In which I am conflicted about weblog advertising

If you read this weblog regularly you know that I often post about how the industry is changing, and the additional burdens being placed on authors. Publishers have adopted a sink or swim approach: instead of publishing 100 novels and backing up each of them with real marketing and advertising, they publish 1,000 novels, provide little support for any of them, and watch to see what will sink and what will swim.

This is not so much a complaint as it is an observation. That is, I know that talking about this is not going to change anything. In fact, my guess would be that things are going to get worse. The whole industry is evolving and will continue to evolve in response to new technologies and the increasing cost of traditional book printing. How that will shake out in the end is anybody’s guess, and authors have no influence on the outcome.

The simple reality is that any midlist author has to take at least some responsibility for marketing, and in many cases, the whole burden falls on the author. This means hiring a publicist, or trying to handle things on your own. Buying advertising space in magazines, for example (very expensive and not very effective); arranging readings; providing online resources for readers. Forums, reading guides, excerpts, etc etc.

And then there is weblog advertising.

It seems a fairly straightforward thing: You can make money by putting ads for other people’s stuff onto your weblog or website, or you can spend money by placing ads for your stuff on other weblogs and websites. Google’s Adsense is probably the biggest and most organized approach to hosting ads to earn money, and Google AdWords is the opposite side of that coin: you go there to buy space on weblogs and websites to advertise what it is you are selling. Another example:

Blogads are ads that appear in blogs and other independent web sites. Each “strip” of Blogads is managed by an independent publisher who sets prices and decides which ads appear.

It seems straightforward, but it isn’t, simply because this is an industry in its infancy and things are volatile. And there is, of course, the issue of ethics. What does it mean to sell advertising space on a weblog? Are you responsible to your advertisers in any way? Does accepting money for ads compromise the content of the weblog in some way?

This is the question that bothers me and still, I do sometimes spend money to place ads on other websites. I don’t do this often, because I’m not convinced that it’s a good use of marketing dollars and also, because marketing dollars are precious. Most of my budget goes into giving away books — I spent close to $700 last year doing just that last year — which seems to me a pretty good way of getting the word out there and keeping readers interested. Certainly $700 in books goes a lot farther than $700 in ads.

If I buy advertising space on other weblogs, then I must be okay with the idea in general, right?

Not exactly. This is why I’m conflicted. I understand that people put time and effort into weblogs and would like some return, but I also am bothered by the way the whole process works. There are author weblogs and review weblogs that accept advertising (Making Light, Bookslut, Filthy Habits, Smart Bitches, and Beatrice are some examples.) Of these, I have
advertised twice, briefly, on Smart Bitches, who have reasonable rates. This seems to me a good place to invest my marketing dollars, because their readership is very, very large and pretty well targeted for my novels. Do they owe me any consideration, given the fact that I advertise with them? Absolutely not. Will other people see it that way? That’s the question.

The Smart Bitches make decisions about advertising based on the needs of their weblog, which is common sense and good business practice. They run ads primarily for new novels, but also for services such as book-rental companies. This strikes me as a conflict, for the simple reason that I’m not nuts about the idea of the ad for my book running next to an ad for a company that exists to take business away from libraries, and royalties away from me. But it’s my choice, in the end: I don’t have to spend the money to place an ad there. I could give away a couple pile o’ books, instead.

I don’t have ads on this weblog, because (1) it’s another layer of complication I don’t need; (2) I’d worry about conflict of interest; (3) it seems tacky. I wish I could come up with another word, but that’s the only one that fits. Unless a person’s sole income is derived from blogging or running a website, I am uneasy. If I go to an author’s website and find a lot of ads, my attention is not on the content of the website, but on the ads, and not in a way the advertiser would hope for. I wonder about connections that probably aren’t there — but I do wonder, and thus I’m not getting what the author was hoping I’d get from the weblog.

Do you notice ads on weblogs? How do you react when you do notice them? Do you have any reservations about ads? And, do you ever buy a book or a service based on such ads? I’m really curious about this, and would like to know what you think.

11 Replies to “In which I am conflicted about weblog advertising”

  1. I’m not crazy about ads on blogs/websites. I agree that they can be distracting — and many sites are “busy” enough as it is without another layer of stuff to wade through. However, I can see an advantage for a person trying to sell something — I don’t pay much attention to them, though, although I might pay a little if it’s an author trying to promote a book but it would have to be something which catches my attention, otherwise I just would probably ignore it.

  2. I’ve tuned out ads on blogs/websites in general. That covers catch my eye. I’m guessing because of the novelty, I don’t see book advertising everywhere so I’m not cynical about it..yet.
    As for other advertising, if a site is too heavy with advertising and it’s related to the blog somehow it makes me a lil skeptical about reviews and such, even if I try not to be, it’s still there in the back of my mind..

