Tom MacWright

tom@macwright.org

Monetization experiments on this website

This blog has never been a money-making endeavor. I’ve had a series of jobs in software engineering and leadership that have paid my rent since 2009. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to tinker with ways how this blog could pay for its own domain name renewal fees.

iTunes & Amazon (2016-2018)

For a few years, I had affiliate links on the site, for iTunes and Amazon links. The Apple partner program is relatively unknown but was pretty easy to use. Sticking &at=1010lmEW at the end of links to the iTunes store tagged them with your website as an origin, and they give some low percentage of application and music sales. In the time I used it, the total was around $30.

Amazon Affiliates is the most famous program of its type on the internet. For a while, whenever I linked to Amazon, I’d use those links. It yielded slightly more than iTunes, in total around $60 over the course of three years, or $20 a year.

I removed all of these links in 2018. Disclosing that this site uses affiliate links on the About page felt a little grimy, and the idea that I might be linking to something just to earn a buck – though it was never true – felt like something to be entirely avoided. Plus, linking to Amazon meant enriching a company that’s really, really, not on the right side of history.

Brave

I set up this site with Brave’s rewards system in mid-2019. Brave, the browser, has a pretty complicated ecosystem around it: a cryptocurrency, BAT, a publisher-side interface, and a bunch of details that they’re lining up to eventually have the Brave browser itself serve ads on webpages that allow it.

Setting up a site with Brave Publishers involves a text file brave-rewards-verification.txt, to link your account with your website, and then setting up an account on Uphold, a sort of cryptocurrency wallet, to convert your money to USD, some other sort of cryptocurrency, or, in the rarest case, use it to buy something with crypto.

Brave Rewards

All-in-all, this site has earned 162 BAT, which, at $0.19 each, is about $30. The reason why it makes any money from Brave is a total mystery to me. Sure, someone directly tipped 9.5 BAT, or about $2, but where did the rest come from? I didn’t use affiliate links to encourage people to use the Brave browser - I don’t use it myself at all, it seems fine though. The thing where Brave shows ads on webpages isn’t launched yet, as far as I can tell. It’s cool that money appeared somewhere, but it’s hard to say why.

Atanas Entchev explains that Brave opens ads in separate tabs, which is where the ad revenue is coming from, and then those collected BAT tokens are distributed to sites like this one. Thanks!

Coil

More recently, I set up Coil on this site. Like Brave, it requires you to sort of ‘confirm’ that you own the website and link it to your site. To do that, you get a sort of special code from Uphold and put that in a meta tag on the page:

<meta
  name="monetization"
  content="$ilp.uphold.com/Kk2HbEYgFH6K">

Coil’s a very interesting sign of the times: a blockchain-powered technology behind a startup that is apparently trying hard to never mention blockchains or crypto. To me at least, that seems wise. The culture and thought around crypto and blockchains have been poisoned by scammers, techno-liberatarians, and all sorts of baddies.

I think the economics around Coil are a lot more straightforward than Brave: people install a browser extension or use the Puma Browser, and they pay $5 a month to fund websites that support it. It’s much newer and less popular than Brave, and as a result, so far… it earns about $0.04 a week.

Ko-fi

Finally, I’ve had a Ko-fi link up on the /about page for a while. It’s been nice, and is the simplest and most straightforward sort of option: every once in a while, someone enjoys an article and sends a few dollars my way.

I think that it’s a nicer fit for someone like me who doesn’t have a fixed topic or schedule. I write just when I feel strongly about something, or have something I think is interesting to share. I don’t want to crank out a weekly or month post about JavaScript or React or maps in order to fit a schedule, and disconnect my enthusiasm with my output.

How it’s going

My goal with monetization is to cover domain name registrations for this site and to keep a finger on the pulse of this “indieweb monetization” idea to see if it ever yields something worthwhile. I’m nearly paying for the domain names, but web monetization is still a pretty nascent field.

  • Brave is neat because people passively fund your site, but it’s really opaque about where money comes from.
  • Ko-fi is great, very casual, and pretty low-tech: it’s just a fancy way to accept PayPal.
  • Coil is interesting and doesn’t try to do a fancy multi-sided market like Brave does, but very few people use it.

What Brave and Coil have in common is a pretty high level of inefficiency and semi-hidden fees.

  • When you get paid out for Brave’s rewards system, Brave takes a 5% fee that they bury in the UI.
  • When you’re paid from Coil, Uphold takes a 1.2% fee that they round up to the nearest penny, which in my case rounds it up to 16%.
  • You can’t spend BAT, the Brave currency, so you need to convert it to USD or another cryptocurrency, which means another fee, implemented as a spread, that’s at least a few percent of the transaction.

Ko-fi, which uses no crypto technology, charges zero fees on their transactions.

My goals for this site are very modest. If I were aiming higher, then I’d look to substack or try writing on Medium or a syndicated blog. But I don’t want to lock away content, or lock myself into a publishing schedule or another set of expectations. So for those constraints, it seems like these systems for micropayments and little gratitudes will do the trick, without affiliating this site with a monopoly.

November 15, 2020  @tmcw