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Blogs and Bloggers and Money and Selling Out and All That…

Erma Bombeck

Erma Bombeck at work....FOR PAY!

Earlier this week, I was chit chatting on Ye Olde Facebooke with a couple of friends of mine who also happen to blog right here at Babble Voices, as well as on their own personal blogs. These are women who –  just as I do myself – earn some, or in a few cases, all of their income as writers/bloggers.

That’s how we support our families.

As my mom-blogger pals and I conversed about this and that related to our work and children and lives, the topic turned to the negative criticism that women who blog for a living hear pretty often -namely, that when a blogger chooses to accept paid advertising, or to accept other compensation for her blogging, she’s automatically become a sellout.

While I’ve certainly seen other, more recent examples in which blog readers and media observers, and sometimes, even other bloggers express this particular point of view about bloggers and what it means to sell out,  this post at what seems to be a very popular blog called Momastery represents a good example of  this particular critical theme. Thus, despite the fact that the post was actually published around 18 months ago, I still want to discuss the issues it raises (also, I think the fact that the post is still generating fresh comments from readers makes it less dated for purposes of batting this discussion topic around now).

In this Momastery post, the blogger writes thusly of her own decision to eschew ANY revenue from ads or other types of compensation that might arise from her blog’s growing success and audience:

… we are not for sale. We deal in a different currency here.

Yeah. Ummmm. See, here’s the thing. While I totally respect anyone’s right to work for free as much as she wants or is able to do it, or to create and produce stuff and give it away to others at no cost, I do object to the suggestion that women who DO get paid for their blogging, or for the audience they have created around their writing are “for sale.” I mean, I guess technically, anyone who takes money in exchange for goods or services of any kind is “for sale,”  but that phrase in the context of the blog post in which it was written sounds more pejorative than literal to me. There’s judgment there. And not a good kind of judgment.

I had never read Momastery before one of my friends pointed it out to me during that discussion we were having about this topic the other night, and I don’t know anything at all about the blogger (bloggers?) behind it, but Momastery obviously has a large and very devoted fan base, and the writing published there clearly speaks deeply to many readers. That’s fantastic. More power to the woman or women who have created and nurtured and grown that audience and community around their writing. They’re very obviously damn good at what they do, and I admire that.

But I object to the idea expressed by the blogger who wrote that post  - the idea that writing for which women are appropriately compensated is de facto less authentic or meaningful or deeply felt,  and further, I object to the suggestion that women writers who are good enough at what they do to actually earn a living at it  are “for sale” in the way she seems to mean it.

As someone who has earned some or all of her living as a writer for most of her adult life, I am here to tell you that writing is WORK. It’s REAL WORK, mostly just like any other work people do to feed their families. Sure, on a good day, working writers feel grateful to be paid for doing something they love. But on the harder days, it’s pretty much just like any other job in which mama’s gotta turn in her TPS reports on time if she wants to receive her paycheck that month. Yet many people still seem to think of writing, and particularly writing that’s published online by women- as somehow different than a “real” job, and something for which women should be embarrassed to expect compensation.

What if women who volunteered as docents at the local museum were to publicly suggest that the women actually employed to run the museum gift shop or to dust the paintings at night should also do THEIR work at the museum for free, on a purely volunteer basis? Or what if  the women who work as classroom  or office volunteers at your child’s school were to start grumbling that the paid teachers’ aides at all local public schools are “for sale” because they receive a paycheck?  Sounds crazy, right? But it’s much the same as this idea that women bloggers who get paid for what they do are “for sale” in some kind of negative, tacky way.

After having that first post at Momastery pointed out to me, the one I am referencing here, I took a little time to explore the site, and I noticed that the blogger mentions in another post that her husband works as a software salesman . (Y’all TOTALLY see where I’m going with this…) Does the fact that he gets paid (I’m assuming that he does, anyway)  for the work he produces mean that his integrity or the quality of his work is compromised in some way? Of course not. I am betting he’s terrific at what he does, and that he is compensated accordingly. And I am guessing that the fact that he gets paid for the work he does each day is likely what makes it possible for his wife to put in so many volunteer hours  - she estimates two hours daily in her “not for sale” post –  at the very same type of job which others of us rely to, you know, buy groceries and stuff.

Tracey Gaughran-Perez – the blogger otherwise known as Sweetney – nailed it when she addressed this same issue the other day, writing:

….when I read self-righteous posts from bloggers who reject putting ads on their sites because they “aren’t for sale,” I can’t help but bristle with resentment over the implication that those of us who are trying to make a living off doing the thing we love just aren’t as authentic simply because, unlike them, we need to make an income to survive. That we’ve lost our cred because we want to do what we love as our job and somehow, you know, eat and pay our bills and keep a roof over our kid’s head, too. It’s mind-numbingly frustrating to hear anyone claim moral superiority based on the fact that they have a husband whose paycheck covers all their needs, without stopping to realize that’s not the case for most of us. Some of us don’t even have a spouse to share our financial burdens with. Some of us have to fight alone, without anyone else to rely on for financial support, in order to do this thing we love if we want to keep doing it as devotedly, and regularly, as those of you with breadwinning husbands do. And we aren’t sellouts, and we haven’t sold or even tarnished our souls (or our writing, for that matter) for the almighty dollar. No, sadly, we just aren’t lucky enough to be as privileged as you are.

Again, let me be super clear that I value and honor volunteer work of all types. Volunteering in a way that benefits or enriches the lives of others – whether that’s by knitting hats for preemies or planting trees or preparing taxes for the elderly or yes, by blogging - is beautiful and important and wonderful for both the volunteer and the beneficiaries of her generous efforts.  But one woman’s volunteer work is often another woman’s JOB.

So yes, there are ads on my own blog, and the occasional, clearly labeled sponsored post, and I do get paid by Babble for the writing I do here because they sell ads.  And while I am not entirely certain what  “a different currency” means, I am pretty sure that whatever it is, it isn’t the kind of currency my mortgage company wants from me at the first of each month.

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So what do you think? Are bloggers who run ads, or who are paid to blog less authentic? Are you more likely to question their integrity? Do you find that you tend to enjoy the writing of purely volunteer bloggers more? Let’s talk about this hot topic in the comments below (But please let’s keep it civil. This one has the potential to get people all worked up, and I don’t want to have to toss anyone out of the room because things get unpleasant.)

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