"Maybe Don’t Talk Shit About Ads If You Make Money On Affiliate Links."
February 14, 2013 4:12 PM   Subscribe

Maria Popova's Brain Pickings is a very popular blog with over 500,000 visitors to her website every month. "Brain Pickings provides the bulk of her income. She eschews ads on the site, but openly solicits donations..."* "But there’s something Ms. Popova doesn’t mention in her appeals to donors, amid her talk of operating 'ad-free.' She might not run banner ads, but she appears to earn income from affiliate links. You read a glowing review, you click through to order the book, and Ms. Popova gets a commission. The accusation comes from an anonymous Tumblr [update: he has now named himself as Tom Bleymaier]..."*

"[T]he tip jar on Brain Pickings seem less like an honest request for readers to help keep the site going, and much more a cynical attempt to maximize income from a business which is already extremely lucrative. Andrew Sullivan is being very open about how much money he’s making, and where it’s coming from; Popova, by contrast, is being very opaque."*

"In a 2010 article, Popova said Brain Pickings was not-for-profit."* But, Tom Bleymaier "found out that a for-profit LLC was formed in New York called 'Brain Pickings LLC'.*

"Now there’s grist for an honest and open debate: Do affiliate links count as advertising? Felix Salmon, for one, says they 'are a form of advertising' ..."*

"Describing how affiliate ads affect writers is necessary [to discuss] given that the reason Popova told [Tom Bleymaier] she uses the 'ad-free' pitch is that she claims her affiliate advertising links are not ads."*
posted by ericb (74 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Maria Popova responds to Felix Salmon's Blogonomics (Reuters) post [scroll below].
posted by ericb at 4:14 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

My first reaction is Big Fucking Deal, affiliate links are a mostly harmless low-friction way to get a little tiny kickback on reviewed things. If it was really a problem, you'd see tons of bogus reviews on Brain Pickings in an attempt to make more money but that's not really the case, she only posts about things she loves and so this guy's complaints are falling on deaf ears for me.
posted by mathowie at 4:14 PM on February 14, 2013 [62 favorites]

Title taken from Betabeat's headline.
Maria Popova prevously on MetaFiler.

posted by ericb at 4:16 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Much of my objection to ads, and why I use things like AdBlock, is that I don't want to see them. With affiliate links, there's nothing there to see. I definitely appreciate transparency, and, in a different realm of blogging, the fashion bloggers I read all disclose their affiliate links for items of clothing they talk about. But those types of arrangements don't read as "ads" to me, don't bother me the way ads do, and if I can't see banner ads or sidebar ads, then yes, I think you do have an ad-free blog.
posted by gingerbeer at 4:18 PM on February 14, 2013 [9 favorites]

Major Serious Business Controversy Over Some Nobody's Blog
posted by indubitable at 4:19 PM on February 14, 2013 [11 favorites]

It seems like the real complaint here is that people feel Popova was portraying herself as acting in pure public spirit, running a "non-profit" and soliciting donations, when in fact she was running a successful business.

I dunno. There's nothing wrong with making money, obviously.
posted by grobstein at 4:20 PM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think the hardest part of this story is in spite of Bleymaier's estimates, we really have no idea how much she's making. His estimate was so nuts. (on preview, she claims, without giving hard numbers, to make less than 1/10 of Bleymaier's estimate.)

I do think, however, that his post was less a screed than an honest question. Her whole "not for profit" thing seems misleading, at best. Constantly deriding your peers for essentially doing what your doing is kind of icky. Also, her cost estimates for running her blog are definitely veering into "Amanda Palmer's recording costs" territory. IE: total bullshit.

In the end, I think this was just her sort of assuming that affiliate ads "just don't count." Bleymaier makes a good point that any advertising, no matter how small, can affect coverage, and it would look a lot less unseemly if she were just more transparent about it from the jump. Especially considering her ethos isn't the reason she has readers, it's her content. I am hard pressed to believe that anyone would have gotten all that het up if she had disclosed this stuff, were it not for her hard-line on being "non-profit" and soliciting donations besides.

