You Are Not the Product (on this site)

I've been getting a lot of monetary offers lately, as apparently the word is out on how many of you are reading my sites. I've removed a lot of tracking information in recent years, but even the one remaining external tracker is estimating my site traffic at over a million unique visitors a year. 

Valuing a Web site and estimating its potential for revenue is not an easy job. Maximizing income from a Web site is even harder. However, it's been clear to me that for some time I've been collecting less revenue from my Web sites than their potential. That's because I've been turning down offers from companies wanting to piggyback on my sites. Offers that I see other Web sites picking up. 

For instance, there's the constant Kickstarter stream. The most recent photo-related offer to me was a 15% commission on all click-thru sales from an item that doesn't exist yet. That company received over US$1,000,000 of pre-orders, much of it from camera rumors sites, so a large part of US$150,000 of buyers' money is going to those sites. And that's only one of three active photo offers I've been asked to promote recently. Disclosure: while I sometimes will order something personally off Kickstarter or Indiegogo, that's really just me supporting some clever or interesting ideas. At least three such items have yet to show up after supporting them ;~). I won't actively promote products that may not actually appear, or for which we can't evaluate the likelihood of suitability until they do.

Next up, we have the software vendors. The most recent offer to me for software was a 10% commission on all click-thru sales originating from my site. Again, the numbers can add up fast, particularly when said company has done three major promotions so far in 2022 and is known as a constant offer churner. It only would have taken about 100 sales to generate another US$1000 for me. Disclosure: I generally wouldn't ever promote software that I don't use and recommend to others. While there are a couple of companies who produce software that I recommend who would reward me for links, it's a slippery slope when a post=revenue. You can probably see that on other sites, where you get multiple posts for the same offer, because, well, each post=revenue. I've refrained from doing that. 

Amazon is the next revenue genie I've mostly kept in a bottle. I have to admit that I no longer pay any attention to what Amazon is offering me on links these days; I just delete those emails and ignore them asking me to do more. The commission used to be 5-8% depending on the item when I started out with them in the late 90's. These days the percentage tends to be far less, with only an occasional higher pay out. The so-called best Web site practice is to put a link to Amazon on any mention of any product that they sell. Disclosure: I do put Amazon links on zsystemuser and dslrbodies for a lot of small and odd items that mostly appear in my accessories pages. I do that primarily because it's easier to directly link to these off-brand and low-volume items than to answer an email asking "where can I buy that?" I see a small payback for those links as repayment for the time to go out and find them and write about them in the first place. In most cases where I link to an item on Amazon, I've bought that item and tried it first. I now have several bins of batteries and battery chargers, for instance.

Of course, advertising is another area where I get constant monetary offers. I just had one come in the other day that had income projections well beyond what I collect from the low-key B&H advertising I allow on the site. They're probably right. If I paid careful attention to the advertising side and did a careful CPM (cost per thousand) analysis, I could find options that would pay far more than I currently receive, no questions asked. Disclosure: the B&H deal that places ads on this site is fixed price, and fixed placement. No pop-ups, no top banners, no showing you things you've searched for in the recent past, no forced landing on an offer page, and so on. Every once in awhile I'll remind site visitors to order something starting from a B&H link on this site, as it helps support the site. B&H does track how many people are coming to them from my site and ordering things.

I could go on, as there is nothing but a constant flow of others wanting to piggyback on what I do. This is the time of year when those offers seem to escalate, and it's also the time of year that I ponder what to do next.

If I were younger and trying to build a sustaining business with as much value as possible, I'd probably be jumping on a number of those opportunities and making much more money than I do. However, I'm well past retirement age now and simply doing something I enjoy, which is to try to provide useful, accurate, and provocative information that might help you get better at photography in some way. I've actually considered taking all advertising off the site to more clearly suggest that when I recommend something, it's not because I have a vested interest in doing so. But I think the current system works decently, and it does help pay the server charges.

Why did I go to the trouble of documenting all this in an article? Simple: many of you are unaware of just how many dollars are moving behind the scenes to influence your purchasing decisions. Most sites and influencers who are maximizing their revenue tend to collect from the low six to even the low seven figures in income a year doing that. Their goal is not to steer you to the best products, but to maximize their income. That's not my goal. 

One thing that happens with the sites that try to maximize income is this: they aren’t 100% consistent. Because the flow of money changes over time, what they recommend will change, too. We saw that with camera dealers, for instance. Canon and Nikon used to be very aggressive with what are known as spiffs, basically a kickback for selling a particular product. Guess which products the sales people at those camera dealers tended to recommend? ;~) 

These days, Sony is probably the most aggressive at using spiffs and other related promotions. Guess which products the camera dealers now tend to recommend? 

While I’m a capitalist at heart, I also know that capitalism has its issues, and unseen or unknown influences can get out of control and distort results. Indeed, it’s where you’ll tend to find corruption in a capitalistic economy. 

“Show me the money” (Jerry Maguire) and “follow the money” (Watergate hearings) are the two opposing thoughts you need to pay more attention to. One group on the Internet is following the former, while your use of the Internet to make decisions should be following the latter.

Cui bono, folks. 

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