  3. I don’t pay attention to ads in anything – blogs, newspaper inserts, magazines, unless I’m already shopping for something and then find the ad. For that matter, I don’t watch TV; so all those $ in commercials are completely wasted on me. I do look at the ads on SmartBitches, but only to look at the interesting graphics, such as fadein/fadeout, but couldn’t tell you what the title is.

    I haven’t taken part in allowing advertisers to use my pathetic blog since I don’t want to lose control. Big deal, since I doubt many people look at it anyway.

  4. I try not to pay attention to the countless adds on the web pages I visit. I think they are distracting and annoying. Especially the one that has the graphic of the girl in a short mini dancing in circles and trying to get you to buy an online credit report or low financing on home mortgage. Doesn’t that look like a trust worthy site, yeah right!

  5. I focus on the blog/content and not on ads. I turn off scripting in my browser which turns off some of the ads and I don’t click on links/banner ads. Particularly since hearing that some of those ads, even if from a trusted site, can be infected with malware. If I’m looking for something, I just look on Amazon or do a search to get to the site directly.

  6. I’ve noticed your ad for PG on Smart Bitches, and I thought, “Nice!”. I do notice ads on that site, and ads for books in general. I definitely remember them, so to me it seems like a worthwhile effort.

  7. I haven’t visited many blogs that have ads. Mind you, maybe it’s semantics. I visit some blogs that seem like ads. The ones I read about marketing, or public relations are written with an eye out for potential (however subtle, it’s there). They may be helpful, but I read the blog on the assumption that I’m being sold on a concept, an idea. I treat political blogs the same way.

    And with a writer’s blog, or a blog about books, I’d fully expect ads for writers’ products, appearances, or self-promotion in general. From my perspective, it’s all promotion, paid or otherwise. Is it tacky? Some people thing blogging is tacky. Exposing your diary to the world and all. I think it’s all in the delivery – I tend not to stay with tacky blogs. I don’t recall if I’ve ever squirmed in my seat while reading your blog. So that’s good.

    I’ve joined survey panels through ads on the internet. And I’ve found enjoyable free games through ads on the internet. Low risk sort of things is what I’m ready to trust on the internet…call me a luddite, if you like. If such things were advertised on your blog, I’d expect them to meet your standards, whatever those are. If you don’t control the types of ads on your blog, that’s where I could see conflict – I think I judge blogs by what I read on them, and ads would be another source of info about the blog that may unintentionally impart meaning to the reader.

  8. As I read the comments, I realized, I also judge the quality of a blog by its comments. And that’s completely out of your control, initially, unless you are updating your blog and screening your comments. And doing those two things means (to me) that the blogger is present, conscious, and in control of the blog. If that’s your approach to the comment section, why not apply your good sense to the ad section? Maybe it’s Orwellian of me, but I think if you write a blog, you are controlling it. Oh dear. Did I write this comment, or did you? Ack.

  9. I completely ignore ads. Although, there was one instance where I clicked on an ad. It was for a movie with a good title and image – I almost think it was for Atonement.

    I’d be more inclined to click on ads for movies and books if the image and tagline associated with it was good.

    As for ads on blogs, again, I ignore them. But they annoy the heck out of me when they have images that move around the whole time I’m reading the post and cause the page to load slowly. I have one blog I read where the blogger makes her income on ads. Her blog loads so slowly that I go and read someone else’s blog in a different tab while it is loading.

  10. I admit up until I started my own business I completely ignored ads, though I’ve clicked on many sponsored ads from Google since they blended in so well with some of the blogs I thought I was clicking on a link within the blog.  Now I’m more prone to check the Ads, who they’re using and especially when I see someone is not using Adwords I often click just to see who their advertisers are.  I’ve used Adwords successfully,  its brought me lots of business but it can be costly because you need the right key words.  How that would work successfully for an author I’m not sure, I’m guessing that the keywords would be very costly, I’m not even sure which keywords you would use aside from Historical Novel (just checked no Adwords for those keywords).
    I like coming here and seeing no ads because I can fully concentrate on everything Rosina/Sara though I have wondered how come you don’t advertise like almost every other blog out there.  You’ve got a good Google PR number so I’m guessing you could make a nice profit with some advertisers but again I appreciate that your page is all about you.

  11. I’m with you — I think they’re tacky. I think your book giveaways and your interaction with your readers are a much better and classier approach. Honestly, the only time I pay attention to anything about a book on a blog is when the blogger has posted a review or an interview with the author. Then it’s coming from them, it’s not just an ad. I’m a voracious reader and I comment from that perspective only (although I’m also a wannabe novelist). I can say that bookmarks, postcards, ads, book trailers on YouTube — all that stuff — has never motivated me to check out a book. Word of mouth is still the primary reason I’ll buy a book. Oh, and I have also bought a number of books by bloggers because I liked their blogs — including yours. My confession is that more often than not I don’t even read the books, which is nothing more than just a matter of taste. There are so many books and so little time that I read what I really like. Consequently, I have a lot of women’s fiction, fantasy/sci-fi and romance that I’ve never read, but might one day get to. :)

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