Not a fan of her blog, really, but I think this controversy's kind of overblown.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 4:23 PM on February 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

"Tonight on 'Who Cares?' we examine the frontiers of [web ads]"
posted by mrnutty at 4:26 PM on February 14, 2013 [13 favorites]

People who get worked up about crap like this have too much time on their hands and would benefit from stepping away from the screen.
posted by blaneyphoto at 4:29 PM on February 14, 2013 [20 favorites]

It does seem a little weird that a business owner would ask for donations instead of asking for more business.
posted by Phssthpok at 4:35 PM on February 14, 2013

a 0.1% conversion rate on those ads

I would be astonished if 0.1% of her page views resulted in a book sale.
posted by straight at 4:41 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

It does seem a little weird that a business owner would ask for donations instead of asking for more business.

Donation requests are very common in the world of podcasting. Most podcasts don't have sponsors so they ask for donations or for listeners to click through their Amazon affiliate banner. I don't see a problem here at all.
posted by MikeMc at 4:46 PM on February 14, 2013

Yeah, just to bring a bit of perspective. In all of 2012, MetaFilter's affiliate links for Amazon were clicked many, many times (probably over a million), but the actual sales were in the tens of thousands of items.

Now compare a few ten thousand to total pageviews for the entire year. The site probably served about 350 million pageviews. That's a crazy low conversion rate.
posted by mathowie at 4:47 PM on February 14, 2013 [16 favorites]

Everybody's got to make a living. Sheesh. I certainly don't Paypal her a monthly stipend...
posted by gagglezoomer at 4:47 PM on February 14, 2013

It does seem a little weird that a business owner would ask for donations instead of asking for more business.
What's her "business"? Writing? So should she just directly charge every internet user to visit her site? (See MeFi's Own Blue Beetle's Famous Comment)

I have ALWAYS prefered Affiliate Links for blog income to most Adservers, which you have zero control over. I had a blog with Google Ads when the Infamous Proposition H8 was on the ballot, and the Pro-H8-ers were spending tons of money to put ads on everything getting viewed in California, regardless of political bent. I pulled all Google Ads from the site until after the election and when I restored them it was with the following disclaimer (which probably violates Goggle's Terms of Service): Google believes these ads are relevent to your interests and mine. Silly Google.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:51 PM on February 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

This is such a non-even I can barely compel myself to finish this comment pointing out how irrele
posted by Doleful Creature at 4:53 PM on February 14, 2013 [11 favorites]

Other people make their money by literally destroying the planet on which we all live. This is pretty small beans.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 4:54 PM on February 14, 2013 [11 favorites]

Y'know, I hate hate hate ads. Passionately. I have spend more effort blocking ads than most sane people would consider proportionate to the annoyance they cause.

But affiliate links? Meh. If I happen to read a product review by you, and you inspire me to buy that product... Okay, I'll click your link to Amazon. It doesn't cost me anything extra*, and it doesn't jump out in front of me every time I try to view a page on your site (if it does, you wouldn't have me visiting your site for very long). So... enjoy your $0.15 commission, and I mean that, thanks for doing the legwork for me.

* Yes, I will check that I get the same price anonymously pulling up that product. And that other stores have it in the same price range.
posted by pla at 5:07 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

So she makes some bux off a site...whoop-dee-freaking-doo. There are far worse people doing far worse things for for a lot of money in this world than one person and a site of interesting links.

Its a little heavy on the self loving angle and each page is seems to have taken a cue from the Public Television Subscription Drive model with a donation blub multiple times a page. (btw...does that disappear if I donate?). Wutevah. It just sounds liike somebody is a little butthurt about anther person who is doing a better job at sort of the same thing they are doing and making a living at the same time.

I will probably give it a month try out. Looks rather interesting.
posted by lampshade at 5:07 PM on February 14, 2013

I mean, I'm not a huge fan of Brain Pickings. I don't care what Virginia Woolf cooked or what advice Chekhov gave his drunk brother. But that doesn't mean that I care how Popova gets her money. It isn't like she's made a popular cause of her supposed non-commercialism.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:21 PM on February 14, 2013

What counts as an ad? This FPP has interested me in checking out her blog. Quick, someone! Monetize it!
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:25 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was under the impression this was a common thing, heck I think even metafilter will rewrite amazon URLs to include their affiliateid (i think, not entirely sure). I don't think there is anything wrong with that.
posted by mulligan at 5:43 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Brain Pickings — which remains ad-free and supported by readers — is your cross-disciplinary LEGO treasure chest

And presumably getting a nice paycheck from the nice people at Lego.
posted by mattoxic at 5:43 PM on February 14, 2013

Tried to get angry, to write like a sarcastic commment comparing her to wall street fat cats, with their swimming pools of beluga caviar, smoking cigars made of shredded thousand euro notes. Over the top, froth at the mouth rage, for comedic effect. Didn't even care enough to do that.

