The Sticky Business of Ads

12th October 2011

LOOK! No, not at John Hamm (though he’s scrumptious). Look up above the header. You’ve probably already noticed, depending on your powers of observation, that The Picky Girl now has an ad up there.

*totally superfluous shot of Jon Hamm.

Last month, Litbreaker, a literary ad agency, contacted me about the possibility of having an ad on the site. As I had already noticed these really attractive ads on other sites, I was interested. You should know that I have been contacted by at least half a dozen other companies wanting me to include anything from in-text ads to side ads for some online gaming company. Uh, no.

However, Litbreaker caught my attention because a. they know what they’re doing and produce high-quality ads for (what I consider to be) high-quality books b. there is no in-text boohockey going on.ร‚ย  Because that’s annoying. c. they knew quite a lot about my blog when they contacted me. In other words, they’d done their research, and as someone interested in marketing, that was impressive to me.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about advertising on book blogs. See The Reading Ape, Unputdownables, and Caribous Mom.

A lot of people are against ads of any type on book blogs, and I can certainly understand why. The main argument seems to be that bloggers with ads will be partial to certain books/authors/publishers based on the ads that run on the site.

Instead of simply allowing the ad to run without comment, I wanted to address it. If you have been around these parts long, you know I speak my mind. I don’t shy away from negative reviews or glowing ones. I don’t do author interviews because they don’t interest me all that much. Giveaways are few and far between. I review really old books and brand-spanking-new books. In short, this blog is 100% me.

Last month, I spoke on a panel about social media and publishing. There were several authors in attendance and one asked me if there was a lot of corruption in book blogging. I didn’t mean to, but I laughed and think I even mimed getting money under the table. No publisher, author, or publicist has ever contacted me offering to pay for a good review. I answered him that for nearly two years, I have been blogging in my own free time. He asked how much time I devote to it, and I told him, honestly, that between reading, writing, maintaining, and answering comments, I probably spend anywhere from 25 – 35 hours a week on the blog. He was shocked. When he asked if I was paid at all for that time, I told him, again quite honestly, no. I blog because sometimes it’s the best part of my day, and the interaction I have with other readers is priceless.

Some might argue that bloggers are paid in books, and I’ll admit that it’s a nice perk. However, I do not seek out review copies – with the exception of NetGalley. I have always been one who is hesitant to ask for anything, so emailing a publicist to ask for a specific book is just not gonna happen. Therefore, I don’t have two dozen pitch emails in my inbox every other day. I don’t have to schedule my reading – and refuse to do so. I might get a book a week or every other week, though often these books are from giveaways.

So… in full disclosure to you guys, I wanted to say that the above ad will in no way affect what you read on this blog. If you have any concerns, I’d love to discuss them with you. Also, as you know, I’m a sucker for aesthetics, and I actually like the look of my blog with the ad.

What do you think? Are you uncomfortable with ads on book blogs? Are you uncomfortable with ads on more general blogs? If so, is it the ethical issues that bother you or the aesthetic ones? Open forum. You first.

P.S. Or you can just call me a sell-out, what my attorney friend Jim Dedman of the legal blog Abnormal Use jokingly called me upon seeing the ad. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • More power to the book bloggers who earn an extra buck a week with banner ads or amazon affiliations. It’s something I would’ve done myself by now, if Peace Corps and Fulbright didn’t have such strict rules on earning extra income. (ie, you can’t do it or you’re fired.) Plus, as you say, those litbreaker ads are the best – I actually like seeing them on a blog because they’re so often advertising books that I’ve wanted to read but forgotten about – it takes seeing the same banner ad about twenty times a week for me to really remember the book.

    • Had no idea the Peace Corps was so strict about that. Wow.

      I felt the same about Litbreaker before we joined forces. I loved their Domestic Violets ad.

    • I’d feel like I was eavesdropping if I didn’t chime in and say thanks to both of you for the nice words about LitBreaker.

      And for the record, I’m with you guys on content theft, and unmarked sponsored posts.


      • Thanks Jason!

  • Although Jenny and I don’t have ads on our blog (other than the WordPress ones, which we have no control over), that’s only because we’re too lazy to self-host, and WordPress doesn’t allow them. I have no problems with bloggers running ads, as long as it doesn’t affect the content, and it usually doesn’t, as far as I can tell. (I do have issues with paid/sponsored posts, especially if they aren’t clearly–and I mean CLEARLY–marked, but those are a rarity in the book-blogging world, I think.)

    If there is any “corruption” in book blogging, I think it’s more along the lines of bloggers choosing to review (and maybe be extra-gentle with) books provided by publicists or authors they’ve become friends with via social media. And I think it’s more evident in what people choose to review than in how they review it. But I don’t think it’s a big problem, and where it exists, I think it’s mostly unconscious, which is human and understandable. If I get the sense that a blogger is routinely giving special treatment to “friends,” I just stop reading. Simple.

    • Re: your second paragraph, I agree. There are some blogs that tend to be more “rah rah” – but I was never interested in that, though, of course, that is the blogger’s right. I think most can recognize the special treatment to which you refer and choose whether or not to trust the posts.

      I thought it was an interesting question simply because he’s right. I’m sure there’s a way for bloggers to be corrupt – consciously or unconsciously. However, as I explained to him, it’s pretty evident the bloggers who approach blogging with passion, joy, and respect. There is definite value in that.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Anonymous

    I’d say if there’s any corruption in book blogging, it’s plagiarizing other bloggers’ content. Content laundering, if you will.

