About Blogging For Money

Prof. James Grimmelmann has an interesting post on Lawyers, Blogs, and Money, in which he asks — gently — whether those law professor bloggers who blog for money, be it sponsorship or advertising, run subtle risks of various forms of intellectual corruption.

Grimmelmann admits that in some cases these issues are unavoidable, especially for blogs that have such high traffic that their hosting costs become otherwise unmanageable. But the clear import of the essay is that in most, maybe all, other cases, law professors ought to think many times before taking that shilling.

And it's not because the shilling leads to straight shilling, although in theory it might. The dangers Grimmelmann points to are more insidious: caring too much about hit counts which can shape content; inflicting ads on the readers; truncating the RSS feed to drive traffic to the ads; not using a Creative Commons license in order to better monetize content; combing logs that ought better to be anonymous for data; seeing oneself as a competitor with other bloggers rather than participants in a shared enterprise.

This here is a non-commercial enterprise, but I don't claim any special virtue for it: no one, after all, has yet offered me a sufficiently tempting price. The readership here being comfortably 'B' list in size (but A+ in quality!), I don't have the sort of traffic which creates financial pressure. I don't take ads both because ads are ugly and because the likely revenue seems outweighed by the insurance consequences. (Yes, people do actually threaten to sue me from time to time.)

There's no point in Grimmelmann's essay that is self-evidently wrong, indeed most of the points represent the application of standard ideas of conflict of interest to law-professor blogging, but I think nonetheless he's more or less barking up the wrong tree with this one because almost all of these problems (other than the aesthetic and attention costs of the ads themselves) can and do exist with purely non-commercial blogs also.

Academic and Legal egos being what they are, I think there are a considerable number of people worrying about their hit counts in private. The egoistic desire to increase hit counts can affect content, the RSS feed, licensing and even motivate lack of linking (I speak as one very occasionally plagiarized…). Human nature.

Indeed, when I started blogging I marveled at the growing hit counts. Some weeks I had 3000 or more per day. On very good days, when I wrote something particularly original, I could get over 20,000 visitors to that post. Then I decided to stop worrying, and found myself happier.

Sitemetered traffic nowadays hovers above 1200 or so per day, plus the 1000+ one guesstimates read the RSS feed. And this is still a fun hobby. Which is the main reason why I'd say non-profit blogging is better for academics. Unless you have very high traffic, you won't make much money off it anyway, and it's one less thing to worry about.

[On the other hand, I completely agree with this post of Grimmelmann's.]

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