At what point do blogs become purely paid advertisers?

Posted by Lipglossiping On February - 3 - 2013

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: monetising a blog is a tough job. Walking the line between speaking your own words with undiluted thoughts and keeping brands happy when you’re building relationships? Not easy. Throw money into the equation and that shit gets harder. Which is why I’ve never and will never accept money to review a product. The sample issue is different, expectations from the start are different and brands are well aware that you may not review a product favourably or even at all just because you received a sample. Bloggers who call in their shopping lists can piss right off though.

I’m talking about accepting money…

I accept money to feature products, state their existence, bring awareness to brand campaigns and promotions. But to trial a product and report to you on its efficacy? To tell you whether or not I believe you should go and spend your money on a product because it’s fab (regardless of whether or not it is) when I’ve had my pockets lined to do so? That’s something I don’t feel comfortable doing.

On the way up, bloggers took every opportunity to blast magazines for their bias toward advertiser’s products. We promoted the medium of blogging as an impartial, independent and unbiased alternative but just this last week, I’ve received two sponsored post pitches from big brands, both requesting that I review the product they’re interested in promoting. It honestly killed me to turn them down, not least because I probably would like the product anyway (or at least, not dislike it), but frankly because I can’t afford to turn down opportunities like that when this is my main source of income.

The thing that’s prompted me to write this shitty Blog God post (and I kinda hate myself for doing it) is the knowledge that there are bloggers who have already accepted the type of sponsored posts that I’m turning down more frequently, thus giving justification to brands and agencies who are delivering these shitty proposals. It’s not that I want to shame the bloggers or even really question their motives, I just want to say: “You don’t need to accept these opportunities from a brand or agency”.

As bloggers, we need to take a step back and re-evaluate who we are and what we’re doing. Without our readers, we really are nothing when it comes to making any pennies. Our words aren’t read and our pictures aren’t flicked through because we’re so damn aspirational. Our opinions aren’t trusted because we’re experts in our field, hell… those bloggers are few and far between. It’s simply because we’re relatable that we’re valued.

Don’t let brands and agencies who haven’t targeted their campaigns properly, damage what you’ve built. They’re not being sly… they’re not being underhand, but sometimes I think it becomes clear that they still don’t quite get what blogging is about. It’s not about having a million 12 year old You Tube fans or being the coolest kid on Instagram. Or (and now I’m doubting myself), if it is… then I don’t want any part in its future.

It’s about creating pockets of communities online, sharing common interests, and making a connection. That thrill of getting a new comment, the fear when you post something like this… finding a reader who leaves you such a hilarious comment that you think they must be your long-lost twin and you hunt them down on Twitter for lifelong companionship… what?!

If you are wanting to monetise your blog (and you do it carefully, with full disclosure, it’s something to be applauded – doing what you love and getting paid for it? BEST. JOB. EVER.), you think brands won’t want to provide sponsored post opportunities if you don’t review their products? Bullshit. They still want their Facebook competitions linked, their You Tube videos embedded. They want a human voice to give context to their latest campaign, plough through all that Brad Pitt crap that no-one normal thinks is anywhere near as amazing as those who created it do. This is why blogs exist and why they thrive so well alongside magazines and other media.

But you cannot physically accept payment to review a product and then call it “shit” on your blog. And if it is shit? What do you do. Not write about it and still keep the money? Not bloody likely.

If a sponsored post opportunity doesn’t deliver true value to the brand, you, AND your reader – it isn’t worth doing. Make brands and agencies work harder at creating something amazing for this relatively unexplored (commercially) blog medium, paying for reviews is the easy option for them. Not for you and certainly not for your readers. By all means, sell a legitimate service but don’t sell yourselves.

45 Responses to “At what point do blogs become purely paid advertisers?”

  1. Trona says:

    great post! I’ve seen a few sponsored post blogs on a couple of sites recently and one of the things discussed was clearly shit and I’m thinking “are we supposed to buy this bullshit?” It makes me respect their reviews less (if at all). I understand if people really need the money it’s a great way of getting it but on the other hand it totally undermines the blog(s) and surely will damage them in the long run.

    I’ll put my neck out and say readers of your blog, myself included, know you receive samples but we feel we’re getting a good, honest review, I know where I am with your foundation reviews and lipstick reviews (the main things I look for in blogs). Hopefully people will smell the bullshit and wakeup, or something x

    • Hi Trona,

      I’ll be honest, I don’t really know what other bloggers are getting in the way of sponsored posts but these two pitches saddened me… perhaps I’m a bit late in finding out! I guess I keep my reading pool pretty tight because I got sick of reading about beauty boxes. Now that most of those have died away, I should check out some new ones.

      Samples is an issue that has been done to death over the last four years (and seemingly every Sunday on twitter) and I feel it’s a legitimate part of blogging but I appreciate that despite seeing it as an issue, you recognise that it doesn’t sway a balanced review from me.

      • Trona says:

        I genuinely feel that I get a balanced and honest review from you, you’ve helped me choose quite a few BBs and foundations! (plus our skin tones are very similar) I trust your reviews whereas there’s definitely other blogs I would not trust due to me seeing them as an extension of the company, rather than an independent reviewer x

        ps. it’s not so much samples/sponsored posts that’s the issue it’s the review of them, if you see what I mean.

