Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday Forum: Advertising, Attention, and Book Blogs

This week's forum topic was inspired by a couple of recent comments here at The Ape about advertising, attention, and literary writing.

First, Kevin, a longtime reader of this site and dedicated literary blogger in his own right, politely requested that I take advertising off The Reading Ape:

I urge you in the strongest possible terms to eliminiate advertising from your very fine blog. It's unnecessary, unless you're living paycheck to paycheck, and they distract from your content.

Second, in a comment to my post on the future of book reviewing, Tom Lutz expressed some discomfort in relying on advertising to support arts journalism:
I continue to believe that people should get paid for their intellectual labor, and I am particularly interested in paying people who aren't otherwise "economically viable" -- that is people who are saying things that won't immediately help someone sell fast food, and therefore won't immediately attract commercial funding.

I'm not sure that I can link these two comments directly, but I think they both spring from a deep distrust of advertising. Kevin (and he can correct me if I am misreading him) suggests that advertising somehow damages the experience of the content and that unless I am in uttermost need, I should forgo whatever income advertising generates.

Lutz's concern is about cause and effect; if advertising is your only means of support, then you are at the mercy of advertisers' (sometimes unsavory) desires. Actually, this is where the two comments connect: both are worried about advertising compromising content, at both the level of creation and that of consumption.

Rather than write my own response, I will let the fact that I have advertising on this site (and am more than comfortable with it) speak for me.

My questions to you:

What do you think about advertising on book blogs? What are the potential problems? Do you think the increasing amount of ads on book blogs is a positive or negative?


  1. I should probably just let the fact that I run ads on my blog speak for me as well, but that wouldn't be any fun. It's interesting to me that people get so up in arms about advertising on blogs, claiming that it either compromises or distracts from the content, when we are already quite inured to seeing it basically everywhere else on the internet. When was the last time you read a story on The New Yorker or The Millions or, well, pretty much anywhere else that is 1) big and 2) reputable without seeing ads? When was the last time you read an article IN PRINT without encountering ads?

    Why should blogs be any different? Bloggers work hard to build and maintain them, so why shouldn't they earn something for their work? Do people bristle at ads on blogs because they presume that blogging should be limited to an amateur (read: unprofitable) pursuit, or are they still holding on to the ridiculous idea that blogging is somehow more noble when it is done ONLY out of love for one's subject, without any commercial interest?

    I value good blogs. I want them to continue, and I want the people who write them to thrive and to be able to maintain them. If ads make that more possible, I'm all for it.

  2. Your blog is a literary one, and the ads are of a literary nature. I think it's fine.  

    I am a bit turned off when a book blog has unrelated advertising, but I see no problem with advertising books to readers.  I wouldn't want the advertising to be over-powering. Keep it simple, like it is here, and it's really not a problem at all. 

  3. Early on I didn't like the idea of advertising on book blogs, but in recent months I've come around. As Rebecca writes, bloggers work hard to maintain their blogs; why shouldn't we get a little money for it? I'd like to be able to cover the cost of my domain name with ad revenue, and as long as the ads have to do with books I can't see how they would distract from the content. The only reason I don't have ads up right now is that they would conflict with my peace corps (and in a few months, fulbright) contract - I'm not allowed to earn any money apart from my peace corps stipend. Not that ads would net me much... back in high school I had ads on one of my websites and I think I earned about $50 a year...and that was when advertisers would still pay generously for click-throughs.

  4. I agree with Rebecca. Ads are so ubiquitous and we're so used to seeing them that I don't see what the issue is having them on a blog. Honestly, at this point I hardly notice them on blogs anymore. I'm sure that's not something advertisers like to hear.

    I don't worry about the content being affected by advertisers butting in, especially for bloggers, where the advertising revenue, at least to my understanding, is minimal. And if the content is being lead by what advertisers want, you can usually tell.

  5. How we respond to advertising is our choice.  I usually ignore it, or am amused by it.  I rarely buy anything as a result of looking at an ad.

    Saying "Take the ads off the blogs" is sort of like saying "Don't teach and don't wait tables, because those things take away from your writing time and keep you from writing something good."  Personally, I like EATING things that are good as well as reading things that are good.  I bet you do, too.  Do what you have to do to put food on the table and to give yourself blogging space. 

    If a flashing, moving ad is bigger than the text of the blog, or if the ads jump out as pop-ups that block what I'm trying to read, I probably won't revisit a blog.  I particularly don't like it when things jump out at me or flash fast enough to trigger an attack of epilepsy.  Your ads are easy enough to ignore (sorry, advertisers).

