Or more accurately, the story of this blog and money, and how we make decisions about what is and what isn’t featured here. There has been a partial call for transparency recently that is causing some controversy, and after some smoky backroom decision-making that occurred in an undisclosed, underground location (right alongside Dick Cheney’s own undisclosed bunker), your humble bloggers agreed that being transparent about our processes will only lead to a greater understanding of how these things work. Most of it is boring and messy because we all have day jobs — but you ask, we answer!
Another issue cropped up in at the previous link that we will answer in the near future. Rest easy, we are going to discuss the issue of “tokenism” and representation in another post.
WHERE WE COME FROM
Feministe started off as my personal blog in late 1999 or early 2000 after having a series of websites hosted on Tripod and Geocities. At this time, my friends’ static websites were quickly beginning to resemble blogs as they currently exist, but without the publishing software behind it. When my friend Anne revealed that she’d started this blog thing hosted by Blogger, I jumped on board.
The thing with Feministe in particular is that it evolved from my personal blog, to a two-person, issue-oriented blog, to a group blog, to the massive octopus it is today. There was and is no end-goal for our work here other than expressing ourselves and having fun. Our traffic grew when I invited Jill to come on permanently, and the traffic exploded when we brought Zuzu and Piny on in my place. Feministe today, with its multiple writers from varying backgrounds and geographies, is the result of a hundred decisions big and small that were mitigated by the personalities contributing as readers and writers, our critics, and our offline lives.
Many other “big” feminist bloggers who came later had the opportunity to blog for a brick and mortar organization before breaking out on their own, or have the backing of a money generating organization behind them, or had the opportunity to take over or join a space that had been built up by the folks before them. You’ll notice, if you’ve been around awhile, that many of the “big” feminist solo blogs of the past are now group blogs, like Bitch Ph.D. and Alas. Generally speaking, most of us do not do this full-time and it takes a lot of brain energy and time to keep up with the incidentals of running and contributing to a large online community, not to mention having to come up with original content.
I chalk Feministe’s initial success up to timing. When Anne and I started as baby feminist bloggers, feminism wasn’t represented but by a few people, and I just happened to get in at the right time and get the links from progressive activists and academic women who were not necessarily feminist, to have a solid audience. My earliest Feministe blogroll consisted of meatspace friends and people I didn’t know who were generally liberal. The audience grew in part because when the old “Why Don’t Women Blog?” questions between male bloggers like Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias needed an answer, I, along with many others, stood up. I was also privately miffed that the most-trafficked feminist blog at that time was run by a man and I was determined to pass him in traffic. Over time, many of my comrades from that time have lost interest or investment with blogging in general or blogging feminism in particular.
Today, I believe Feministe’s successes are a result of good, daily writing over the better part of a decade by a diversity of voices that are unencumbered with input from editors or any centralized internal power.
MONETIZING THE BLOG
At no point until last year did we make any money worth writing about. We made enough through donations to pay the $120 annual hosting fees at Powweb and pay the S&H on a stick of gum from eBay. We’d kicked around the idea of putting ads on the blog but were unsure what kind of funds we’d bring in and whether the ad maintenance and ethical headaches were worth it. It wasn’t until Liza at Culture Kitchen told us we were out of our gourds for not enterprising this space that we really looked into it.
The ads are new and we’re still obviously trying to rectify our issues with advertising and the realities of maintaining a virtual space that operates using real-world dollars. We haven’t made anything at all from our Cafepress account or the Amazon widget in the sidebar (I insist on keeping the Amazon widget because I like promoting the media I like). We do not seek outwardly seek advertising and no one has ever promoted a product for money. In the end, we had to step up the advertising when we made the move to get hosted on a private server, and moreover, to hire a part-time tech goddess to run this server.
Our advertising revenue varies greatly by month, but here’s how we spend it:
Hosting costs are always paid first. Using a private server like Media Temple is grossly expensive, but the shared server we used before could not handle the traffic.
- Paying the tech goddess
Considering that this bloggy livelihood is dependent on the smooth runnings of its backend, keeping a happy tech goddess is of the utmost importance. She spends a few hours every month monitoring and tweaking the database and we ask for additional support if things start getting wonky. We pay her the standard hourly working time for a tech professional.
We set aside some money every month just in case something, anything, pops up. We’re at the point now where, if necessary, we can subsidize some expenditures necessary to get someone to a conference or panel as a representative of the blog, such as paying entrance fees.
- Paying the writers.
If there is money left over, we pay out on based on our own individual contributions to the blog, on the honor system, judged by hours reported. Every month we tally up the hours spent working on the backend or frontend of the blog and the remainder of the funds are divided between us according to the hours we individually report. After some discussion, we decided that research time or moderating time, even commenting time, for example, is definitely fair to report within reason, as opposed to clocking only writing time.