I've never used Adblock though , when you block ads you are steeling food out of content creator's kid's mouths, forcing them to go to bed hungry, making them look up with those big wet eyes and say "daddy, why do people want me to starve to death". You wouldn't download candy from a baby right? Content theft is just like that.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:45 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

there are no visible ads, the people who give her money want to give her money, and she does a totally common, bog-standard thing to get a little money on the backside. seems like everyone actually involved is happy. sorry the dude on tumblr has a mouth full of sour grapes, but i just can't figure out why this blew up into a big deal besides other bloggers being bored.
posted by nadawi at 5:48 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

What counts as an ad? This FPP has interested me in checking out her blog. Quick, someone! Monetize it!
That'll be one dollar. PM me for my address.
posted by xingcat at 6:02 PM on February 14, 2013

well, you would say that, wouldn't you Ad hominem
posted by mattoxic at 6:05 PM on February 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

I plan to take my sites ad-free* this year. I use google ads now, and the amount of time I spend to keep the "one neat trick" ads and other ads I object to off my sites aren't worth it to me. I'd have this done already, but I am lazy.

I do solicit donations to cover site costs, and I am thinking of stopping that as well, since mostly I get people questioning my costs (choices of hosts, registrars, etc.) and some kind offers to do things more cheaply. I'm not interested in doing things cheaply. I want to do them well.

This all said, US law requires you disclose when you are receiving payment when you are reviewing a product or service. I would think an affiliate link should count. I don't say so after every one of my links, but I do have it in my FAQ. I also seldom do this, so they also make me a pittance (less that $10 a year).

Websites don't need to be open books. I don't need to know how much metafilter makes a year. I do feel I am entitled to know how my participation here creates the income. My $5? Ads? Affiliate links? I know the answers. $5? Hardly a dent in costs, but keeps most of the assholes out. Ads? Lions share are from the ones non-members see (or members if they ever log out). The single ad I see from The Deck? No idea what Matt makes there, but I know what they charge, so could speculate. Affiliate links? Doubt this would keep me feed for a year. Point is, I don't feel like I need the numbers, but do think sites need to disclose income source.

The problems I have with the complaint here is I generally know when I see an affiliate link. Don't like them? Don't follow the links. Worried about them? Then clear your cookies before ordering. Further, stay away from sites that use them if you care.

Then again, I have a day job and an internet patron who generally covers my costs and provides my legal services, so what do I know?

*I'll still advertise my own creations and as long as my lawyer is my lawyer he gets an ad.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:08 PM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

I do not care about this at all. If she wants to (and can!) make money off of affiliate links, more power to her.
posted by limeonaire at 6:09 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

The only controversy is how big of an ass Tom Bleymaier is. He is an enormous ass. Seriously you might think he was a horse from far away, but then you hear him bray. He's such a big ass that if he shaved his beard and put on a dress Sir Mix-A-Lot would try to pick him up. Dick Cheney was once caught on an open mike comparing him unfavorably to Adam Clyburn of the New York Times. Of course a huge ass like him has a tumblr. He probably also has a hoodie and a trust fund. Still so what. I only mock him because it provides a momentary distraction from the head cold that afflicted me today. So pardon if this rant is nonsensical and fails to amuse. Flag and move on. My bed is floating on a river of snot which pours from my nose like I've opened the Ark of the Covenant. Yet still though I will soon drown in this mucus, I die satisfied that I was able to rant one last time on the blue. It was totally worth $5.
posted by humanfont at 6:18 PM on February 14, 2013 [10 favorites]

I do not care about this at all. If she wants to (and can!) make money off of affiliate links, more power to her.

Yeah, it's hard to disguise an affiliate link. I still think it should be disclosed if you use them. I find anything that is "tricky" to be unethical and try my best to not support it. 12 pages slideshow of linkbait content that reloads the page after every click? Fuck that. A 2,000 word story broken into 12 pages? Screw that.

Seriously, that stuff pisses me off more than most things. Unless you are getting paid by Wal-Mart to write about how cool you think Wal-Mart is...just disclose it and I am fine.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:22 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I struggled for a long time thinking about how to make MefightClub pay for itself. It didn't matter for the first few years, because the bills were pretty much negligable, but after we moved to a virtual private server to deal with community growth and suffering site performance, it started to cost (not a lot, but some) money to run.

