Let’s be clear from the start: this blog post is theoretical. Other than a few emails from misguided advertisers – anyone who would offer me money to promote things given the size of my readership is kidding themselves – I am only thinking about whether I’d like to make money from this blog because I think the question is interesting, not because brands are knocking down my door to send me on sponsored trips or give me protein bars or whatever to promote with a cliché caption and #AD.
To start any kind of online project now is to know that you could eventually make money doing so. There are plenty of bloggers, Youtubers, Instagrammers and other Internet personalities making a decent amount of money, if not an absolute fortune, from their online activities. While it’s still a fairly misunderstood phenomenon, for those of us who spent our adolescences hyperaware of all things Internet, the fact that you can make money online is nothing new. I knew when I started this blog that, if I ever had an audience big enough, I would have the option of monetising my work.
I feel deeply conflicted about the process of making money via ads on a personal platform. On the one hand, money is nice. Of course it is. And money from a source that you own and control is even nicer, a feeling that is amplified for a blog, because it’s not part of a bigger platform like Instagram or Youtube that you don’t own. I would like to freelance more and earn some money through self-employment, a goal that would be served by being able to earn through Restless.
Furthermore, I put so much work into Restless that it almost feels fair that, at some point, I would make a couple of quid for doing so. Yes, this is a hobby, but given that I want to expand my paid work as a writer and photographer, the line is a little blurry. Should I manage to pull off making a living as freelance writer or photographer sometime in the future, this blog would be an integral part of that. So I guess that I have always seen this blog as more than hobby, though not through the narrow definitions we use to decide what constitutes work and what counts as pleasure. It’s not a job, but it’s more than something I do solely for fun. This site is my written portfolio, which has already earned me a little money by netting me a paid article for Nomadic Matt’s travel site. Clearly, I don’t feel conflicted about what I’ve written here earning me paid writing opportunities for other websites.
While I enjoy many things about my full-time work as an investment writer, it’s true that I would have more freedom if I had a source of income that didn’t require turning up everyday and contributing toward someone else’s business. There would be a lot to like about making money through blogging, though I suppose my concerns have never centred around the ethics of making money through personal projects, but more on what you actually have to do for that effort to translate into money in your bank account.
I mean, ads are horrible, right? We all hate ads. I hate ads in my TV shows – an indignity paid streaming services have all but made obsolete – I hate that there are clunky ads all over webpages and I hate when Youtube videos contain a five minute segment sponsoring a mattress or moisturiser or whatever. Those of us living in major Western cities are living in a crisis of consumerism and overconsumption and I don’t want to be constantly bombarded with clips and pictures trying to sell me things I don’t need. I don’t think anyone wants that, really. I write this blog to make people think, not to make people buy, and I think it would pain me too much to ever shill random products to people who thoughtfully read my political blog posts. I know, I know, every online creator constantly emphasises how much they only promote products and services they think will genuinely serve their audience, but in practice, it is still clear that these are ads first and content second. I have seen sex education Youtubers selling Dominos pizza and travel bloggers selling snack bars. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that, when the payoff is thousands of pounds for a single Instagram post, people might be motivated to fudge their opinions or experiences a little. And even when it’s perfectly on brand – lifestyle bloggers promoting a clothing brand – it still feels different to when they share an item without an ulterior motive.
A few years ago, things were different. There were far fewer regulations dictating how exactly you could share items or experiences that were gifted to you or that you were paid for promoting. Now, it is a different world, with most paid advertisements not only required to be denoted as such, but also needing to be signed off in advance by brands and advertisers (at the request of the brand, not the regulator). The result is that all paid collaborations look like ads! Gone are the days where sponsored posts could seem vaguely authentic. I think this is good for consumers (I certainly appreciate it) but does make the thought of doing this work seem more unappealing. I don’t want to write ads, nor do I want to pollute work that I’m proud of with cheap promotions.
I don’t see how writing posts for advertisers wouldn’t change your content. Right now, I write for myself, and for the wonderful group of people who care enough to read my thoughts. If I was being paid by a brand to write something as a promotion for an item or destination, then… I’m obviously going to be motivated by appeasing the advertiser too, right? I want to be paid for my writing, not for my ability to shill products via my blog. But then the sad reality is that it’s so hard to get paid purely for your ideas and your words, and I am nothing if not pragmatic. Many respected news websites are populated with ads or hidden behind pay walls, so, if I do want to make money from my writing, I know that I can’t totally discount all the tried and tested ways of sharing your ideas and getting paid to do so.
As I wrote in my first Restless anniversary post, the most important thing for me to remember when it comes to this blog is that I have to be proud of everything I publish. I have to stand by it. And I’m not sure whether or not I could do that if I knew I was posting to please a brand, rather than because I felt I had something to say. I don’t feel as strongly about all monetisation opportunities; affiliates seem quite harmless (I’d probably just use them for books), I want to sell my photos and there are a small few brand partnerships that really do make sense and are rooted in selling something I value, rather than another item no one needs (e.g. one of my favourite bloggers, Alex, who specialises in diving, has a long-term partnership with PADI that looks like a dream). This is all still a long way off, but it’s something I can’t help but think about as I consider how to grow this blog. I am already reticent to start posting more ‘helpful’ blogs – even though they inevitably get more traffic – because they don’t feel right to me. But seeing my readership grow feels good, and I know that creating a self-employed income for myself would feel good too. Back to the drawing board.