This month in wedding blogdom: Honest monetisation, and having the guts to criticise

Commentary from the frontlines of the wedding blog world

Figuring our how to monetise successful blogs in a way that doesn’t compromise their spirit is a perrenial issue. Plenty of wedding blogs that are fundementally about consumerism and selling the the WIC dream, either exist as adverts (Martha Stewert Weddings), or bring in the cash via adverts, without any moral dilemma. But what about the blogs whose entire message is that you don’t need all this stuff?

This month A Practical Wedding kicked off its money-making Vendors Directory project, where vendors will pay a fee to be listed. Shortly after, APW announced there will also be a Venue Directory, where couples who have married will submit personal reviws of the venues they used. It’s interesting that these are operating completely differently.

For instance, right in the announcement for the Venue Directory, Meg notes that it is not a revenue generating project, as if expecting kudos, and as if the benefit of user-submitted reviews doesn’t directly negate the benefit of the Vendors Directory, where vendors will just review themselves (also known as advertising).

The thing is, the nature of business is such that adverts are never trustworthy. In this case, supposedly because APW is filtering the ads (for instance, vendors must support same-sex couples), we can therefore trust these vendors a little bit more. The glaring question then is: if this is so awesome, why not incorporate the venues thing into this model? Or: if the Venue Directory is so awesome, why not have a the vendors incorporated in that model? They contradict each other.

The reason, of course, is that Meg is trying to make money. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does mean she doesn’t get to receive kudos for saying one the projects isn’t about making money.

But then this isn’t the first time Meg has dealt with a little controversy around monetisation. Last year, the results of an APW reader survey revealed some dislike of the ubiquitous posts-that-are-actually-ads, aka sponsored posts, that are the first thing you see 2 out of very 5 days you check APW. Meg thought the criticism was about women’s lack of support for other women making money:

I think as women we do a really good job about shaming each other about money. When was the last time you saw a guy tell another guy that because his new creative project was making money, he was a sellout? I mean, basically never, right? Guys say things like, “DUDE. That’s so awesome that you’re doing so well.” And women say things like, “Have you thought about how you’re selling out and destroying the soul of your endeavor by making this much money?” Because, you know, we’re ladies. We’re supposed to give things away for free, because we’re nurturers. Nurturers of the world, apparently, for free.  So I need to learn how to turn those voices off, and see success as an ok thing. And yes, see MONEY as an ok thing. Even for me. As a woman. As a wife.

(Read more: http://apracticalwedding.com/2011/04/reclaiming-wife-women-money-and-self-worth-part-ii/#ixzz1WaKUZNvD)

Of course, what Meg missed is that the dislike of heavy use of ads is not about anyone’s personal feelings towards her. In fact we can assume anyone who took the survey is probably a big fan. Here is what it’s really about: People look at blogs in order to read something interesting and/or entertaining. Sponsored posts are neither interesting nor entertaining, especially when they’re about a random unaffordable photographer that’s in a different country from you.

In other news, Ariel at Offbeat Bride launched a new blog under the Offbeat umbrella, and this one is about the business side of her blogs. She’s explicit that Offbeat Bride was launched as a marketing tool for her book, and I have no qualms about her use of sponsored posts and ads because a) she’s never promoted anti-consumerism as a key message, b) they’re not the first thing you see half the time, and c) she’s never begged readers for donations (*cough*). She still gets complaints though. Her take on it is ‘Read the disclaimers, people!’

Meanwhile Hindsight Bride and Rogue Bride have collaborated to produce a podcast they call the Bridal Koolaid Cocktail Hour. Among other things, they make fun of a photo in which a bride poses in the squat position, and I thought a hearty ‘hell yeah’ to myself throughout listening to it. Hindight and Rogue seem a little hesitant about the criticism they dish out, but I say screw that. For as you can see, even APW is not sacrosanct in my book :)

13 responses to “This month in wedding blogdom: Honest monetisation, and having the guts to criticise

  1. Christie and I were *JUST* talking about the tricky balance between growing your Bride Blog and not selling-out. Making money, but not having so many ads that you lose your readership, your credibility, and your freakin’ self-respect. So many of the current BigBlogs have crossed that line, and it’s a concern for small to mid-sized bloggers that we don’t follow suit. That said, it takes a lot of time and care to grow these blogs, and a little financial remuneration would be fantastic. I haven’t gotten there yet, but when I do, I’m going to be cautious as hell that I don’t advertise myself out of a readership. For me the line is supporting vendors I know personally, and would hire myself. Random vendors wanting to increase their SEO rankings have no chance.

