Ads Vs Tip Jars: Which one is the lesser of two evils?

I absolutely detest the name of my blog. ""?!?!?! For cryin’ out loud, that must be the "most devoid of personality" blog name ever! Just like many other things in my life, this blog was started on a whim. When I started working, I was suddenly woken up to this whole new world of money management. I devoured fat wallet finance forum discussions, personal finance blogs, CNN money and articles, etc. I still had some student work to tie up, so over the weekends, I would sometimes return to my old school lab. And seeing all the other students around me, some very good friends, being clue less about what an IRA or 401K is, or that the "hot deal" they were all buzzing about all morning might just be the worst thing they came across that day, really tore my heart. And this blog was born. I must have put less than five minutes of thought into the name when I started it. And I hadn’t even heard the term SEO yet.

But now that I am "hooked" to it, I want to change the name. What stops me? Well, the other stated purpose of this blog when I started it, is to check if a blog can generate some passive income. So, spending money on it instead of generating some would be ironic, to say the least. Not to mention, a very common theme that appears on several of my posts is increase the income, decrease the expenditure. So, on principle, I will not spend on this blog, unless it shows it can support itself. In the least, I want to be able to buy a custom domain name costing around $6.99 to $9.99 and continue to stick with the free blogger hosting. Sigh, if only "monetize your hobby" were as easy as it sounded!

Anyway, coming back to the point, the two options I could think of to monetize a new blog are either adding ads or adding a tip jar. As a knee jerk reaction, I ruled out tip jars. I have a lot of trouble asking for money. Even though I hate ads as much as the next person, I could justify it as the "business end" of blogging. But a recent discussion with The English Major made me see an entirely different perspective. Her argument is that tip jars can be a means to provide ad-free service. Hmmm…. OK. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I still don’t think I will ever add a tip jar to my blog, but I do know that I will no longer scoff at someone who does! But it had me wondering if there were other perspectives on this issue that I still haven't come across. Since we are all money bloggers, I think a question to the community on what you think about monetizing a blog is fair. So, here goes,

Which one do you think is the lesser of the two evils?
a) Running Ads
b) Adding a Tip Jar

If you dont like "(a) or (b)" type questions, here are more options for you :)
c) Other (Screw ads and tip jars. I have "other" means to monetize my blog.)
d) None of the above (For heaven’s sake, it’s a blog. Stop trying to monetize it.)
e) All of the above (Geez, we are money bloggers. We should try to make as much money from our blogs as we can.)

I don’t know how to add a fancy polling script. And it doesn't matter, since I am not so much interested in the numbers as I am in the opinions. So, if you feel strongly about any of these, please leave a comment.

The discussion so far (copied verbatim from the previous post where this discussion started)

English Major said...
I agree with your commenter: tipping is part of dining out, and if I can't afford to tip at a restaurant, I can't afford to eat there. That is, if I have $15 to spend on a meal out, that means I have $12 to spend on food and $3 to spend on the tip.

I'm going to disagree with you (rare, but it happens!) on the issue of blog tip jars. I'd rather see a tip jar than ads. Personally, I'd never put lots of text ads I didn't negotiate myself on my sidebar, but I would (and, occasionally, do) consider adding a tip jar. I'd rather my users occasionally drop me a buck or two for providing content they enjoy than scrape a few dollars out of AdSense by providing yet another medium in which ads overwhelm people's day-to-day lives. That is, I'd rather be paid for providing good content for my readers than for providing a market for some company I knew nothing about.
January 26, 2007 9:35 AM

ispf said...
>>> I'm going to disagree with you

I like it when someone disagrees with me (unless they are doing it for the heck of it). Usually that means I will get to see a new perspective.

>>> I'd rather see a tip jar than ads.

See, I think the exact opposite.

To me, ads are just the "business part" of blogging. Eventually, I want to move away from the silly addy. On principle though, I will do it ONLY if my blog can support itself. That means that my blog has to raise some money. By offering to advertise on my site, I am offering a service to some other business. ie, I will give you a spot on my site, and if it generates traffic for you, you will pay me money. The hope is that some day I can afford to be choosy and will have to display only those ads that I approve. Until then, I will have to swallow my revulsion and take what I get. And I try to keep the ads in a separate section so readers can know that its an ad before clicking on it.

