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Feminist writer and novelist Courtney Martin has written a recent column in The Nation explaining the challenges in fundraising for online activism.  Though her column specifically pertains to online feminist activism, especially for young adults, much of what it covers is pertinent for other many groups.  This is especially true as regards the not-so-simple matter of funding.  The tedious argument which leads us to an overwhelming question is this:  How does anyone really make money on the internet?

Feminist activism is certainly not lacking for drive and motivation.  What appealed to me the first time I dipped a cautious toe into that passionate stew was the energy I observed. Impartiality is rare.  Often fiery, routinely forceful, one could never say that the subjects under debate were for the milquetoast.  I have to say that in the beginning, I brought a few subtle misconceptions with me, many centered around gender, biases that were proven to be unfounded not long after I arrived.  As is also true with many men who choose to be active, I had to learn that criticism of certain offending souls who shared my assigned gender had nothing to do with me.  I wish others would take the time to recognize the same thing I have.

With the misunderstandings that can often only be resolved by direct participation, an especially frustrating challenge that faces Feminism is a question of branding.  Although the movement has deliberately taken a broad focus, it finds itself compartmentalized by the outside world.  Although it has debated queer and transgender equality, abortion rights, racial diversity, disability rights, and class privilege, among other important issues, it often finds itself judged on a small fraction of its real concerns.  Its impact in the greater discourse gets pushed off to the side, which is unfortunate, to say the least.  This phenomenon can be observed easily when browsing through a bookstore. No matter how wide in scope the subject matter, feminist writers, much to their frustration, usually find their written works consigned to the “Women’s and Gender Studies” section.

If all that was discussed within online feminism was esoteria, then this qualification would make sense, but it is not the truth.  Some writers and thinkers, in particular, have sought to broaden their appeal, not wishing to be typecast only as feminist writers or women's writers.  It is true that there there are a few instances in discourse where discussion turns strictly inward, towards those who have absorbed the requisite amount of theory.  However, most of the time, activists are more concerned with very tangible aspects and proposed strategies to improve the lives of real women.  Few specific problems are mentioned in the abstract, nor is the call for specific solutions any less than plaintive.

So the matter then returns to the difficulty that many bloggers and online-based groups face. Money's always a problem, isn't it?  Those who have struggled to make ends meet through publishing online content have often reached the same conclusion.  Under the current model, there just isn’t enough of it to go round.

Martin writes,

Other content providers have recently made strides in charging for content; the public service mission of feminist blogging and organizing sites would be undermined if we created barriers to access. Not-for-profit content providers solicit foundation support; this often requires the services and skills of a grant-writer, the kind of institutional staffing a scrappy start-up site doesn’t have. And if a grant-writer were to seek out foundation funding, “Foundations and donors that historically and primarily give to media tend to be stuck in the old paradigm of ‘objective media’ and shy away from advocacy journalism,” says Jo Ellen Kaiser, executive director of the Media Consortium.

Blogs like Feministing, of which I am an editor emeritus, have operated without any formal structure for years. Third-party advertising networks, like Google Adwords, provide the majority of our revenue, but most often there is no money left over—after tech and hosting fees—to pay any of our eleven bloggers. We’ve been caught in a seven-year chicken-or-egg-cycle; at annual retreats, we discuss next steps for formalizing our structure and focusing on becoming financially sustainable, and then our full-time jobs (largely as communications consultants at feminist nonprofits and freelance journalists) crowd out any time to follow up. We’re too busy trying to make ends meet to figure out how to make ends meet.

Understood in Martin’s analysis is the reality that making many aspects of the blogosphere financially tenable will require new ideas.  The old models are increasingly irrelevant and unhelpful.  A strict reliance on advertising revenue and private donors only promises a hand-to-mouth existence.  If ever visionaries were needed, their services are required now.  Even if activist websites lowered their standards, I doubt their financial health would be appreciably improved.  It isn’t the content providers who need to step up, it’s the monetary sources.  