    APW’s idea is fascinating – I really hope it works out. What a great – and credible – resource the venue list could be! I just hope her moderators don’t become overzealous in their screening process, like certain other Bride Tribes I could mention (and will in a seething post on Thursday).

  2. Yeah, it’s a dilemma. We put up with ads in newspapers, but only because you can’t get the same thing ad-free. Newspapers can only work if they have a paid staff, therefore they need revenue. With blogs though, there are always people willing to do that for free (us), so a monetised blog is always going to be competing with an ad-free one. So why would readers put up with it?

    The best idea I have come across is to self-publish a book. I like how Penelope Trunk did it: http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2011/03/28/the-new-rules-for-self-publishing [disclaimer: I strongly dislike a lot of her stuff]. Problem is you need heaps of fans. Judging by her comment volume, she has a lot of fans, but even she only sold 1000 copies. I wonder how that revenue compares to what ads give you?

    I am sooo keen to hear what it’s like on the inside of the OBT! Looking forward to your seething post! :)

  3. Hah, I misjudged my publishing schedule, and it went up at midnight California-time. It’s up now! The whole sordid story. I’m going to lick my wounds and go to bed. Thanks for the thought-stimulating blog post!

  4. Warning: long-assed comment. I think I just wrote my sponsorship manifesto {wink!}

    Thanks for the shout out frugal bride. So thrilled that there’s another out there with the same silly irreverent sense of humor. Yeah, the whole monitization thing is tricky. As you know, it takes time to create lots of posts, and it takes money to pay for the server and the domain name and the photo editing software one uses to curate inspiration boards and real weddings.

    I hope this isn’t a deal breaker for you, but in the interest of transparency, I have to say that my blog is monotized. And instead of working a full time job and then putting another 20 hours into the blog, I would eventually like to be a pro blogger–full stop. So I too sell banner ads and write sponsored posts. And to be honest, it’s been a learning curve. Not all of my early sponsored posts were a good fit for me or my readers. The NBC post is a bitter reminder of my ad failures and drives each new conversation I have with sponsors. That was my sell-out moment and I never want to go back to it.

    I have learned where, when, and how to do sponsored posts and ads. In part, when I’m approached by a sponsor, we have a discussion about the appropriateness of their product to mountain brides. If I’m doing a review, I have to test the product. I have learned to turn down advertisers who are not a good fit for my readers, and I always write my own original content for all of my sponsored posts. It takes more work, but it’s important to me to be relevant to my core audience, even when I’m selling to them.

    On the other hand, I work with many small vendors who have a small amount of advertising dollars to spend. I have to be honest, I am very sensitive to the needs of small rural businesses. It’s not easy living in the mountains and making a living. I try to offer a good fit and a good experience to local vendors to advertise on the HSB. And I am equally sensitive about vetting vendors based on online reviews and, preferably, my personal experience working with them.

    Finally, when I was planning my own wedding, I was so grateful to bloggers who would pick the best of the best vendors for publication or their ads. If I did my own Google search for “catering Asheville” for example, I’d get a whole bunch of useless info or companies that didn’t fit my style, or, typically had shitty looking websites that did nothing to highlight the caterers skills. But when I saw an Asheville wedding on Ruffled blog or SMP, I could see the talents and creativity of local wedding pros artfully captured by a professional photographer. It was greatly helpful.

    Related to that are real weddings. Though bloggers don’t get money for publishing them, are like big advertisements for vendors. Wedding pros scramble for a feature on SMP for the exposure they think hundreds of thousands of eyeballs will bring them, not to mention the “SEO” and “link juice.” Look at the vendor list of every real wedding. Bloggers don’t credit the vendors, they link to them. This is like a permanent ad for the vendor.

    Now I’m not one to get on my high horse and get all preachy, and I hope that I’m not doing so here, but I need to do something to keep the lights on so-to-speak. I have toyed with a few ideas for ending ads, but each ideas that I come up with would transfer the cost of production from wedding businesses to brides, i.e. an e-book. I’m not sure that model would work for the cash-strapped HSB reader.

    But here the deal. I don’t want to “sell out.” Neither do I want to take a blogger vow of poverty to work my ass of providing free content to engaged couples who are spending tens of thousands of dollars on a vanity pageant, of sorts. This isn’t high-brow art here, or UNICEF; it’s a damned wedding blog for chrissake. To treat it like a non-profit for wedding consumers seems ludicrous to me. And ultimately, it would just make me bitter, and end in my abandoning my blog.

    Do I want to offer high-quality free content to my readers? Hell yes! Do I want to live in penury for it? Fuck no! I want to be useful and get payed for my time. I also want to do something that truly inspires me. I’m a bit squeamish to admit that I am so inspired by weddings. I attended a private woman’s college that I’m sure if they ever find out what I’m doing, they’ll come, take my degree away and burn it.