With a tip jar though, I have to ask for money directly. For that, I have to swallow my pride. Somehow, I find it harder to swallow my pride than my revulsion to ads. Connotations of cyber begging attached to the whole tip jar / donations thingie, makes it so much more worse.(
January 26, 2007 11:48 AM

English Major said...
I understand where you're coming from.

But what about, say, a local magazine that accepts donations so that it can remain ad-free? Or NPR? Is that okay? If it is, why would we differentiate between those scenarios and a blog with a tip jar?
January 26, 2007 2:36 PM

ispf said...
Wow, you've got me there. I went "hmmmm..." for a few minutes after reading that one!

Ok, here's my take. The three medium we are talking about - radio, print and the Net - are very different.

First lets take the radio. It's the easiest one to justify seeking donations for being ad-free. Because ads actually interrupt the listener. Getting rid of ads will significantly improve the listeners' experience. So, you really want to get rid of ads, but you need to support the station, so asking for a donations seems OK to me.

Next the online medium. Here things are not so black and white. If ads are cordoned off properly, say by giving them their own corner and not included within posts etc., they do not really interfere with the readers experience. So the justification of seeking money to stay ad-free to me is like saying, "I dont want to put the effort to find a means to support this site, so I am asking you for money". Doesn't quite work for me. That said, here's the caveat. For a huge project like wikipedia where they provide tonnes of information to a lot of users, and using ads can spark off questions about the legitimacy of the information ("was the accuracy influenced by the advertisers?"), then I feel its perfectly fine to seek donations. But on personal blog, where most bloggers have disclaimers that "this is just my opinion, I am no expert, dont hold me accountable" etc, its hard to justify asking for money.

As for the magazines, I'm still "hmmm...."-ing :)
January 26, 2007 3:37 PM

Update 01/29/07: A parallel discussion with a broader question of how monetizing a blog about money affects the message of the blog, is on at English Major's blog. If you find the discussion and the comments here useful/amusing/insightful/etc., you might want to check out that discussion too.

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The Frugal Law Student said...

My answer is e). I don't care whether a blogger uses a tip jar or ads to make money. I say more power to them in monetizing your blog. If someone doesn't have a tip jar, but they have a post that I think is particularly good, I'll click on an ad as a way to tip.

I think English Majors argument that NPR and local magazines being supported by donations is kind of weak. Sure, they call it a donation, but whenever companies donate it's an advertisement for them. "Funding for NPR is provided in part by Fidelity." It's an ad, no matter what NPR or the company says. As a part of donating to public radio, a company gets their name mentioned on the radio. Also, whenever companies donate money to a local magazine, there's usually a page dedicated to those who've donated. It might not be in your face advertisement, but their name is widely published nonetheless. Thus, it's an ad.

That's all I have to say. Keep up the good work.

Strange Bird said...

I'd be with the frugal law student and the not caring, but I'd say I think ads might be more effective. That's because (stone me now!) I wouldn't donate to a blogger. My online information is free; I pay for books and magazines and things I take home with me. I've never donated money to an individual. Ads, on the other hand, I tend to see as part of life and I can completely tune them out if I want to.

Stephanie said...

I've slowly been adding ads to my blog from Commission Junction. The nice thing about these ads is that I hand pick them, so I've only been picking ads for things that I would recommend regardless of whether I was getting paid for it or not.

I also have a tip jar, because I think if someone wanted to make a donation, I'd like to make it easy for them to do it.

Golbguru said...

I have thought about a tip jar in the past, but somehow, the concept brings on some kind of an obligation upon me (may be it's just my personality).

When you tell the world that you will remove ads if they give you must stick to that word. What if a extremely good advertisement offer comes your way AFTER you get a tips from half of your readers? Would you get rid of the tip jar? or say bye bye to $50 a week of passive income? If you take this offer, you will effectively cheat your tipping readers :)

Ok, got to go...but I wil back to comment more on this...hang on :)