In 2011 I’d been blogging for a year and I was averaging about 30,000 hits per month on Fat Aus. I was also reading a lot of blogs by professional bloggers who had sidebars full of little advertisements (or ‘sponsors’ as they usually liked to call them) for small businesses and other blogs. Plenty of these bloggers had a similar sized readership to mine and some of them actually made a living solely from their blogs and that sounded like a pretty fun job so I decided to give it a try. I didn’t plan on being a full-time professional blogger but I thought it might be a good way to make a bit of extra cash for doing something that I enjoyed. I checked out the sponsorship or advertising pages on blogs that were a similar size to try and gauge what the going rates were (which was actually kind of hard, apparently most bloggers don’t like being up-front with their rates or traffic stats and I couldn’t be bothered sending emails pretending to be a potential advertiser to find out), set up an ‘advertise here’ link and not too long afterwards I started getting emails from small business owners and other bloggers who wanted to buy an ad space.
At the height of my short career as a blogger who earned money from her blog (I just can’t refer to myself as a ‘professional blogger’ without seriously cringing) I was earning a few hundred dollars a month. Most of my advertisers were people with small businesses and a couple of other bloggers but I started to attract a bit of attention from bigger businesses who were interested in appealing to the niche readership I supposedly attracted (in all honesty I think that the readers of Fat Aus, even back then when I posted almost exclusively outfit photos, are a pretty even split between plus sized and straight sized people). I began receiving lots of emails from PR companies (often addressed to the always lovely and individualized ’Dear Blogger’) usually wanting to know my rates for a ‘sponsored post’. A sponsored post is when a blogger writes an entire blog post that is just an advertisement for a brand or website and the going rate is usually somewhere between $50 – $300. I had never bought or ordered from any of the brands or websites I was being asked to write about, and most of the websites didn’t even offer postage to Australia so I didn’t feel that sponsored posts were something I could post on Fat Aus without feeling really unethical so I turned them down. I also received a lot of emails from websites asking me to write posts for them about fat fashion for ‘exposure’ (aka for free) which I turned down. I’m not completely opposed to writing for free but I would only do it if it was for a website that I felt a personal connection with, not for exposure for my blog. I felt that the advertising I was offering – an image on my sidebar with a link directing to the advertisers’ website, was different to writing sponsored posts because the reader was free to ignore the ads if they weren’t interested in them. As a blog reader there is nothing worse than getting excited for a new post from one of your favourite blogs only to click-through and realise you are reading an advertisement for something you are not interested in (ok, there are a lot of things that are worse but I still hate it). In the past I have accepted free clothes in exchange for reviews from a few companies and although I only accepted things from brands I liked, I still don’t think I would do it again. I don’t think that a review of something that was given to a blogger for free is ever going to be completely unbiased – if I accepted something free to review, hated it and wrote an honest blog post about it I would surely end up on some bloggers blacklist somewhere (which is something I always keep in mind when reading those kinds of reviews on other blogs). When I come across a product or website I really like I often do tweet or blog about how good it is because I want others to be able to enjoy it too but I only want to do these things on my own terms. Similarly to this, I do still engage one type of advertising on Fat Aus – the ASOS Affiliates Program. I only use it to link back to items I’ve bought from ASOS and I just think of it as making back a little money from all the money I spend on there (if somebody clicks through from a link on my blog and buys something I get 5% of what they spend), its advertising but I can use it on my own terms.
With the addition of advertising I started really obsessing over how much traffic I was getting and making sure I was keeping up with the stats I had sold ads based on. I read articles about how to be a better blogger, how to get more traffic, how to get readers involved (‘End every blog post with a question to encourage comments!’ Yeah, I see you bloggers who constantly do this and I know what you’re up to). I thought about the best layouts to display ads, I promoted my new posts everywhere, I analysed data to figure out which posts were the most popular and why, I was an obsessive blogging machine. And it worked! When I followed the tips from pro-bloggers I did get more traffic, more followers, more comments, and I felt like my advertisers were getting what they paid for – well, kind of. Honestly even when I was getting 50,000 hits in a month the amount of click-throughs on ads were never that high and that’s another reason I got rid of ads, I actually didn’t think the advertisers were getting a very good deal. That’s probably why so many companies want bloggers to write sponsored posts; readers are definitely much more likely to click on links in a blog post than on advertising images on a sidebar. As time went on I started to blog a bit less than usual, down from a few times a week to once a week and then once a fortnight and I was quickly losing passion for it (this actually correlates directly to my having less money to spend on new clothes all the time which is something I’ll write more about a bit later). What made my waning interest worse was that I had an obligation. I had sold ad spaces based on a certain amount of hits per month and when I wasn’t posting, my stats were dropping so not only was I a bit sad that I didn’t feel like blogging, I also felt guilty and like I was letting people down. I kept forcing myself to blog regularly until the time was up on ad spaces that had been paid for in advance and then I took a little break. I left up the ads on my sidebar but stopped sending monthly invoices to the advertisers and I stopped blogging while my traffic stats kept dropping.
While I wasn’t blogging I was still engaging with bloggers, reading blogs and thinking a lot about fatshion blogging, advertising, consumerism and my own ethics. My blog got the most attention when I was posting multiple times each week with a different outfit made up of new or ‘on-trend’ pieces. If I posted photos of myself wearing new clothes that had just come out from ASOS and promoted the post on tumblr, my photos would get hundreds of notes and the post would get thousands of views. This kind of reaction made me feel like in order to be a successful or popular blogger I needed to be buying new clothes constantly. I would buy clothes, wear them once for a blog post and then feel like there wasn’t much point in wearing them again since I’d already photographed them. At the time I had a well paid job and cheap rent so I was financially able to be buying new things all the time but when I moved into a new place where the rent was nearly triple what I was previously paying, I could no longer afford to shop for new clothes every month and my closet was bursting at the seams anyway. I started thinking about my value as a person with thoughts and opinions versus the image I was portraying as a fatshion blogger whose only apparent talent was putting a cute outfit together and I stopped wanting to do outfit posts. For me, being a fat person who likes wearing cute clothes is a political thing and I didn’t include that side of me on this blog for a long time due to some idea of wanting to keep my personal life somewhat private but eventually I decided that if I was going to be sharing photos of myself I might as well include some context of who I am as a person; I wanted to be a three dimensional person, not just a fat lady with cute clothes.
When I began regularly blogging again I got rid of the ads and stopped offering advertising, I stopped focusing on solely outfit photos and started writing about things I was interested in and I started really enjoying blogging again. I’m glad that I can talk about fatshion and clothing brands truthfully and honestly without worrying that if I say the wrong thing I’ll miss out on the chance to review some free clothes or worrying about losing advertisers. I like being able to go for months without buying any new clothes and not feel like I’m missing out on something. I love that I rarely even look at how much traffic my blog is getting these days. I’m interested in creating an online space for myself where I can write about anything from feminism to music to fashion because I’m interested in presenting myself as a multi-faceted person, and not as someone who is willing to sell out my ideals for a few bucks, some free clothes or ‘brand relationships’.