    That’s where the Bridal Koolaid Cocktail hour comes in. Rogue Bride and I want to explore that gray, hypocritical area of being a smart, thoughtful individual who has chosen to immerse herself in the bizarre hyper-consumerist world of weddings. We want to explore the sillier side of weddings with humor and irreverence.

    But I am right now working to secure sponsorships for that show. This is a two step process of finding the right fit and then contacting them with an offer. We’ve decided to sell sponsorships for the Bridal Koolaid Cocktail hour for two reasons: 1) I want to hire a transcriber 2) the Rogue Bride is broke. We ran the pilot without ads so sponsors knew what they were getting into. It won’t change the content, but you will hear sponsored plugs…hopefully, LOL. Again, I hope it’s not a deal-breaker for you, but if it is, I’m comfortable with your decision. If I’m not a good fit for because of my ads I totally respect that.

    And here’s where I ultimately stand. I was nervous about publishing such an unabashedly raw commentary on weddings. I even mentioned the “Two Masters” I serve on the podcast. I want to be totally honest and transparent both about my feelings toward weddings AND about the struggles I encounter as a blogger selling sponsorships. Such a move could cost me sponsors to-be-sure. It could also cost me readers. But after mulling over it more, I’ve realized that as long as I’m honest, I will attract the right people–both readers and sponsors. I trust you understand and respect this.

  5. Christie, jeez, if I had any beef with you, I’d come right out and say it :)

    I really get wanting to make some money from something you spend so much time on. I’m there too, even though I’m only posting once a week these days. I like both you and Rogue Bride, I want you guys to be successful and not broke.

    I don’t have any problem with your ads and sponsored posts. Ads and sponsors only bother me when they run counter to a central message, or they are just so ubiquitous that they get in the way. It’s irritating to go onto a blog and be faced with an irrelevant-to-me sponsored post 2 out of 5 days. I don’t see this issue with you :) Also I started getting irritated with APW when they started doing fund drives last year, despite the fact that most the posts were either sponsored or written by someone else (weddings graduates and the interns), and there was also actually a book deal going on at the time. Begging for money under those circumstances irks me, and it really irks me that Meg thought not liking sponsored posts was about not supporting her. Readers don’t look at blogs as a personal favour to the blogger, yknow?

    So we still have this dilemma of figuring out a good ways to monetise. You know, sponsored posts aren’t all bad. I’ve seen them done classily (eg. http://www.girlsgonechild.net/2011/08/changes-that-occur-overnight-sponsored.html). I was loving the ebook/self-published book idea but now I’m undecided about pushing that cost onto readers! At least it’s way better than doing a fund drive. And you know, probably even a fund drive can be ok if it’s done in a non-obnoxious manner and the reader doesn’t already feel like they’re being milked. hyperboleandahalf set up a donation button and was really gracious about it, and it probably worked quite well (i’m guessing) because she is brilliant, and because there were no ads.

  6. Frugally wed said: “Ads and sponsors only bother me when they run counter to a central message, or they are just so ubiquitous that they get in the way.”

    Agreed!

    I knew I was coming off as bitchy. I totally didn’t mean that!

    I will tell you that it was super useful for me to organized these thoughts in print, and I thank you for sharing your blog with me so I could have an appropriate forum.

    I’m looking forward to future conversations with you. You have some great ideas and the gonads to say them plainly. Love it!

  7. I love HyperboleandaHalf. I cannot wait until that girl gets engaged. If she doesn’t make a comic about the wedding planning process, I will cry. But if she does – my world will henceforth be perfect. Also, she sells products with her comics on them to make money in addition to the donation button. I’m going to start making my own rhinestone Rogue Bride underwear to sell through my site.
    No, no I’m not. But that would be awesome.

  8. Christie, no worries, I didn’t think you were coming off as bitchy at all!

    Rogue – I think she got engaged a little while ago actually. I am that much of a fangirl that I get her facebook updates. But you’re right, she is THE funniest thing on the internet, and now I really want to talk about weddings with her! Also, clearly Rogue Rhinestone Undies are the way of the future. I’m in.

  9. I’m not a member of Team Practical, nor do I really get anything out of the blog anymore. I will say I adore the girls who work on it and they’ve recently helped me get some perspective on the ads and the business side of it all. A conversation with Christie just cemented all of that and I have to say, I actually agree with Meg on this one.

    I tend to do what she’s talking about to MYSELF. I shame MYSELF for wanting my blog to make money or for pandering to our readers and all of that. I shoot myself in the foot more often than not because when we do get another sponsor, no one has the revolt I’m expecting – no one freaks out. I think the growth of the ads on Practical Wedding is why Meg recently started with the disclaimers at the beginning of each sponsored post.

