The money or your muse

There must be something in the water – in the last week, I’ve read three different blog posts by three different authors criticizing the way others blog. One was critical of the number of images people post, an old and oft-repeated criticism. The others were critical of what are essentially marketing sites disguised as blogs. I’m sure you’ve seen such sites, filled with glowing reviews of every product that comes down the pike, accompanied by links to affiliates which when clicked give the blogger a piece of the action.

The first criticism makes some sense, when viewed from the perspective of a photographer, since we’re often told that photographers should show only their best work. Of course, not everyone who makes photos is a photographer. Some – in fact, most – who make photos have little concern for the artistic merit of their creations. They’re merely interested in capturing moments and experiences, and sharing them with others. What right does anyone have to tell them that they shouldn’t? Don’t want to see 427 photos of Fluffy the cat, or Uncle Bernie’s trip to the Dells? There’s a pretty simple solution – don’t look. I spend a great deal of time on the internet, and I never ever see images I don’t wish to see, so I’m unsure as to why some folks continually get so hot and bothered by the admitted mountain of images that are posted each day. No one’s forcing anyone to click on anything.

I’m a bit more sympathetic towards the second criticism, because there’s a certain amount of deception taking place in these circumstances. Many of the reviews on these thinly disguised marketing sites are filled with fluff, and tell you little about the real world capabilities of the product they’re reviewing. Occasionally they’re flat-out misleading. These sites exist only to turn a profit, and do nothing to help readers make an informed equipment choice. They certainly do nothing to help those same folks make better images. Yet not every site that contains affiliate links is devoid of valuable information, nor filled with misleading fluff. The Online Photographer has more than it’s fair share of affiliate links, yet it’s filled to the brim with valuable insights, and guided by an editor whose integrity has never been in question. Using one’s blog to make a profit is not in and of itself a sin. It’s how one goes about it that matters. Integrity is everything. Or as John Wayne said, in The Comancheros, “Words are what men live by… words they say and mean.”

Why am I writing about this today? Well for one thing, as I write this it’s -12°F, with a wind chill of -39°F. A game of lawn darts is out of the question, so I need to find other ways with which to amuse myself. For another, I’ve been thinking about how I’d like this blog to evolve, and specifically whether or not I might be able to use it to generate some extra income. This may come as a surprise, but like most people I have bills to pay, and I am not now, nor not likely to be in the near future a billionaire. So I’ve been thinking, why not generate some extra cash doing something I love?

The Little Voice in the back of my head keeps saying, “Here’s why not, dummy – you’re not always what they call ‘diplomatic.’ You have opinions, and you’re not shy about sharing them, even when you know they might rankle a few feathers. Not just about photography, but about other subjects as well… subjects you’ll never be able to stop writing about, because your interests and concerns are too varied, your opinions too strong, and your attention span too short for you to ever focus exclusively on photography. Achieving wide-spread appeal almost always requires you to ‘water down’ your material(see Jay Leno), and that’s not your style. You’d also spend an immeasurable amount of time fretting over whether or not every single post, every single word measured up to your standards for accuracy and integrity. You’d second-guess yourself at every turn, and live in fear that someone might think you were giving a good product review for financial gain only. Finally, you know that if this blog actually took on a sense of structure – if you were forced to post a certain number of times a week, if you had actual deadlines, and responsibilities to affiliates, this blog of yours would become… wait for it… A JOB. You know that the minute it became a job, you’d stop enjoying it. It might even impact the way you feel about photography itself. Any other questions, dummy?”

Um, no… that pretty much covers it, Little Voice. Thanks? I mean, thanks.

The Little Voice has a point. I do enjoy being able to do what I want, when I want, without obligation, with regards to the blog. According to my WordPress stats, my most viewed posts, by far, are the gear related posts. Yet frankly, they are the least enjoyable for me to write. It’s harder than it looks to write a review that is informative and thorough, doesn’t repeat what others have already written, and is of value to shooters of various styles and needs. I just don’t have much patience for it. These days I tend to write about equipment only to correct what I see as widespread inaccuracies being spread by others. As I’ve said before, all current cameras these days are darn good – figure out what your needs are, and buy accordingly.

Yet there are few greater blessings than being able to earn a living doing something you love, and I do love talking about photography, and making images. So the temptation remains. The trick is to figure out a way to do it that doesn’t compromise my ethics, and doesn’t prevent me from following my muse. This will certainly never become a gear review blog, but that doesn’t mean I can’t associate with products and vendors that I actually use and recommend. And of course, there’s still the potential to generate income via the sales of prints(coming soon… er, eventually, I swear), e-books, “real” books, and other photo-related products.

So the goal is to turn a profit without turning over my soul. A tricky path to navigate, for sure… especially when so many others have no qualms about selling their soul, or anything else that isn’t nailed down. So many decisions… it might be easier just to win the lottery.

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