I tried a brief run with AdSense, which made me feel skeevy, and after the initial first month or two, it ended up bringing in about the price of a cup of coffee per month, so I killed that, happily.

Folks had urged me for the longest time to accept donations, and I put up a donation page. Two or three years back, a donation dive happened (which if I remember right, was instigated by MFC members rather than me), and that filled the coffers enough to last all the way to now.

In the interim, I decided to add links to the Amazon Affiliate program, and even whipped up a little extension to do the same thing Matt has done here since forever, to rewrite links to Amazon products to include my affiliate code. I'm no big fan of Amazon's business practices or the way it treats its employees, but it seemed like the Least Evil way, and the least intrusive way, to try and bring in a few extra dollars. I did all this in consultation with the community, of course, and nobody voiced any objection to the idea -- many people actually actively post links to Amazon sale stuff to throw possible commissions my way.

The affiliate thing doesn't generally bring in a whole lot more than a few coffees (or beers hooray!)-worth per month, but it's something, and I think it's worked out pretty well, even if I'm not getting rich off it. But getting rich was never even on the radar, so all good.

Unless Ms Popova is deliberately obscuring the fact that links on her site to Amazon products have affiliate codes embedded (not something I even think is possible, at least once the URL resolves in the browser's address bar), it strikes me as odd that people would be surprised or upset somehow that they exist. If she's shilling product by linking to Amazon at every turn, I could see some pushback, but apparently that's not the case.

Money -- particularly what money web site owners manage to make, especially if they're niche -- makes people go kind of weird sometimes. Hell, I even get guiltily envious and mildly cranky when I hear stories about folks making a living wage and more from their sites.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:24 PM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

For as long as I've been reading Brain Pickings, Maria has always followed the Amazon link to whatever she's reviewing with a WorldCat one labeled "public library." Even if someone didn't realize it was an affiliate link to Amazon, they weren't being forced to look only there.
posted by lily_bart at 6:34 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don’t have any idea who these people are and don’t care, but why not put up a notice “hey buy something from this affiliate link and I get paid” like everyone else? That doesn’t bother me at all and might even make me buy something if I was a fan (and it were someone other than Amazon).

When you try and hide it I just assume your whole operation is shady and untrustworthy. Honestly though, anytime someone links to Amazon I assume it’s a revenue thing.

On another subject, have you guys heard of this great book? You really ought to check it out.
posted by bongo_x at 6:43 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Her Support page currently mentions the affiliate links, but I checked the most recent Wayback copy (Jan. 28 2013) and that text wasn't there. So this kerfuffle has made her a little more transparent on this issue -- not that she was doing anything terribly wrong in the first place, as far as I'm concerned. Plus, I'm sure that I'm one of many people who is now aware of her site and will check it out a little more.
posted by maudlin at 6:57 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

It seems like the real complaint here is that people feel Popova was portraying herself as acting in pure public spirit, running a "non-profit" and soliciting donations, when in fact she was running a successful business.

I dunno. There's nothing wrong with making money, obviously.
posted by grobstein at 4:20 PM on 2/14
[1 favorite +] [!]

I've come across the assumption that Kickstarter is a pro-social do-gooder causes site (when it is not) amongst young "with-it" academics a LOT
posted by Bwithh at 6:59 PM on February 14, 2013

Plus, I'm sure that I'm one of many people who is now aware of her site and will check it out a little more.

Yeah, I keep waiting for some nutter to get all out of whack over something I have done and bring me tons of new traffic.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:01 PM on February 14, 2013

Y'all seem to be missing the point, which is not that she uses affiliate links. It's that she makes a song and dance after every single post about her blog being a labour of love that's totally ad-free which should be supported as a philanthropic cause, when in fact she's running a successful for-profit business utilizing ad revenues from affiliate advertising she's actively not disclosing to readers (links that moreover have the potential to influence her content much more than an AdWords box would). People are actively diverting their limited charity budgets to her blog as if its a worthy cause that needs their help to survive, and that's a lie.

I also found her defense that she often gives the donated money to other nebulous good causes to, frankly, smell like bullshit and if anything just reinforce the notion that she's showing bad faith in passing herself off as a worthy cause in need of help.

