Few things in this hobby get people quite as riled up as bloggers monetizing their blogs, talking to the media, killing deals, or just existing. Despite being on the receiving end of a healthy amount of vitriol, I don’t understand it. I also don’t understand people who bash other people’s heads in for wearing the wrong jersey. But I’m neither a psychopath nor a psychologist, so excuse my lack of insight on the subject. I consider myself a neutral party on the above topics (except for bashing people’s heads in, which I’m firmly against. I blog, sparingly, and write about deals but don’t have any affiliate links to promote as an incentive. Bottom line, I don’t have a dog in this fight. So I’m going to attempt to objectively deconstruct some of the arguments made against blogger monetization, talking to the media and killing deals.
Bloggers and Affiliate Links
There are very few bloggers left with major credit card affiliate relationships – it’s pretty much down to the top 5 blogs and I imagine between the pressure to hit sales targets and the number of posts they produce on a weekly basis, they are really raking it in. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so. Most of the blogs that I find most useful and entertaining are ones with credit card affiliate links. Bloggers who have affiliate links can focus on blogging full time and as a result often produce more interesting content. When sales are down, you might see the occasional post that is clearly just a credit card ad. I look at these posts the same way I look at display ads – they exist to keep the blog running and cover expenses. They shouldn’t bother anyone and are easily ignored.
The only time credit card affiliate links can be a problem is when substandard offers are being shared because the blogger gets paid for them. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a blogger do this intentionally. Back when I managed the Frugal Travel Guy blog, I got accused of doing this a couple of times, which was never intentional. The policy at FTG (even internally) was very clear – we only promoted the best credit card offers. Even to the dismay of affiliates. So when a blogger shares an affiliate link that isn’t the best available offer, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re not aware of the best offer…depending on who it is.
There’s also the argument that credit card pumping is bad for readers. There are those who claim that newbies, encouraged by greedy bloggers, are getting themselves into financial trouble to meet credit card spending requirements. This is constantly thrown out there, with very little evidence to back it up. The gist of it is that bloggers are driving them into financial ruin by encouraging them to apply for more credit than they can handle. What’s more, these financially ruined readers aren’t reporting their problems out of a sense of shame.
This argument undermines a basic principle of adulthood: Everyone is responsible for their own actions. It is up to you, and only you, to manage your credit and determine how much of it you can handle. You cannot put 100% of your faith into a single person to guide you through anything. That doesn’t work out well for cult members and it doesn’t work out well when matters of personal finance are involved. So if readers are in fact getting themselves into financial trouble by mishandling credit, the blame can’t be solely placed on the bloggers for writing about credit card churning.
I also find it extremely hard to believe that in the bastion of anonymity that is the internet, this would be happening on a large scale without any of us hearing about it. I highly doubt people would shy away from sharing financial troubles caused by following bloggers’ advice with this cloak of anonymity so readily available.
Since the Travel Blogger Buzz blog came out, there seems to be more awareness and accountability around these issues. That’s a good thing, but I’ll gladly call out George over his hypocrisy and tendency to get overzealous at times. I’ve gone back and forth with him in the past over affiliate links and “credit card pimping”. He seems to have come around because nowadays he’s doing the same thing on his blog. Why? Because revenue is necessary when you’re blogging full time. Not even the Pope works for free. How else do you justify spending 10+ hours a week writing blog posts with nothing more to show for it than a highly engaging comment section?
Blogs have become businesses and businesses need revenue to operate. We can’t expect bloggers to take a vow of poverty while churning out content for our enjoyment. Affiliate links (whether for credit cards or other products) keep these bloggers solvent and allow them to hire other writers. If bloggers can churn out good content that their readers enjoy, earn a living while doing what they love and employing others, that’s good all around. Though it does beg the question…
Do Bloggers Kill Deals?
The first major deal I saw killed in this hobby was when office supply stores pulled Vanilla Reloads off the shelves almost four years ago. At the time, there was nothing easier or more lucrative than buying $500 Vanilla Reloads for $3.95 and earning 5 Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent.
Many of the big blogs had published this deal right before it went bust. It was definitely a great opportunity to promote the Chase Ink Bold card, which at the time offered an affiliate commission of $500. Imagine a blogger trying to figure out a way to promote a business credit card to non-business owners and all of a sudden they’re given this gift from the gods. Needless to say, a lot of eBay businesses went up that month.
Things fell apart and people jumped to another hobby: The blame game. A lot of people blamed bloggers for overexposure. Seasoned vets blamed the newbies, newbies blamed the large-scale manufactured spenders. The most common line from store managers was that they were concerned about fraud. Maybe they assumed we were doing something illegal. Or maybe there were actual criminals who outnumbered us and ruined this deal all on their own. The bottom line? It stopped being profitable, so office supply stores put a stop to it.
Were the blogs to blame at all? To a degree, yes. Whether those SEO-friendly blog posts reached a huge number of newbies who ruined everything or a small group of overzealous pros, at some point there were too many Vanilla Reloads being purchased and it just wasn’t profitable for either office supply stores or Chase.
Even small time bloggers shared some of the responsibility. The big blogs have more readers and a greater impact outside of the hobby. I look at this like dumping toxic waste into a river vs. minor littering: They both contribute to pollution.
Bloggers Talking to the Media
Throughout the years, I’ve done a few interviews and media appearances. In my experience, it doesn’t do much for traffic (I’ve gotten more hits from Gary Leff linking to my blog than a mention in the Huffington Post). What these media appearances do is incite a lot of anger in the community over “exposing” the hobby. After all, this could lead to the end of on-board showers and spa treatments at fancy club lounges.
Should bloggers be talking to the media? Unless they’re sharing sensitive information, I don’t see the problem. When a blogger shares their award redemption story with Forbes, it’s harmless stuff. I do think it’s wise to be discreet about some of the more fragile aspects of the game. Especially, if mass exposure could decimate these deals. I’ve had reporters ask me about gift card churning and I simply declined to talk about it. It’s one thing to write about it on my blog, but broadcasting it on NPR is reckless.
That’s my long-winded way of saying we all play a part in destroying this hobby and killing deals. This is our little ecosystem and we’re all polluting the river. There’s no sense in having a meltdown when it happens. Enjoy it while it lasts and then move on to the next thing when it doesn’t.
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