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...wait a minute, who wrote this ad, anyway?
But seriously, lately I've been thinking a bit about commercialization on educational websites. It's a topic I've visited before, though I think it bears revisiting.
I don't know exactly why I've been thinking about it recently. It might be because of some recent large purchases I've made. It might be because sites like Tips From The Top Floor and Twit.tv are doing pretty well with ads in their podcasts. Perhaps it's because Professor Bob from the History According to Bob podcast is able to sell CDs of things he originally gave away for free on his website, and even the great and powerful David Warlick and Will Richardson sell their books and/or ask for donations to their Starbucks cards on their websites.
Maybe its because sites like Makezine.com, Craftzine.com, and DiscoveryEducatorNetwork.com are essentially advertising models for their parent companies - though I'll be the first to tell you that they're brilliant ad models because they draw in visitors with high quality content that makes them worth visiting repeatedly.
Or ... perhaps ... it's because of some emails I've seen over the past few months. You may have gotten them too, in fact.
"I represent [insert company name here] and we'd like to pay you to blog about [insert product name here]. We're going to assume that [insert product name here] fits with the general theme of your website because you're a blogger and right now you're probably just happy that someone, anyone, has managed to find your little corner of the internet. We're certain that you'll be satisfied with the meager amount of shiny coins in exchange for linking to us repeatedly in your blog post and thus increasing our ranking on Google, even though it will most likely destroy your integrity and make you lose the small collection of loyal readers you've worked so hard to build over the years."
Well, they went something like that, at least. I might not have remembered the emails word for word, but I think that's an unbiased representation of what they said. You might even think that this posting would discourage future offers of a similar nature, but I don't think those people actually read the blogs they contact so I'm out of luck, there.
I've also gotten at least one offer from someone who wanted to be a "guest blogger" on my site. It was essentially very much like the previous email, except she offered to take the hard job of writing the post that would destroy my reader base off of my hands.
Not all emails from businesses were that bad, however. I've received at least one offer to sponsor my podcast on a repeated basis with a short audio ad placed in each show, which I politely turned down because while the product was educational in nature I hadn't used it myself and therefore felt uncomfortable promoting it.
I even went so far as to hand out some books at this year's MICCA conference, but only because after looking through them I felt they were useful resources. The copies they provided for me to keep as "payment" were also given away, but that was because I already knew a lot about the subject mater already.
I've toyed now and again with turning my website into a moneymaker, but this was mostly through the addition of Google Ads - and those tend to mostly work on the kind of people who aren't likely to visit this website. Over the years they've been on and off of the site, but in all that time I still haven't earned enough for them to cut me a single check. To be perfectly honest, even if they did pay me all of my earnings right now it would be a drop in the bucket compared to what I've paid for domain name registration, hosting (my hosting is cheap, but not free), and equipment.
I've also included Amazon affiliate links in posts from time to time, but those have made even less revenue than the Google Ads - mainly because I've only ever done that for products I've owned, and zero minus the price of said products equals a negative number.
I'm not saying this to complain, mind you, but to prove a point that I'm not blogging or podcasting for the money. If I was, then I would have quit a long time ago. I do this because it's fun, and I enjoy it when I can become part of a conversation that is truly global in nature.
And then the bills come in, and I begin to think about how I can supplement my teacher's salary.
So, (and I hate to admit this,) I'm going to try a little revenue building experiment. No, I'm not going to be embedding ads in every podcast. Nor will I be placing flash banners where you get to shoot chickens or pick the next president all over the site either. I'm going to try something a little more low key than that.
On my site I'm creating a new page. That page will have links to things where if you buy them I might get a buck or two sent my way.
If you don't like seeing ads on education themed sites, then don't go to that page. If you don't mind, and throwing me a bone is something you might consider doing, well then you can go and check it out. My intention is to only become a corporate shill for products I've owned/used and enjoyed myself, so while I may be destroying my integrity here it shouldn't burn quite so bad.
And who knows - maybe I'll end up writing a book and promoting it there, eventually retiring from teaching to run around the world giving lectures and working as a freelance consultant.
... or, maybe I'll just make enough to pay some of my server costs.