Gentle readers, if you felt a pang go through you when you read yesterday that co-founder and co-managing editor Joe Spillane was stepping down from his lofty perch at Points, you were not alone. The blog has gained both maturity and momentum in the last eight months, and those have brought stability to our day-to-day operations. But steering Points remains a demanding job, and while Joe is kind to call me “indefatigable,” his departure does bring us to a kind of turning point. How fortunate for us that just this weekend I was contacted by a marketing firm whose client–a drug treatment facility– would like to place their “high quality content” dealing with addiction and recovery on Points!
This is not the first invitation we’ve had to commoditize. More than one person (at least one of whom was somebody’s well-meaning family member) has suggested we sign up with Google’s “AdSense” and start generating revenue by selling space on the blog to advertisers. Last winter, another marketing firm (actually, pretty clearly an independent contractor doing piece work from home in one of those jobs you see advertised on a telephone pole) approached us about embedding links to relevant products and services into our posts. The occasion was guest blogger Michelle Garcia’s post on “Border History as Drugs History”; the linked-to product in this instance was a guide to online degree programs in Homeland Security Studies. And the going rate? Fifty bucks per link.
Let’s bracket for now considerations of what special kind of myopia could mistake Points readers for nascent matriculants at the University of Phoenix and ask a more immediate question: FIFTY BUCKS A LINK?! Your editorial team had a good chuckle at that one, and agreed that the day we started whoring the blog out to commercial world, we’d set our fee a damn sight higher. Which brings us back to our most recent offer– and to the special relationship between Points as it presently stands and its devoted readers.
Without trying to sound too pious about it, I think what we’ve been trying to do here is to create the kind of public “serialized scholarship” that Kathleen Fitzpatrick has called for in a recent series of posts at Planned Obsolescence. We’ve always believed that scholarship on alcohol and drugs history, policy, and culture held an interest for readers outside the academy and its satellites; one of the founding purposes of the blog was to reach beyond the ivory-tower echo chamber to where those readers live and read. Why bother? We wanted to generate dialogue rather than just gasbag with other scholars. But such lofty aims come at a cost. As Fitzpatrick notes:
If newer forms of serialized scholarship are genuinely to succeed, these forms will need to be accompanied by modes of academic evaluation — not to mention valuation — that fully appreciate multi-vocal, ongoing exchange.
The university– my university, anyway– has yet to come up with any “modes of academic evaluation [or] valuation” that can recognize Points or its editors. And believe me, we’ve tried. One hates to say it, but maybe in this case the market is smarter than the university, and understands the value of what we’re trying to do here a little better? Still and all– FIFTY BUCKS PER CLICK?!
Which brings us back to our relationship with our readers. The marketing firm seeking to plant its client’s “high quality posts” about addiction and recovery has asked us how much we would charge. And in the spirit of all things technologically utopian, we thought we’d take advantage of the blog’s open and democratic platform and “crowd source” an answer to the question. Staring down the barrel of a Mitt Romney presidency, we’ve got no illusions that there’s some, you know, intangible or civic value to not making money with this thing– that’s just being a hater. So come on: hit “comment” and tell us what to charge for embedding a bunch of click-through ads and product placements. And since we don’t have any clear idea of what we’d do with the money– it seems unlikely that hosting a few content-farmed advertorials about family systems therapy is going to allow us to quit our day jobs– tell us what we should do with the cash once it comes rolling in.
Alternatively, channel the dulcet tones of your local NPR pledge drive and, if you see some value to Points remaining free of advertisements (stealth or otherwise), well, come clean: how much is it worth to you?