If this was GiveWell, some of you would have doxxed her cat for this.
posted by dontjumplarry at 7:02 PM on February 14, 2013 [12 favorites]

I also found her defense that she often gives the donated money to other nebulous good causes to, frankly, smell like bullshit[...]

I don't, but then I send out a lot of cash myself. Every time I read a story about some company going after some small guy I write that company a letter saying I think they are assholes (if I do actually think this). Then I send the small guy some cash for his legal fund. I've done this when a city decided to ban a handicapped kangaroo, when Monster (beverages, not cables) when after a small brewery, and most recently when Games Workshop decided an author couldn't use the term "Space Marines." I also donate to tons of animal sites and sites that I think do something either totally rad (Lollipop Theater, Red Cross, RIF) or totally odd like donkey retirement homes (seriously). I bet I give better than I get. In fact that one of the things I like about running a site. The money I make off it doesn't seem like real money, so I generally pour it back into other charities. I've given to Canadian Children's hospitals and to Rock and Roll Camps for Girls.

I don't doubt for an instant that this woman has donated more than she's every made from affiliate links.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:13 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

But yeah, "affiliate links" are FAR, FAR more pernicious than ads, which I can block with a simple plug-in. Fuck affiliate links (ads disguised as content=fuck you fuck you fuck you).

I couldn't agree more when affiliate links are hidden, or undisclosed, 'ads disguised as content' or otherwise sleazy.

But that is not always the case, I don't think. I personally have no problem with Matt programmatically adding his affiliate code to Amazon product links here, for example.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:48 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Much ado about 0.1%.
posted by asnider at 9:21 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Having said that, I don't really like when affiliate links aren't disclosed in some manner. I use affiliate links on my blog, but I also mark them as such. I also only link to things that I'd be linking to anyway.
posted by asnider at 9:22 PM on February 14, 2013

What I do find odd is that she didn't always disclose it once someone complained. As the comments here indicate, most people (including me ) don't think that there is anything wrong with affiliate linking on a blog. However, I think it is up for debate whether it is a form of advertising. Possibly what prompted his post was how she see-sawed on the issue by first changing it to "banner-free" and then changing it back. If I had been in that position, and sincerely felt that affiliate links were not ads, I would have simply publicly announced it and put that notice somewhere on the site.

Popova's argument against ads is that they harm journalistic integrity, but couldn't you potentially say the same about affiliate links, even if you do not think they are strictly ads? Becoming an Amazon affiliate is starting up a business relationship with Amazon (which again, is not evil, but I think if you are, for example, going to write journalism about Amazon on your blog, it may be a breach of journalistic ethics not to disclose the relationship).
posted by shoyu at 9:41 PM on February 14, 2013

Brain Pickings is a fantastic site, if unfortunately named, and whatever helps her keep it up and running is fine by me. This is really a non-issue as far as I'm concerned.
posted by jokeefe at 10:54 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I imagine she thought it was totally obvious, since it's totally obvious. Mouse-over a link or click through and it you see it. There are plug-ins that will cloak affiliate links, but she's not doing that. At any rate, here's what I noticed from the Tom Bleymaier post:

An interview in The Guardian last month drew me to revisit our weeklong email exchange from last Spring

I wrote back with a few reasons why she may be misleading users, and after we had exchanged 7 or 8 more emails

When she ignored my next three attempts over the summer to ask her why she still claimed to be ad-free

emphasis mine. Oh, dear. This feels like borderline stalking, crank behavior.
posted by taz at 12:11 AM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

This is making me feel old, because I remember this being a huge Thing in the blogging world 10+ years ago, and now it's coming round again apparently?

I make a living online through websites, and it's crazy how many people I speak with who find that surprising, as if the internet is non-commercial. Of course there are skeevy things on the internet and it's good to be skeptical, but nobody reasonable would find an Amazon affiliate link to something you'd post about anyway to be something scammy, I don't think. I thought that was a pretty well settled issue, with or without disclosure.

Maybe it's because of how I make my living, but I just tend to assume most sites have some sort of financial something going on with at least some of the things they link to, one way or the other.
posted by imabanana at 12:47 AM on February 15, 2013

Also unless she retroactively whatevered her entire site, all I'm seeing written anywhere on the page is that the thing is ad-free, which as far as I can tell it is.

