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What does "selling out" mean when it comes to bloggers?

For many years, I wrote at my personal blog just for fun. No other reason. As someone who had always been a prolific journal-keeper and letter-writer, blogging replaced a lot of that for me (no need to write my mother back…she can just READ MY BLOG!).  As a freelance writer, blogging encouraged me to flex my writerly muscles even more regularly than I had been, and I found that my blog posts often contained seeds of ideas that I could then develop into actual pitches to write articles and essays for magazines. But mostly, for a long time, I blogged simply because I enjoyed it.

After a few years, I realized that people other than my mother, sister and two best friends had begun reading my blogquite a few more people. Still, though, I kept thinking of the blog as just a hobby – a little side project that I kept up solely because I liked doing it. I also really loved chatting with the commenters who were nice enough to chime in on the blog about whatever I’d written that day. Blogging was enjoyable for me, plain and simple.

But then, at some point, someone pointed out to me for the first time that my blog was attracting the kind of web traffic that could support some advertising. I guess I’d already realized that this was the case, but I’d held out against having ads on my site for SO LONG that I worried that readers would be offended if I added any at all. On the other hand, I also realized that even an extra $50 a month in income for something I enjoyed doing anyway could help pay for Christmas. So with my husband Jon’s help, we signed up for a Google-based ad revenue program for bloggers (At that point I was still blogging at Google’s Blogger platform).  Even that small step toward blogging-as-business felt kind of dirty to me because making money from blogging seemed like something people would consider akin to tattooing advertising logos on my children’s foreheads.

What I discovered rather quickly after signing up for that first Google ad widget was that instead of making $50 a month this way, I was bringing in about $2.37 in blogging ad revenue per month (Yes, you read that correctly. The punctuation in that number is correct).  This bugged me, so for the first time, I looked into becoming a member of one of the numerous ad networks available for bloggers. And so it went…one baby step after another….

A year or so ago, Jon and I sat down and discussed the fact that without any intent or strategic planning on our part, my blog had somehow evolved into an actual (very) small business for us. To be clear, we both still have our “real” jobs and have no plans of leaving them any time soon. My blog is in no way earning enough revenue to actually support our family. But it HAS become something that we count on to cover a lot of our extras, like the beach trip we took last month.

So we decided that we needed to start looking at the blog like the small family business it had become (and the blog biz is definitely a “we” undertaking because while I do the actual blogging, Jon does everything else), including tightening up the accounting and starting to set aside taxes as the blog earned income during the year so that we didn’t get socked at tax time. I also began actually thinking in a strategic way for the first time about how to maximize the income we might earn from my blog’s traffic. After doing some research and talking to other bloggers, we decided to switch ad networks, and I am now part of Federated Media’s publishing network. I’ve also just recently begun doing a very few, very select brand-sponsored posts at my blog, a step that many bloggers find bumpy at first, as readers adjust to the idea.

So yeah, my blog has indeed now become a li’l side biz for our family. And frankly, this MomCrunch post marks the first time I’ve ever said that out loud in public because, let’s face it, nobody wants to be accused of “selling out.”  But why do bloggers who make money from what they do seem to elicit more criticism than other purveyors of goods and services? I mean, if Jon and I ran a small business – online or off – selling widgets or rutabagas or whatever, we wouldn’t worry that people would criticize, but when what you are selling is your own writing, on your own blog, some people do tend to find fault.

But see, here’s the thing: the main reason I blog continues to be what it’s always been, namely, that I find it a lot of fun, and it helps me think things through with input from smart, nice people who are kind enough to engage with me in my blog’s comments. I would still be blogging regularly and in basically the exact same way even if I never made a nickel doing it.  So is it so wrong to take something you love doing anyway and figure out some ways to bring in some income for your family at the same time? The obvious answer to that would seem to be no, but again, there remains a whole lot of sensitivity around this issue. I’ve seen other bloggers taken to task for “selling out,” and I won’t lie; the idea of readers or even non-readers of my blog saying that about me is kind of scary.

In a (brand-sponsored) video blog post this week, Heather Armstrong  offers some insight into how she and her husband Jon made the leap that turned her blog into a real business that several years later, really supports their whole family. It’s a smart, funny video, and at the very end, she gives a nod and wink to the criticism she’s gotten about “selling out” as a blogger.

So what do you think? Are you a blogger yourself, and if so, do you see your blog as a hobby, a business (emerging or otherwise), or as something in between? As a reader of blogs, does it bother you to know that the blogger makes money in any amount from her blog? As a blogger, do you worry about being accused of selling out? What does “selling out” mean to you when referring to bloggers? Tell me in the comments below what you think about blogs as businesses, and about the criticism that bloggers often receive when they monetize their blogging.

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