I regularly write about how I am a member of a small faith group that numbers only a few thousand in the United States alone.  With time, blogging has become an effective way for us to debate, propose, and revise pertinent theological issues.  There is one Quaker site I know of that is somewhat similar.  Called QuakerQuaker, it actively solicits contributions from readers, without relying heavily on a team of editors and contributors.  Like Feministing, it does rely heavily on ad content and donations from individuals to keep its head above water.  I have even made a few small donations here and there to do my part so that it stays up and running. My financial contributions provided hosting and tech fees.  Relying almost exclusively on user contributions means that the content varies considerably in quality, but that it does allow every Friend to speak his or her mind.  

As it stands, Feminism is not a niche interest pertinent only to specific people.  Quakerism can provide a helpful perspective and spiritual guidance for more than other Quakers.  The established beliefs, in the meantime, are so strongly grounded in group consciousness that few people are willing to think beyond them.  Activism and life are not nearly as meaningful if both are not lived.  And as I have noted more recently, too many people see systems and functions in the same way they do consumer goods.  To them, there’s always a better deal elsewhere, and there’s always a model designed to fit their own specific instantaneous need.  Activism is meant to challenge.  Consumerism is meant to placate and pacify.  People desperately need to be stretched and exercised, otherwise crucial muscles atrophy.    

Originally posted to cabaretic on Fri Nov 04, 2011 at 07:32 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I've seen so many good sites come and go (15+ / 0-)

    Been doing this online thing since longer than the web has been in existence, and unless you come up with the killer app (see Zuckerberg and Facebook), the chances of making much money (or even sustaining a social awareness presence such as political blogging) over time is nearly nil.  To their credit, major right wing blogs and websites are actually subsidized by right wing organizations.  That doesn't much happen, if at all, on the political left or for social justice causes.

    As you note, there's just not enough money to support these efforts, because in large part left wing organizations run on a shoestring to begin with.  To offer fellowships or financial grants / support is just beyond the reach of most of these organizations.

    I ran a fairly tight, well written political blog for seven years.  It was always advertising supported; few in our membership had the ability (or apparently desire) to financially support the endeavor via donations.  The ad revenues didn't even cover the hosting and such - it was a labor of love, but finally, became too time and emotionally consuming to continue.

    I hear what you're saying.  I don't know the answer.

    We're resigned to our collective fate because we've been conditioned and brainwashed to believe that this is as good as it gets. It's not.

    by Richard Cranium on Fri Nov 04, 2011 at 07:57:21 AM PDT

  •  Interesting. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cassandracarolina

    Tithing and contributions support faith communities and for many who tithe it's to fund a very small staff and charity.

    Political contributions are a great sacrifice given the resource restrictions most have and the high degree of corruption inherent in political world.

    People pay a small price for a large newspaper with many articles on all sorts of niches with a diminishing pool of writers getting a small chunk of that money.

    Can many writers even make a living writing on feminism or any other important, relevant, philosophy? Ever?  

    So scale is important.  

    Also, for most people activism is done after their 9-to-5, it's a community service or volunteer activity. Making a living has to come first and like writing on personal beliefs, very few people will be able to make a living as an activist.  

    Companies, corporations, invest money to challenge their staff and provoke personal development which is in constant need of being stretched and exercised. But they do that to make a living, make a better living. Not for altruistic reasons. Most people don't have the resources to siphon off for personal development and of so do it with the intent for tangible results (e.g., money, pleasure, health).

    So the resultant model you're seeking may only likely support a few people, will be dependent on corporate clients and then the well-to-do, and require a pretty high bar since people are generally able to easily become informed and stretched these days given the wide access to information and communication.

    Maybe the public library is something to look at. How do libraries support writers? Would that stream ever be sufficient?

    Eliminate the Bush tax cuts Eliminate Afghan and Iraq wars Do these things first before considering any cuts

    by kck on Fri Nov 04, 2011 at 08:30:59 AM PDT

  •  Wrong question (4+ / 0-)

    The question you asked includes lots of people whose work has nothing whatever to do with activism—and who make a great deal of money in a variety of ways that I don't think are relevant or that you were really interested in hearing about. Perhaps adjusting the title might help.

  •  One thing I've noticed... (3+ / 0-)

    ...in reading a lot of blogs written by people whose living is by traveling to cheap destinations and writing about it, the ad revenue on the site seems secondary to some hugely overpriced self-published book that they wrote on how to do whatever their specific focus is, which is usually just a cobbled-together and re-edited "best of" for the blog.

    Also they tend to be travel tips for the sort of places where selling ten books a month at fifty dollars apiece will support you.