The bit on the sidebar where she says it takes 450+ hours a month to write, though? That's almost twenty entire days, so you'd actually have to be kinda dumb to figure that she wasn't making some money on the thing somehow.

As for the content, it looks like a slightly more long-winded BoingBoing. So, y'know, I'm not gonna be bookmarking it. On the other hand, she's got a link to a thing I'd never heard of before called Nobrow Press, which has some nice-looking stuff.

On the other other hand: my watch, which at a glance tells me that I and everybody else in the world have spent far too much time thinking about this.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 3:17 AM on February 15, 2013

Further, I wish she had an affiliate link to Tales Designed To Thrizzle as I would totally buy it through her site purely to annoy the people who are annoyed by that exact thing.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 3:21 AM on February 15, 2013

Not addressing the question about whether affiliate links are adverts, which is an argument that can never be resolved, and leaving aside this specific instance, I like the way NPR handles this.

When you click on a book in the quote-unquote NPR bookshop, it opens a window allowing you to select a vendor. At the bottom of that window, there is a note saying "your purchase will help to support NPR" and a "learn more" link, which then opens a window explaining that following an affiliate link gives NPR a small cut on that product, and on any other product you buy during the same visit to that merchant.

That seems to be an appropriate level of disclosure. If a website owner is also using an affiliate program that tells you what people bought during those visits, then it might also be appropriate to tell people whether or not that information is linked to any personal identifiers (which I assume in any ethical affiliate scheme it would not be) and how that information is used.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:25 AM on February 15, 2013

(Appropriate for NPR, that is, which has a particular setup and relationship with its audience and funding sources.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:35 AM on February 15, 2013

We could call this a tempest in a teapot, but first we'd have to scrounge up a teapot. Does anybody have a spare one lying around?
posted by Naberius at 5:45 AM on February 15, 2013

Someone is being mildly hypocritical. Round up the usual suspects.
posted by theora55 at 6:24 AM on February 15, 2013

I had to look her up, not having heard of her until today. I'm not sure what that means other than points out the difference between "famous" and "famous on the Internet".
posted by tommasz at 6:28 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've always found the whole 'I only write about products I love' thing a little suspect.

For me the only real question is whether the fact she can make money off an affiliate link has any effect on what she writes about that product. And that's something we can't really know.
posted by DarkForest at 6:42 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

when in fact she's running a successful for-profit business utilizing ad revenues from affiliate advertising

Again, I would be astonished if her amazon-affiliate income is even enough to pay for her bandwidth, unless she has a whole lot of readers who deliberately buy stuff through her site as a way of making a donation.
posted by straight at 7:22 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

OMG I was trying to look for this website the other day but couldn't remember her name (or the website's name). Thanks for posting this!!

Her site says it takes 450 hours a month for her ... that's kind of a lot, wow.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 8:16 AM on February 15, 2013

nothing wrong with making money in this way as long as you're honest about it, and not arrogant.... but this person has a donation button and also calls the site 'ad free'. I think LifeHacker is another site that sneaks in affiliate links discreetly.
never heard of this person , or the sit(s) they're talking about.
posted by superuser at 8:34 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

If this was GiveWell, some of you would have doxxed her cat for this.

Only if her cat liked Sarah Palin.
posted by DWRoelands at 8:52 AM on February 15, 2013

450 hours a month? That's more than 14.5 hours a day, every day, even in a 31-day month. I'm willing to believe that this woman spends a whole lot of time working on her site, but that figure doesn't really seem credible to me.

As for the Amazon affiliate links, I'm with those calling this "no big deal." Yes, she probably ought to change that disclosure language, or qualify her claims to be "ad-free," just for the sake of transparency. But it doesn't seem like a huge breach of ethics to me, as no attempt was made to hide where the links were going.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 9:54 AM on February 15, 2013

re: the hours - she speaks to that in her response linked upthread.
Regarding hours, actually – to anyone who knows me, questioning how much time I put into what I do would be laughable. Brain Pickings is not how I make a living – it’s MY LIFE, Felix. Every waking moment goes into it one way or another – the enormous amount of time it takes to read books, to research, to meet with people, to interview, and even to do this right now, and of course to write 3 articles a day Monday through Friday, between 300 and 3000 words each. (Add to that the time of my proofreader and any intern at any given time, plus designer and developer when needed.)
posted by nadawi at 9:58 AM on February 15, 2013

Your expenses are your business not your customers. They won't pay or donate a dollar more because of expenses. Itemizing your expenses leads to a bunch of nastiness like omg she spend 450 hours a month at this, or I can host your site into basement crap. As a business person you have to always try to appeal to the value the customer receives. Never price based on cost plus. Always go from value delivered to customer down.
posted by humanfont at 10:25 AM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

nadawi, I saw that, but I'm taking it with a large grain of salt.