    As long as one isn't actively engaging in some kind of ethically corrupt practice in accepting advertising - and if putting ads beside text to offset the cost of publication is somehow unethical, my high school yearbook club should all be indicted tomorrow! - ads on book blogs are not a problem as far as I'm concerned.

  6. I don't really care about advertising on blogs... I mean, yes, it makes the interface more cluttered, but so many blogs have tons of buttons and widgets that I'm used to ignoring all that stuff anyway. Plus, if you read blogs predominantly through a feed-reader, as I do, the ads aren't even an issue (nor is poor site design, which is not an issue in your case, but has certainly been a bother on other blogs!).

  7. I think there's a tendency to question a blogger's motives, when one sees ads on a book blog. What is this blogger's priority? The conversation? The discovery of literature? Is this blogger putting the ads first and writing material around the ads to gain followers who will click and make him money, or is the blogger focused on the blog itself, and using the ads as an added benefit? (The latter being understandable, and not an issue, in my mind.)

    People don't like advertising. Well, I don't. I don't mind a commercial in the midst of a show I'm watching, but I dislike an ad that fills up half the screen in the middle of the show I'm watching, and flashes and moves and distracts me from the actual show. Ads seem to be doing that lately -- creeping from their every fifteen minutes agreed-upon moment in the lights, and taking over the entire viewing experience.

    So a couple ads? No, not a problem. But people may view them suspiciously, as one would a still spider in the corner of the room. :-)

  8. I'll go so far as to say that I "like" ads on book blogs, provided they're unobtrusive, and relevant to the subject matter of the blog. For example, at this very moment, there's an ad for Domestic Violets running, a book I hadn't heard about previously. It put it on my radar. Minutes later, I'm catching up at another blog I like (The Picky Girl) and see that she has a very positive review of the book, and now it's officially on my radar as something I'm going to, at the very least, sample. I don't think I would've taken note of this book otherwise. 

  9. Thanks for saying it for me. 

    The most reasonable concern, as far as I understand it, is that being compensated per page-view will change the kinds of things a blogger writes about. I haven't found this to be true. 

    The other concern is more conspiratorial, that in order to protect an advertiser relationship, a review or commentary will be compromised in some way. This seems a bit tin-foil hat to me.

  10. That's interesting. I never really thought about ad-relevance. Why does being "off-topic" annoy yo?

  11. Can you say more about why you had to "come around"? I am honestly trying to understand the counter-position as best I can.

  12. Yea, I can't speak to the utility of ads. I assume they must yield something, else advertisers wouldn't use them. Be interested if a literary advertiser would speak openly about the effectiveness of advertising on blogs.

  13. I do think there is a right way and a wrong way to do ads, but I think that's a question of execution rather than of mere existence. 

  14. I was going to mention that there are several ways of reading blogs that dodge the ads. (instapaper, browser extensions, email, RSS). This is actually a bit of a problem for people who really want to maximize their ad revenue.

  15. What if you posted a review of a book that was advertised on your site? I am sure I will run into this at some point. I think I could see how someone might raise an eyebrow to a really favorable review, though at this point the stakes for something like this are so small as to make any such bias sort of absurd.

  16. I'm not sure...I think when I started doing my blog I saw some distinction between "professional" book blogs (the big ones with ads, giveaways, whatever) and ones by people like me. Doing the blog for nearly a year now, I don't really see that line anymore - since even those blogs I used to look at as being more than, I don't know, a hobbyist blog, seem more accessible to me than they used to. It might also be that more people have been putting up ads and becoming affiliates so I'm more used to seeing them (like Alley says, I'm so used to ads that I barely notice them), or that I'm just reading more blogs now that happen to do those things.

  17. I see the possibility of those questions. I wonder, do you think of those questions or is this a hypothetical? Do you think people ask these questions of major publications or are blogger ads more suspect for some reason?

    And, if I had my way, I wouldn't see ads either. I also wouldn't pay for movies or do the dishes. But, the way the world works, ads make many of the things I like possible. 

  18. Totally agree here. Hell, I've bought a couple of books that I saw as ads here. As I wrote in my post about the ad-subsidized Kindle, I think efficient advertising opportunities for books and publishers serves a very real readerly and writerly need. 

