community of individuals (Or damn interesting characters in our case) into a more coherent, unified force that can put more effective pressure on politicians on certain issues, or police officers where something awful was captured on video, collect more efficiently for natural disasters as a group, keep people informed, that kind of thing. MoveOn.org and Daily Kos are great examples. On the downside, this shit is annoying and way out of control. I get a ton of these already, most of which I can’t remember signing up for. And at least half of them are pleas for money, “Steve we’re only $2000 dollars away from …”
I’ve gone back and forth on this as FTB. Maybe next year, in the summer before the midterms here in the states, I’ll set up a pilot Constant Contact list and, if possible, have “Do Not Ask Me For Money Ever” as one of the menu options plus promise that on the pilot there will be no fundraising requests. Advice on political action, templates for letters to the editor, special elections and ballot measures, that kind of things. This works really well for the scare-tactic motivated Teaparty crowd. Grifters like Newt Gingrich or Mike Huckabee are infamous for sending out pleas for money every damn day, ostensibly to stop some liberal scheme, that they have zero influence or control over, it’s just a hook to frame a pitch for cash. When Moveon or my colleagues at Daily Kos send a mass mailer that incluces a donation link, there are almost always specific bullet points or a justification about how that money will be spent, and it’s sure as hell not buying someone’s spouse a new diamond ring or a dream vaca. We atheists are a pretty cantankerous lot sometimes, and even that innocent pilot program I’m talking about that doesn’t bug people for money might annoy some regs, so we’ll see.
The latest way to make extra cash a lot of large sites are doing is a little bit subtle and could be construed, in some cases, as a little bit invasive. A site can be set up to track not just the ads you click on, but the images and inks in an article I post. Your IP and email can be recorded on that click, categorized a bunch of different ways into groups sometimes called “silos,” and then both the ads in the margins and you email are rented; tailored to whatever it you presumably care about base don where you’ve been and what you’ve ordered or clicked on. And this can be cross correlated with all the sites you go to, or searches you perform, all over the Internet if those sites are participating. And a lot are participating, this has become so widespread it’s approaching universal.
And it is comprehensive across all sites: you get what I’m saying? I write an article about a politicians, some other site has a post on something NASA released, and your email gets scooped up by code embedded in both sites and aggregated by a third-party who then rents them out to advertizing managers and email lists into specific silos. All the sudden you start seeing ads to contribute to that politician or read this astronomy piece every where you go and getting emails about political stuff or astronomy stuff from all kinds of orgs. It can even reorder the list of healdines when you visit a site based on your previous selections. This is becoming more and more common, but I’m happy to say I know of no such thing being discussed here on FTB.
There are a few other obscure details and topics I haven’t talked about. And I know this level of inside baseball might be boring as hell to most readers. But maybe some of you found it a little interesting, and a few of you are way ahead of me and now itching to point my flaws, simplifications, and badly needed clarifications in comments or by email. And I wanted to everyone to know that for a lot of sites out there., some or all of this stuff is part of the deal when you as a writer sign up.
FTB doesn’t do that stuff at all, especially the more invasive stuff: we really are as free and ethical is it gets these days and even though it means I make a little less and I’m really poor, I like it that way … I’ve had offers. I have one in my box right now, with an upfront draw on future revenues and higher per impression pay. I’m going to politely decline it. For one thing I already write for another site, Daily Kos, where I enjoy the same freedoms and support amoung my fellow writers that I do here. And because the kinds of ethics and standards FTB follows like second nature, not to mention the complete freedom my colleagues and I enjoy, with no editor second guessing me because I don’t have an editor, are one of many reasons I love and respect the people I blog with and the readers who frequent our site.
Over the past three years we have been among the fastest growing new sites, if we didn’t happen to be atheists and skeptics there might be articles about our community in all kinds of trad med pubs. But lack of earned recognition or possible bias aside, FTB is the real deal; pure unadulterated blogger content, glorious freedom in an increasigly commercialized top-down industry. No side payola, no under the table deals, no product placement, no business intel and keyword scanners. Just honest, objective truth and reasonable inference as best we can discern by a bunch of talented, dedicated passionate people, all smart enough, productive enough, and charismatic enough to make more money playing the corporate game, along with the flow, and not make waves.
Together with writer and reader, we make waves, big waves, proudly, loudly, we’re not going to stop, we’re pretty goddamn good at it by now, and thanks you we’re getting better every year.