    Honestly, I have a different perspective and I don’t mind listening, and even interacting, with/to sponsored posts. The people who advertise on unconventional, but still big-girl wedding blogs are hard-working, unique entrepreneurs. If you were a photographer with a rad sense of style who proudly shoots at an affordable rate with equal opportunity for straight/LGBT couples – how are you supposed to reach people?

    It’s a tricky double standard because we want the photographers that are cheap…but we have to find them somewhere…and if they can afford to advertise on Style Me Pretty or in Brides Magazine, WE can’t afford them. So props for putting their image out there and trying to reach the kind of couples they want to work with. I’ll sit through a sponsored post…hell, I’ll even click through and check out their work or their blog or whatever to give them a shot and say “I get it. I get why you buy ads.”

  10. Lizzie, I get what you’re saying from the photographers perspective – how else can they do it? But the consumers of blogs are readers, and they’re there to read something interesting and/or entertaining, and for me, sponsored posts are not those things. I don’t read blogs for the purpose of supporting anyone (ok, except for the blog of a close friend). Meg’s readers don’t owe her support.

    As far as feeling shame for yourself – mate, stop doing that ok?

    So we still have the conundrum on how these vendors should connect with their market. Well, that’s the role of directories. Nothing wrong with a directory that’s associated with a blog, either. But can’t they tuck all the advertorials back there instead of taking up blog space? Either that, or the sponsored post needs to be written in a way that is as interesting and entertaining as the usual posts.

  11. I agree that the ads should be as interesting (and I would add relevant) as the rest of the posts. Like LIzzie, I also don;t mind finding out about new products through blogs. In fact, on blogs like Lizzie’s, I often find cool indy designers and vendors I would NEVER find in The Knot or Brides, well that is until Brides picks up such a vendor from a small interdependent blogger and features them in their glossy. The Yellow Owl workshop comes to mind.

    Another gray area is when I cover a merchant or vendor and they don’t pay me. My blog is filled with Etsy finds and a few vendor profiles, covering people who don’t pay me. Yet I write those posts similarly to the way I write sponsored posts. Does accepting money somehow make the later type of post more suspect or less valuable?

    I understand what you’re saying and where your touch points lay. You get frustrated when a blog turns away from the high quality content and becomes an ad machine. I agree with you there. I have a 4 per month cap on sponsored posts. I don’t want my blog to turning into an ad machine either. But I also wrote for free for over a year, sometimes putting nearly 40 full hours into my blog every week while working full time. Most days I would get up at 4am to surf the Internet and develop post ideas, then come home and write at night. I also was paying out of my own pocket for hosting and I paid a designer for my current design. I could not continue at that pace for free, and my husband sure wasn’t into the blog taking up so much time and money without some sort of return. In fact, I had always intended on selling sponsorships once I built up my readership, always. Why? Because it’s the only way I can continue to blog at this pace long after the excitement of my own wedding day has past. I see myself as a legitimate publication, just like the New York Times or the New Yorker, with obligations to both readers AND sponsors.

    One more point I want to make. When I started blogging the idea that I was part of a more democratic publishing process thrilled me. I knew I was part of a publishing model that wasn’t beholden to a homogenous mainstreamed voice. I also remember seeing sponsored posts and banner ads of small vendors people and independent designers. I had never heard of them before because, as Lizzie points out, they couldn’t have advertised with the big magazines. They also happened to be on blogs I trusted (A Mountain Bride, and Bridalhood) and I felt confident that these women had the integrity and values to vet their vendors appropriately. When I saw their ads, I was happy to have so easily found someone cool and unique without having to sift through 1000s of Google search results.

    I am currently gearing up to revamp my own advertising experience on the blog. My #1 goal is to provide readers with the best selection of mountain and online vendors that I possibly can. Why? Because there are a lot of shitty wedding pros out there, and there are a lot of shady online stores. Not only will my ads keep the servers running, they will also make trust-worthy recommendations to my readers, and I think that is a win-win situation.

    Aw hell, I just blew up your comments again!!! Listen, this has been a wonderful conversation and I’m so glad you had the heart to bring it up. I think it’s paramount that bloggers be thoughtful about their ad policies and you have provided an excellent forum for discussing concerns and solutions. Thank you!

  12. Pingback: If you’re having a wedsite, it may as well be free (plus some wedding blogdom commentary) | Frugal Wedding

  13. Pingback: Making my peace with/getting over A Practical Wedding, Part 2 | Frugal Wedding

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