    •  It is extremely hard for charitable org to (4+ / 0-)

      raise money even if people like me get nothing for the effort.  We provide services to veterans but I cannot get any money hardly online except by liberals and they call us unpatriotic?  Yeah right!!!!!  Our org headquarted in Ga has come up with 240.00 so far and heading into the holdiay season.  Now you would think we could raise enough to help and maybe cover some of our expenses but I always and have for 11 years gone in the hole.  
      We are providing some coats and toys and food for 3 families as we try to do each year.  Someone from here paid our vet phone bill because I couldn't keep up.  It is hard nad tiring and sometimes makes me want to just throw up my hands but not just with my advocacy and activism but the whole small org deal.  We are not big enough to have salaries but I guarantee you we lobby the big guys pretty hard not for donations but more benefits.  It is the same all over unless you are big enough to back the sucker with a good bit of capital and fundraising costs initially.

      We are snake Oil salespeople so we are happy with small or large but I would faint if UVA ever got a donation for 500.00.  25.00 is the norm and that is fine.
      Me and my volunteers usually make up the difference.
      Shouldn't be that way but we do not want grants.  IRS told me one time we were doing it compleletly right because if you do you don't make money..LOL...I told the IRS...I had a question and was speaking with the agent , yeah but it would be nice to have expenses covered so obviously I am doing something wrong.  She said, Nope..your org has its place and it seems pretty personal like one on one to help people and that is exactly right....We need the big ones too.  I am probably the only former CEO..Founder and CFO that is in the hole 10,000.  lol..No bonuses here.

      We the People have to make a difference and the Change.....Just do it ! Be part of helping us build a veteran community online. United Veterans of America

      by Vetwife on Fri Nov 04, 2011 at 02:38:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  How about teaching people how to make money (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wishingwell

    online by teaching people how to make money online? In other words, an online course to teach people that the way to make money online is to sell an online course about how to make money online.

    Just kidding, of course. But I think there's a grain of truth in the joke. With the state of the economy these days, only ridiculous gimmicks really make money anymore -- for the most part. Productive labor, genuinely beneficial ideas and cogent writing? Not so much.

    If you want to make money on the internet, create a cool YouTube video of animals or babies doing funny thing, and hope that it goes viral. Or else come up with the next killer app, e.g. a Facebook or Twitter type thing.

    Eric Stetson -- Author, Speaker, Visionary. www.ericstetson.com

    by Eric Stetson on Fri Nov 04, 2011 at 02:33:19 PM PDT

  •  Few people make money from opinion writing. (0+ / 0-)

    It doesn't have a whole lot to do with the internet, save that you can even give it a shot; whereas publication barriers prevented most people from even trying in earlier times.

  •  How does anyone make money, period? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wishingwell, greengemini, HiBob

    It's not just online. Smart and talented people are finding it harder and harder to make money at all, unless they are lucky enough to get a good corporate or government job.

    Eric Stetson -- Author, Speaker, Visionary. www.ericstetson.com

    by Eric Stetson on Fri Nov 04, 2011 at 02:57:40 PM PDT

  •  Average revenue from page views: (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cassandracarolina, linkage, HiBob, mimi

    Making money online is all about getting LOTS of page views. Here's a calculator that shows how much money you'll probably make from Google AdSense ads, based on how many page views your site gets. As you can see, even getting 10,000 page views per day will only get you a few thousand dollars in revenue annually.

    http://www.calculatorslive.com/...

    I'm currently in the midst of starting an online media business, but I wouldn't bother trying to do that if I didn't believe I've come up with a "killer app." I hope I'm right that I really have. Because otherwise, the website I'm starting won't make much money.

    Markos has made lots of money by starting Daily Kos. His business model is based on getting lots of people to blog on his site instead of their own blogs -- so that he reaps all the advertising revenue instead of them. It's brilliant, if you can pull it off. But few can. How many gigantic blogging networks can there really be?

    Eric Stetson -- Author, Speaker, Visionary. www.ericstetson.com

    by Eric Stetson on Fri Nov 04, 2011 at 03:00:20 PM PDT

    •  Another, fairly viable, model is... (0+ / 0-)

      ...to build an email list of engaged subscribers, and then -- interspersed with your regular content -- send out sponsored emails for progressive nonprofits or businesses that your readers might be interested in.