Obviously with this payment structure our payouts vary. One may self-report five hours one month and twenty the next, but the money paid out is dependent on the ad money actually generated. Some months we don’t get paid individually at all. To clarify, when we say we get paid, we’re talking about a couple hundred dollars a month. Some months, we bring in next to nothing. In a great month, like during election season, we make $800-$1,000. So even in a good month, if we have 10 guest bloggers, plus the six writers, plus two book reviewers, and the regular bloggers are putting in anywhere from 3 to 40 hours, everyone is literally paid next to nothing for their efforts.
So unlike HuffPo, who has tons of money and still does not pay contributors, we do not have the funds at this point in time to compensate our guest bloggers in a way that we feel is adequate and respectful of the work that they do, and we’re generally not sure how to handle the issue going forward. (“Here is $12 for your time! Thanks!”) Further, since we don’t know from one month to the next whether or not we will pull in enough revenue (especially with sometimes unpredictable costs) to pay ourselves, we can’t promise money to guest bloggers when we don’t know for certain that we would be able to live up to the obligation.
We do appreciate the work that they do, and if there ever comes a time where we make enough revenue through the blog to compensate them in a way that is fair and representative of their work, we will gladly and gratefully change our financial structure to accommodate that. We are still interested in hearing from guest bloggers past and future on this topic, especially since we have another stint coming up this season, so if you have any input please let us know by email or in the comments.
One other thing that became pretty clear as we were discussing this piece on administrative transparency (in our underground bunker), is how all of us agreed flatly we would be doing this even without the money. I think most bloggers feel the same way. All of us were blogging in some form or another before we began to generate revenue and none of us depend on the website as our sole source of income. We have an ongoing discussion about how to compensate guest bloggers that has yet to be resolved, but to date there have not been any internal conflicts generated by the ad revenue or how it is distributed.
DECISION-MAKING, AND HOW!
Most of our decision-making process is done by mass email. It is primarily administrative and revolves around issues of hosting costs, organizing guest bloggers, and moderation duties. The truth is, as disorganized as this is, the decisions get made by whoever decides to take on whatever responsibility or whoever answers the initial email. Because we all have outside duties and real-world responsibilities our process is very messy.
We tend to take on any guest blogger that approaches us with a timely piece, sometimes solicit others when we want to see an issue addressed that none of us have the expertise to comment on, and also have an official guest blogging “season” over the summer months that is primarily organized by Jill, based on suggestions from the other bloggers, wherein guests are invited to write over a 1-3 week period.
We strongly encourage the seasonal guest bloggers to bring their own perspective, promote their own work, and use their own discretion in moderating their own comment sections based on a really loose set of assumed community standards. Guest blogging and linking have always been used in the feminist blogosphere to spread the wealth, to expose an existing audience to the many other folks out there writing their asses off. Until we can figure out how to rectify the issues with compensation mentioned above, we have recommitted to making sure we are linking heavily to other bloggers and attempting to share the platform.
No guest writer is ever edited or censored in any way, and no work is submitted to us ahead of time for review unless it is unsolicited, and sometimes it isn’t reviewed then either. Even the regular contributors post at will and without any kind of review on whatever topics they choose. Each writer retains the rights to her own work and can redistribute and promote it in any way she chooses.
There has been a general impression by some that Jill acts as editing overlord, but we’re about as lassiez-faire as it gets. Whenever you’ve been recruited to write for Feministe, the process is basically, “Here’s your login! Go!”
Even the choice of who we invite as a regular contributor is messy. We have solicited many who have turned us down, and have taken on people who eventually decided that this space wasn’t their kind of venue. The primary motivating factor of who gets featured is this: we are huge fans of their work and are proud to have their contributions to the blog alongside our own. [Except for Jill (sorry, Jill, the truth hurts!), whose invitation to this blog was offered by me after a couple of recommendations even though I didn’t really read her previous blog. Glad it worked out!] Piny and Zuzu were pulled from the comments because they were so active, engaged, resourceful, and funny. Kactus, Cara, Holly, Jack, and Rachel, and book reviewers Julia and Jennifer, were chosen because they too were fantastic and entertaining writers whose own sites were regular reads, or because of high recommendation from within the Feministe circle, or their active participation in the Feministe community.
It’s really that simple (or not). We’re not in it for the money, but we enjoy the recognition and the responses we get to our work, and the privilege of being able to spread the word about other great work, and activism, and music, and salient issues, that we believe others should pay attention to. There might be some room to criticize our decision-making processes, but our overarching goal is to make as inclusive a space for feminist and progressive views as possible and be as fair as we can while doing it. Given our resources I think we’ve done reasonably well, but we’re always open to suggestions.