If you’re doing high quality history (or related commentary, technology, criticism, publishing) online, should you also host advertising?

I don’t think so. I believe advertising detracts in a number of ways, and doesn’t return enough to compensate.

I’m referring to the ubiquitous Google targeted ads, Amazon, B&N, and other shopping and “affiliate” programs, DVD vendors, and so forth, found on sites related to digital history.

Hawking your own book(s), by the way, doesn’t count! Nor am I knocking making money on the web for its own sake. God love Capitalism.

14 of the 38 blogs I read most often – listed at right – have one or more monetizing features on them. More then one-third. This seems like a high proportion for blogs without overt commercial purpose. Is there value here I’m missing?

Lots of history websites use these strategies, too. Some of them look like simple honey pots – sites designed specifically to drive advert revenue, some are well-meaning amateurs*, but others purport to be serious resources, yet water down their credibility with advertising.

Here’s how my thinking goes: are you online to get information or commentary out there, or are you in it for the (piddling) money? Is your viewpoint for sale? Are you writing for the eyeballs and click-throughs? Personally, I take less seriously what you’re saying if you’ve got ads on your site. I’d bet other readers feel the same.

Advertising suggests petty greed, an unattractive trait. There’s not much money in online advertising for any but the very largest sites and blogs. Even if there were, say, hundreds (!!) of dollars to be had, is that enough to offset the damage?

Advertising is intrusive. In addition to being unattractive, it is often prominent – taking vital screen space from the real content. In addition, site owners do not usually control ads delivered to them, but do imply endorsement of the products or services displayed. Advertising also requires readers click to another site – away from the content that drew them in the first place. Who is that benefitting?

So why advertise?

To get a little something back for work we would be doing anyway? Are history posters going to make enough this way to make up for the negatives?

To help pay the hosting bills? I don’t buy it. Server space is cheap. Very few people really need to run advertising to pay for the space to blog or otherwise publish online. You can blog for free (without ads) in several ways. Granted there are limitations to the free services, but sophisticated web or blog service can be had sufficent for all but the very largest among us for $US50 per year or less.

Disclaimer: my perspective is influenced by an idealistic, probably naive view about the purity of (capital H) History, and I come from the old-school Internet, Class of 1993, with traditional prejudice against crass commerce.

But enough from me. I’d like to hear your thinking on it, especially if you’re using advertising on your site or blog.

* I’m a well meaning amateur myself, by the way, but don’t believe online advertising is good for me or my work.

7 Responses to “Pimping the History web?”

  1. Eric Wittenberg says:


    As for my blog, as you know, there is no advertising and the only commercial motive is trying to market my own books. Beyond that, though, there never has been advertising, and there never will be.


  2. Mike Koepke says:


    You know I completely agree with you. Over the past year my blog has grown and matured and I have tried different things. I believe I have found my focus, which is focusing primarily Battlefield Preservation with posts on articles, news stories, posts, etc., I find interesting. All told I’ve made a $1.56 off of Amazon. I can’t even by a 6 pack yet!

    So as I begin my 2nd year of blogging, I’ve decided to kill off the Amazon link on my sidebar. My attempt was to get it to display new releases and bestsellers of Civil War books that have come out. It hasn’t always worked. The real estate it consumes is too valuable to me so I removed it today, inspired by your post.


    Disclosure: I still will maintain the Amazon linkage to books in my Now Reading lists and occassional book posts. It speaks to my “when I grow up” entrepenuer calling.

  3. Tom says:

    Great post Brian! As one of those evil capitalists you mention, I started to post a response but it got too darn big. So I gave up and just put it on Touch the Elbow – http://www.18thmass.com/blog

    The Evil Tom

  4. Brett S. says:


    I can’t speak for others, but I do use the money to pay my web hosting bills, which come out to over $100 per year. This frees up money to buy more books on the Civil War. I understand your concern, but I honestly do not think Google AdSense ads are a big deal if they are sufficiently “blended in” to a site.


  5. Brett S. says:


    I forgot to add this morning that my blog is only one of many Civil War related sites I run. The two wargaming fan sites host add-ons and mods for the games of HPS Simulations and MadMinute Games, and they take up a large amount of space. At the moment, I am using over 700 MB of web space at http://www.brettschulte.net.


  6. Mike in Arkansas says:


    I’m currently making enough money from ads to pay for all of my online costs and most of the monthly payment on my wife’s car. I’m currently using over 520 MB of space and 5.2 GB of bandwidth a month.

    Right now, I don’t have the time to do all of the stuff I’d like to do on-line. However, I will be retiring in about 299 days (but who’s counting) and will be taking a substantial reduction in income. Frankly, I plan to spend more time placing useful content online with the intent of generating more income — work that I want to do, not work that some employer wants me to do. I plan to do that for at least a year and then, if need be, I’ll find myself a high paying consultant gig.

    “Chronicles of the American Civil War” doesn’t bring in much compared with some of my other on-line material, but it does contribute to the total.


  7. Brian Downey says:

    Thanks to everyone weighing in. I knew there would be a variety of viewpoints and good ideas. Some thoughts in reponse to a couple in particular:

    For Tom: let me reiterate, it’s not the Capitalism I find evil! And thanks for the effort you put into the subject on Touch the Elbow. I’m not sure it’s a trust issue, exactly. More like apparent conflict of interest – at least where the purpose of the site or blog is not clearly to make money. But then I’m a suspicious sort.

    For Brett: first, I’m not saying that one can’t help pay expenses with ads, just that I don’t like what they do to the “flavor” and (to my view) credibility of one’s site. If it’s a fair tradeoff for you, there’s no problem. Second, you can probably get the server capacity and bandwidth you need for a lot less $. :)

    For Mike in Arkansas: it sounds like your goal is to make money online – nothing wrong with that (see Capitalism comment). Continued success to you. In complaining about ads, I’m referring more to sites ostensibly doing History for its own sake and hoping to be taken seriously in that field. Your situation sounds a little different.

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