      It's not easy or quick to build a good, sizeable email list...but once you do, it can be used to bring in some pretty regular revenue.  I work with several lefty sites & publications that do just that.

  •  If you give me $200 I will teach you how. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HiBob

    Hint: (ask for $200 dollars from a bunch of suckers)

    We lose if we choose to forget; the lives of men, and money spent.

    by DeanDemocrat on Fri Nov 04, 2011 at 03:39:32 PM PDT

  •  Randy Rhodes Pimping Making Money Online (3+ / 0-)

    I know that our progressive radio shows need support but it really pisses me off when the hosts themselves pimp worthless products.  I've noticed that Randy Rhodes is now pimping something called makemoneyonline.  It's not just an ad that runs on her show it's an ad that she personally does. These things are almost always a rip off and anyone who uses them should be very very careful.  There are too many pitfalls for a simple comment.

    I know how hard it is to make money on-line.  I have personal experience.  I tried to set up an internet business I could run from home when I became disabled so I know how difficult it is to do.  I never made a dime but I was also careful not to waste money either.  

    I get at least 10 request for donation e-mails a day from political sites.  Even if I were in the 1% I'd have trouble keeping up.  It's ridiculous.  You can't just keep begging for money.  There are so many good causes that there isn't enough to go around.  It's like all the homeless people begging on street corners.  I'd like to help them all and I can't. Nobody could.  There are too many.   So I don't see how any of them make enough money to make it worthwhile anymore.

    More specific to your diary.  The key to making money on line is exactly what you say.  Not only getting people to contribute content for free but also to even run your site for free.  I worked as a moderator on a BBS for a year along with a crew of up to six others.  I did it because it was  fun but finally got tired of spending time helping somebody else make money.  

    Dkos is a prime example of how it works.  There are thousands of excellent diaries put up for free for every front pager who gets paid.   HuffPo started that way too and I still believe lots of their content comes from non paid sources.  

    One creative idea that I think is going to catch on is what I call Move Your Donations.  I'm not donating to the usual corporate suck ups this election year.  With Obama charging as much as $40,000 a ticket from his corporate paymasters he shows his true colors.  I plan to be very selective and stop supporting those who take my money then don't support my issues.  I believe that causes and candidates who do a good job of convincing people that they are on their side can benefit from a Move Your Donations movement.  

    Our cause is FAIRNESS. FAIRNESS for the masses. Our cause HOPE. HOPE for a better life and a better world. Yes WE Can, Yes WE Will. Together WE will OCCUPY THE WORLD. Let it be.

    by YellerDog on Fri Nov 04, 2011 at 04:36:08 PM PDT

  •  Making money online is a lot harder to do today (7+ / 0-)

    It's a lot harder to make money online these days, but then again it's never quite been that easy to make money on a sustainable basis anyway.  Sure, when the internet started you could just throw up a website and have orders coming in by the bucketload.  And even after the dot com crash and the rise of Google, people could still make money selling stuff on eBay or writing an ebook and selling it on Clickbank and make huge money.  Even slapping up a cheap blog and putting Adsense on it or doing affiliate marketing on blogs or Craigslist could bring in some serious change for some people.  But all of these were just short term fads or gimmicks that became easily subverted once so many people heard about it, or Google would change its algorithm which would send a lot of lazy affiliate marketers into Siberia, or Craigslist would ban you for spamming their listings, or that ebook that made you a ton a money six weeks ago could be found for free by either using some special Goggle search tricks or finding it at some download site like Rapidshare, Megaupload, or Mediafire.

    Heck, even porn, the one business everyone thought was recession-proof and would always make money, got its margins squeezed once people learned to share their favorite porn movies, first on Gnutella, then Kazaa, and finally all of the porn derivatives of YouTube.

    Not to mention once the big names like Amazon and eBay got bigger, they squeezed out a lot of online merchants to the point where they either would be plowed under the bus or they would have to join their services albeit with a huge fee taken out.

    In the end, it all comes down to marketing, which is a fundamental skill anyone who wants to sell anything to anyone else must learn.  And despite what some fly-by-night guru tells you, there are no shortcuts.  There are some people making huge money online right now and living a leisurely lifestyle, but they spent years working 18 hours a day, 7 days a week building a website, email list, and all kinds of credibility to get where they are now, and once they git bigger they were smart enough (and rich enough) to outsource their menial day-to-day tasks to others.