  19. I was going to mention that I've been seeing the ad for "Glitter Scene" from Other Press all over (on your blog and Rebecca's, I think), which is helping to keep this book - which I've been curious about - on my mind. God only knows if I'll still remember it a year from now when I'm actually able to buy it, but I do appreciate well-aimed ads like that one.

  20. I think those questions if the ads seem to overtake the blog, and if the blogger offers little content and doesn't engage very deeply. I never thought it about your blog because you're clearly in it for the conversation. So in your case, the ads are a side accessory. Why not get a bit of cash for your writing? I don't see it as a problem at all, and I don't care one way or another if they're present on the blog.

    I am equally suspicious of ads on major publications, with all the caveats outlined above. If the site seems to be a place-holder for the ads, around which someone has posted a bit of book talk, I raise an eyebrow. If it's a valuable site with a few ads, I don't think much about the ads, again reasoning that the writer has a right to be paid. One is an effort to be paid for hard work; the other is an effort to lure me into an inevitably shallow conversation so a profit can be made of my time. 

  21. If I'm at a blog about video games, I want to see video game ads. If I'm at a food blog, I want to see food/cooking/restaurant ads. It seems ineffective for advertisers to advertise to people who may or may not be interested in what they're selling.  If you're a publisher though, and you advertise on a book blog, at least you know that you're reaching people who read. It's all about relevance. I love that on Hulu they ask if the ad is relevant to you. That's an important question I think. 

    I have had local businesses ask about advertising on my blog (which has a bit of a local angle), and I've said no. Recently, though, I hit on the idea of doing sponsored book recommendations. That's the only way I can get my head around it. 

  22. I think that the perceived integrity of the site has a lot to do with how ads are received by the audience as well. If I'm reading a site that I already like and trust because of the content, I'm more likely to pay attention to the ad. Knowing that clicking on the ad may help support the site I enjoy, makes me even more likely to act.

  23. I do not mind advertising on book blogs as long as:

    1.  The advertising does not completely determine the book bloggers' choice of which books to review etc.  What draws me to certain bloggers are their unique views and choice as demonstrated by the books that they read and review, even if I'm not necessarily drawn to those books.

    2.  the ads do not interfere with the process of reading the blog posts.  Some of your ads flash on the screen several times and this is distracting. 

    There is nothing wrong with generating a bit of income to support what we do as book bloggers.  

  24. i read all the book blogs i follow on my rss feed, i almost never see any ads.  I don't have a problem with them at all; i have a problem when the blog's content becomes ads for various products (not books, or music or movies) the blogger likes.  an occasional "man, i love mcdonald's fries" is one thing, it is a different experience entirely when the blogger's posts become "why the Thundershirt is great", "you should totally buy an Abroller" and "help me sell herbalife!".  once a blogger goes there, i stop reading.

  25. A blog you like?? YEA! You just made my day, Mr. John Warner.

    Now I can address the topic: I feel the same way you and Ellen do. I like the bookish ads. Now - there are some book blogs that have crazy, non-related ads that blink and have music and distract me. Those I don't like. As in ads elsewhere, tasteful and well-placed ones work well for me.

  26. If advertising, in and of itself, is a bad thing, then the world has much bigger problems than the few little ads in the right hand column of your blog.  I understand the debate in principle, but you've got a right to earn some cash.  I doubt the little banner ad from Powell Books is going to make you start slamming their competition.

  27. Why not ask your readers to support you through donations? 

  28. Get several quotes from various traffic servicesUnless you have hired
    your child's traffic firm, make sure your website gets the business it deserves. The No Follow essentially tells Google not to consider your link when ranking for algorithm. What sites like Bizulu show is that an engaging and entertaining auction process is nearly as important as the auction's winning bid.
    Free-Press-Release and PRL og, as well.

    My blog post ethical search engine optimization

  29. Morale Booster: Being Confident with mass effect all 3 gamesHave you seen the smile on a child.

    Isometric scrolling beat-'em-up captures the feel of a live game even more. These children need very little instruction to help them get started playing fun and exciting girl games. In the worst cases reported, gaming has resulted in the death of some of the negatives of this technological innovation can prove to be beneficial. Don't be afraid to let your child play
    mass effect all 3 games.

    Also visit my website ... le metal gear

  30. Fοr women with anԁгοgenic alοpeciа, it is impοrtant to note that theѕe
    ρrograms and reading theіr tеstіmonіаls ωere amazing.
    Tacоma, Paгkland, and Lakewood are some of the excellent safetу featurеs рroѵided by this bad car loаn Ϻ5.

    my blоg - hogsett