    I don’t mind ads on other people’s blogs; I think I have more of a problem with them on my own blog than anyone else’s.

    • Yes, I know that’s a big problem. I’ve seen my stuff on other sites a couple times, but it was always junk sites, and I thought… eh, why bother?

      Just out of curiosity, why don’t you like them on your blog?

  • Meagan

    Don’t even get me started with John Hamm. mmm I don’t mind ads as long as they don’t bother my eyes while I’m reading. Those ads that pop up and you have to push the x to see the screen…drives me nuts! So impressed with you picky sis. very impressed.

    • YES! About John Hamm and those crazy ads. Can’t stand them.

      And thanks other picky sis!

  • Have you seen the fake SNL commercial with Jon Hamm promoting John Ham? It’s ham you can eat while on the john because it comes in rolls you install in the toilet paper holder. It’s hilarious.

    Anyway, you say there’s corruption in book blogging?? Dang! No one has EVER tried to bribe me for a good review. I’m offended.

    Regarding ads, I don’t mind them if they’re content-related (if you start running ads for diapers, I’d question your credibility) and aren’t obnoxious. If they flash or make noise or pop up and FILL UP THE ENTIRE SCREEN, I’d run away and may never come back.

    • I have NOT seen it, but obviously I need to do a little searching. I’ve heard he’s a really good comedic actor.

      And yeah – I know. Where are the bribes?? ๐Ÿ˜‰

      And please don’t run away. It’s too fun when you’re here!

  • I really appreciate your open, honest discussion of your decision! I do think it’s up to each blogger whether or not to allow ads on his or her site. Personally, I believe a book blog is first and foremost about books and reading. I go to a site to read that blogger’s take on a particular title or topic, not to see what’s new from an ad on the site. Honestly, I usually ignore ads, unless they are so prominent I can’t, in which case I get annoyed. I dislike it when the ad is emphasized over other things, as when they get placed at the top of a sidebar and push all the other content to the bottom. And I hope it goes without saying, but if there are going to be ads, I strongly feel they should at least be book-related!

    That being said, the one you have doesn’t really bother me. You stated why it’s there. It’s well done and unobtrusive. It’s not edging out any of your other content, the main reason I come to your site. Oh…and it’s about books!

    As for me, I’ve yet to be approached by any agency I’d actually consider, and I’m not sure what I’d do if I were. Lately I’ve been moving away from review copies and trying to get back to reading what I want to read and having a blog that’s really my own. So, if I ever did start allowing ads, they would absolutely be ones I approved of and felt comfortable having on my site.

    • Thanks, Erin. I usually ignore ads, too, but like I said, these stood out for one reason or another.

      As for reading what you want: YES! I hear bloggers complaining about scheduling their reading, and I just will not do that. I am first and foremost a reader, and I reserve the right to always read what I want. That’s partially why I try not to accept many review copies. I don’t ever want to feel that sort of pressure. Like on Sunday, when I decided to drop everything and find some more Miss Silver books. It’s what I wanted to read.

  • Trish

    LOL–I was about to hit “mark all read” in Google Reader but admit you suckered me in with John Hamm. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Even when I popped over from GR I didn’t notice the ad right away–took me a minute to actually see it. I see several blogs these days advertising for ad space and if the right person came by and wanted to advertise on my blog, I might go for it as well. The only ads that I oppose are the ones that are in your face–like literally scroll across the blog–but one of my favorite bloggers has these ads and I still read and comment. But mostly, I appreciate your honesty in how much time you spend blogging a week. I don’t think there are many who are truly honest in this number… (not that it matters, but I do appreciate it…).

    • HAHAHA! Gotcha.

      Yes, I hate the ones that scroll or the pop-up ones that you have to close. REALLY hate them.

      As for numbers, I just include them because if I’m honest with myself, it’s really a lot of work – work I enjoy – but work. When I was asked that at the conference, the guy who asked was shocked by my reply. I have to admit, I was sort of shocked when I realized it. But – I CAN spend that time. I’m not married. I don’t have kids. I still exercise and walk my dog and clean house and grade papers, all things I have to do, so blogging doesn’t detract.

  • Becky (Page Turners)

    I think people worry too much about what people do with their blogs. I can’t say I have an opinion about adds on blogs. I know that I find them really annoying when they are between posts so you have to read through the advertising to get to the content. But really, if people want to put adds on their blogs whats the problem. Your add is nice and subtle and is literary related – go for what works for you!

    • Becky – I think you’re 100% right. But I think most just want to stay as honest and forthright as possible. As you say, as long as they don’t interfere, I’m find with ads.

  • Hello! I was interested in signed up for Litbreaker and so searched the Internet for information on it. This post cropped up, but I notice you no longer have a litbreaker ad. Would it be possible to ask why? Is it worth signing up or do you think there are better alternatives? Hope you can help! Thanks!

    • Jackie – I’m mortified to even tell you… When I redesigned my blog last year, I fought and fought to add the info to put the ad on the blog and never figured it out. I’ve been meaning, actually, to contact Jason about it but have felt a bit shamefaced about the whole thing.

  • Grace Troxel

    There’s nothing wrong with discreet advertisements. I’ve never understood the criticism (as long as the ads aren’t obnoxious or all over the place) because web hosting/domain mapping/etc. does cost money.