    •  My experience certainly affirms that (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      betson08

      I started with a great educational software tool I built but couldn't really sell, then built a specialty professional education/forum site that was pretty much made obsolete by LinkedIn, and have finally turned to selling electronics and renewable energy products through a standardized platform.  I still make a small amount through AdSense (I'm working on my second $100 payout in about 15 months), but it would be a real struggle to create the kind of intellectual property site that generates enough income to survive.  Success comes down to investing and reinvesting in marketing and trying to keep ahead of the changes in search engine algorithms as well as refining your ability to convince potential customers that what you have to offer is worth their money.  I have found that the more time I put in writing articles and commenting on related blogs, the better my traffic and conversions, but it really does require persistent, long-term efforts.

  •  How about asking for it? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mdmslle, betson08

    I know that it's hard to ask for money, but I have been reading Feministing for over five years, and during all that time as far as I know, they asked for money from their readers exactly once-- and raised over $7k (IIRC) in the space of about one week (including my own contribution).

    Since I enjoyed the blog and really believe in the mission, I would give more, but I don't give if it isn't asked for. I also know that some other feminist publications with an online presence ask for money very aggressively and have been making major bank from their outreach. It sounds like QuakerQuaker does at least get enough from donations to keep itself above water.

    "It is, it seems, politically impossible to organize expenditure on the scale necessary to prove my case -- except in war conditions."--JM Keynes, 1940

    by randomfacts on Fri Nov 04, 2011 at 06:00:19 PM PDT

  •  People make money online? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ladybug53, linkage, opendna

    I must have gotten in the wrong line!  Oh well, story of my life.

    "We must move forward, not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom." - Kodos

    by Jon Stafford on Fri Nov 04, 2011 at 06:10:10 PM PDT

  •  unfortunately (0+ / 0-)

    This is an inherent flaw of our current market economy.  The only way I can see it changing is to massively increase public support for things like this, or give each citizen a citizen's income.

    Right now there's only a small amount of money to go around for the whole internet, and the lion's share of that goes to google.  If you're starting a nonprofit, you better make sure you're damn good, because you're basically taking away funds from every other nonprofit.

  •  I looked for the Google ads (0+ / 0-)

    I am a big fan of Teh Google ads, and I sought out Feministing with the intention on clicking on some.  I couldn't find them: all I found was a (presumably) freebie ad for Big Brothers/ Big Sisters.  I am wondering if Google is currently running any paid ads at all on this site.

    It could be me: the ad placements are determined not just by what's on the page, but also on what else you've been looking at and probably lots of other spooky Teh Google magick.  Someone else logging on from a different computer will see totally different ads from what you see.  (I have, by the way, been lately seeng an inordinate number of ads about Affordable Forklifts as well as Catheters and Urology Supplies.  Also, I have been seeing lots of ads about Herman Cain.)

  •  I could think of making money online only (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    betson08

    with one to one tutoring services via a mixture of blog exchanges on one half of the page, a lecture kind of presentation with exercises on the other half of the page.

    Formal online school classes are too expensive and often nothing much worth. They are not flexible and not interactive enough and offer rarely more than a canned way of problem solving.

    Many students don't need necessarily a class environment, but live interactions with a tutor, teacher or other class mates. That could be achieved with customaized blogs for that purpose and conference skyping or something similar.

    With regards to Markos' success. ... he just got lucky. I wonder if he ever would have gotten so many "lost souls" who wanted to vent and read and understand what's going on, if there hadn't been a GWBush government and two insane wars going on etc. ...

    (Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to say that Markos blog was "war profiteering", but you know it certainly helped a little .... ouch, I better keep my head low  :-))  

  •  The other thing you can do (0+ / 0-)

    is be an affiliate of a company - get a certain percent of the profit, usually less than 5% when somebody buys a product. If it's an expensive product, like Vitamix high-speed blenders for example (I bought mine that way at a blog, fatfreevegan, you can actually get some revenue).

    Other than that unless you come up with another DKos or HuffPo it's a long shot. Mostly it's a labor of love I'd say.

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