"Every waking moment" clearly is hyperbolic - even assuming a minimum amount of sleep, this person still has to feed and bathe herself (which implies either time spent shopping and cooking, or ordering from restaurants, and occasionally visiting a drug store to buy shampoo and whatnot), do laundry, pay personal bills, take out the trash, etc. Does the intern she mentions fix her meals, chew and digest her food, wash her clothes, and scrub her down in the shower? Doubtful.

I also suspect that at least a portion of what she classifies as "reading books," "research" and "meeting with people" may in fact include some activities that aren't strictly work-related.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 10:27 AM on February 15, 2013

Regarding hours, actually – to anyone who knows me, questioning how much time I put into what I do would be laughable. Brain Pickings is not how I make a living – it’s MY LIFE, Felix. Every waking moment goes into it one way or another...

That sounds awful. I hope she’s making a lot of money, or looking into some other line of work.
posted by bongo_x at 10:39 AM on February 15, 2013

you understand every waking moment is hyperbolic (although while showering and chewing food she can absolutely be writing drafts in her head, stewing over paragraphs she just read, or comments left on her blog) but don't understand the 450 hours thing is also similarly hyperbolic? she's saying she spends all her time, even while doing other things, thinking about the blog. that seems realistic when i consider some of the creative types i know.
posted by nadawi at 10:43 AM on February 15, 2013

To be clear, I didn't mean to nitpick at the hours or even dispute them.. I was just in mild awe really.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 12:13 PM on February 15, 2013

I was never really concerned about the affiliate links. What really squicked me out about Brain Picker was, one day, when her server had an open directory hiccup, it turned out she was running a bunch of spam sites on the side. Yes, they were hers, and they were hastily and quietly wiped after this discovery.
posted by brownpau at 1:09 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, caninediatesfacts.com and all her weird SEO sites are the first thing I think when I here her name. Did she ever end up commenting on that whole situation?
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 3:07 PM on February 15, 2013

Charlie O'Donnell | Business Insider: Disclosure and Brain Pickings.

Mathew Ingram | paidContent: The Brainpickings Brouhaha and the Problem With Affiliate Links.
posted by ericb at 3:26 PM on February 15, 2013

I think I'd rate "every waking hour" and "450 hours a month" as equally hyperbolic claims. And if she spends all that time on her blog, when does she have time to start and/or maintain all those other SEO/spam sites?

As someone who hasn't worked a 9 to 5 job in 25 years, I'll readily believe that she thinks about her blog while showering, or whatever, and perceives herself as spending all her time at work, but the numbers cited just sound made up to me. And, as mentioned upthread, I'd bet a lot of the time chalked up to "reading," "research" and "meeting with people" is dual-purpose, with a social or personal as well as business aspect to it.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 5:20 PM on February 15, 2013

I took a time management class in college. We had to put down the number of hours we spent doing things every week. 25 hours for my student job. 25 hours for my mall bookstore job. 18 hours in class. 36 hours studying. 20 hours writing as a hobby. 49 hours sleeping. 7 minutes masturbating. 10 hours doing webwork. ETC! Then when I totaled it all up I came up with more hours than there was on a week.

I couldn't figure out how this was possible until I realized, two of the classes I was taking were in the computer labs I monitored. So doubled counted there. I could study while at work. When I was doing the mall job I often wrote short stories on receipt paper. Etc. Sometimes I even triple counted stuff.

I pretty much still live my life exactly like this.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:55 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

cjorgenson, I find the, um, efficiency of your sex life as described in your example to be both troubling and oddly admirable. Seriously though, I bet there's some double- and triple-counting of the sort you mention in that 450-hour figure.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 9:22 PM on February 15, 2013

I learned how to take a three minute shower in the military. I just spend an extra minute getting clean.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:00 AM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

As if Ms. Popova hasn't alienated enough of the Internet, she has now made a lengthy post of excerpts from "A Cat-Hater's Handbook".
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:43 AM on February 21, 2013

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