Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Economics of Blogging


I think that it is time that we have an honest conversation about the world of blogging.  It seems every few months, a blog run by a woman erupts in some form of controversy due to advertising or remuneration.  Most reasonable people are aware that bloggers aren’t living at home, typing away in their mother's basement, but the mendacious myth that we are all financially well-off seems to just want to stick around.

I was reading Amanda over at the Washington City Paper recently and she had to explain why she had what a reader viewed to be a sexist advertisement on her blog. Feministing’s readers have complained about fat-phobic ads and Feministe had to give a breakdown of their finances last year to satisfy reader curiosity. In an effort to make her space safe, Liss over at Shakesville cancelled her advertising and is now dependent upon reader donations to support her work.  Every two months, she puts up a reminder post and inevitably some pain in the ass will show up to complain.

I feel the need to say that blogging is hard work.  I know it may simply seem like bloggers are living the life of Riley, but I am here to tell you first hand, that some days my stress level is incredibly high.  From the hate mail, to the drive to always find interesting subjects to write about, each day brings a lot of stress.  This is not to say that I don’t like what I do, but that it is very unrecognized and often filled with conflict.

I know that people believe that because there are ads on my blog, that I am making a significant amount of money, but don’t let that fool you.  Advertisement does not come close to offering me equitable reward for what I do.  Like many women before me, I have had to find separate ways to finance my urge to communicate and explore this world through the written word. 

I had no idea until recently how many people were reading this blog using Google Reader.  This may be very convenient for you as a reader, but it means that you are not landing on my blog.  This means that you are not giving me pageviews, which is how I get paid through advertising.  To change this, I have altered my feed so that it will no longer provide full posts.  I am working on getting snippets to appear so that you can get a sense of what each piece is about, but that may take some time, as I am not technologically savvy.

Whenever I can, I try to support the work of women writers because I know first-hand how hard it is:  I know about the rejection letters, the hate mail, and what it's like presiding over epic blog wars.  I know about the stress and the high standards that we are held to.  I know about the courage it takes to lay yourself naked before the world in the hope of making some change. I know what it is to see your good intentions spit upon.  I know what it is to learn publicly -- and to challenge yourself to unlearn -- all of the privileges that you have spent a lifetime learning. I also know that despite the challenges, someone will always show up to tell you that you missed  something, or how wrong you are doing something, even as they often lack the courage to do what you do every single day.

Blogging is work.  What's more -- it is unpaid labour for most of us that do it.  This may not mean much to you, but I ask you to consider that most of the work women do in this world is unpaid and this largely contributes to the economic gender imbalance.  So when I see yet another blogger having to explain why she has ads that are questionable, it makes me upset. 

Each day of our lives we make compromises.  We have to because we live in the world as it is and not as we want it to be.  This does not mean that we should stop striving for change, but that each one of us has to find a way to survive while acquiring as few scars as possible. 

Are people always this black and white in real life, or do they find it easier to get on a moral high horse online because there is no personal penalty?  A good blog takes time and energy and though women are very active in the blogosphere, they have yet to reach the same kind of success as men; this is even more true if you are a WOC.

I am writing this to ask you to think about how you support the women that you regularly read online.  Do you take the time to comment? Do you hit that donate button once and awhile? Do you network?  Do you think critically when you have an issue rather than shooting off a missive because it will make you feel good?  Do you think about the work that someone has put in? 

I have written this not to discourage legitimate complaint because everyone needs to be pushed to improve.  Each day I want to improve my craft.  I have invested way too much of my time for me to take this lightly.  All I would ask is that before you seek to criticize, think about the effort that has gone into creating this space and in fact all spaces created online by women. 

Many think that blogging has created this brave new world because voices that have traditionally been silenced now have the opportunity to speak their truth.  But the reality is that this truth costs the marginalized more than ever.  Not only do we have to deal with over-privileged bodies who are full of resistance, but the lack of remuneration also reaffirms the economic divide in the real world, thus once again devaluing our contributions. 

So I am going to say this as plainly as I can: if you are not hitting the donate button and you are not paying someone’s bills, do you really have the right to criticize the way in which many attempt to earn a pittance (and believe me it is a pittance) from blogging, while reading their work for free?

This post has been cross posted at Blogher