  2. nadine says:

    To be honest, a lot of the time i take reviews with a pinch of salt now, because I don’t trust what they have to say when there is a little asterisk next to the product/price!

    As much as negative reviews of a product are, well, not very nice, and as much as I agree with the phrase ‘if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’, I would appreciate being told if a product wasn’t very good


    • I really appreciate that feedback and I will keep it in mind for my blogging in 2013. In all honesty, I quite enjoy slating a completely terrible product (though I sometimes go back and tone down the expletives/sarcasm before hitting the “publish” button) but most products that I don’t like… I don’t like them because they’re mediocre and there is nothing more boring than writing 500 words on something you couldn’t give a shit about.

      • Lisa says:

        Not reviewing most stuff you don’t like is still kind of intellectually dishonest, though. As a reader I don’t want to have to figure out whether X product didn’t sample you, or they did and you didn’t like it. I think there’s value in short blurbs along the lines of “it’s adequate but nothing special.” As a reader I tend not to trust the opinions of bloggers who don’t dislike or hate stuff on their blogs–when all you post is positive reviews, you’re doing PR.

        • We’ll have to disagree on this Lisa, especially on the use of the word “dishonest”. By not posting a review, I am not being dishonest. I am merely saying that this product bores me to the point where I physically can’t find it in my heart to write creatively about it in any form. I’m not a machine.

          It’s probably also worth mentioning that if I dislike a product and it’s “current”, as in… it’s just been released or there’s a “buzz” about it. Those are actually the negative or “meh” reviews that I DO blog just because I know that a feature…. negative OR positive would be of interest and is likely to get traffic to my blog.

          Basically, if it’s not a buzz product and it bores me, I don’t blog it because it will bore you too. I think it’s fair that I retain the editorial right to do this. For the sake of my sanity if nothing else.

          I’m certainly not doing PR. I don’t get paid enough.

        • …and as for short blurbs, Google would actually penalise me for posting extremely short posts like that and I’d sink lower in their search algorithms, not to mention the email subscribers who would get pissed off being notified that I have new posts etc just to login and read that I’m distracting them to tell them in 200 characters that I think a prodict is sort of ok but nothing special. Honestly, it’s a minefield but I do appreciate your comments.

  3. Michelle says:

    Well said, great post!

  4. I honestly cannot be bothered with sponsored posts, its just a minefield I honestly don’t care about. But it saddens me when i see a beauty blogger link to a BETTING SITE? What the actual hell? It leaves me honestly feeling sad. xxx

    • So you prefer sponsored posts/advertorials to be strictly relevant/targeted? Or is it the gambling you took issue with? x

      • To be brutally honest, I don’t read sponsored posts, nope nada – neither do I read paid-for advertorials in magazines. Maybe because I have worked in PR and studied magazines, I don’t want to read regurgitated crap kiss-arsing a brand. Doesn’t excite me, sorry. However creative you get, my mind flash bulbs at the sponsored tag and I automatically think ‘this content is not of value to me.’

        In terms of accepting sponsored posts on MY* blog, I again will not accept. Whilst I think its fabulous that others can earn extra pennies on the side from a hobby, I just don’t care. I’m simply not in it to make money, really. I will admit that I have affiliate linking, but thats just pennies for no effort on mine, the readers or the companies effort. I do not need the extra income from sponsored posts and the brands that have come to me, aren’t of my interest. The brands that would excite me (cough Topshop) will never ever need me so that doesn’t enter the equation. I think as soon as money becomes involved, a small sample of bloggers become rather ‘hooked’ on making a quick easy buck (because lets face it, it is). A quick £80 here and there, who cares if i’m throwing my integrity down the drain eh? These are the bloggers that say ‘I’ll only do it if its relevant,’ but a week later that phrase gets tossed aside and a random betting link appears for the sake of £80. Thats what makes me sad.

        On the flipside however there are number of bloggers who can tackle a sponsored post in the correct way, some have the creative flair to make the content appealable and know their readers taste in content. Or simply taking one in a blue moon (not every week) that really does sit alongside their blog to a T.This is a well crafted skill, and I judge a blogger highly on that.

        Well this seems to be an absolute essay, but something I’ve wanted to say in a while. People think i’m an absolute MUG for not taking sponsored posts, but i think some bloggers are absolute MUGS letting another thing in life boil down to money.

        So in short, to your actual question, yes and yes.

        🙂 xxxx

        * i’m not shouting 🙂 i’m just tend to ramble and want to make it clear

  5. Leah says:

    I can always tell a sponsored post (declared or not) because it’s always written in a slightly different voice than the blogger would usually use. The bloggers I see being paid to foist things on us with almost indecent levels of brown-nosing turn me off to the point when I see them in my blog feed I just think ‘What crap are you pretending to love now?’ and don’t even bother reading. I will even unfollow if someone is selling out completely. A sponsored post here and there is acceptable if it’s declared, especially as it may be helping a blogger put food on the table, but some bloggers I can think of do a few a week and make me distrust ALL of their opinions. Frankly, it makes me want to barf.

  6. Adorngirl says:

    Brava tell it like it is, having blogged a few years I do accept sponsored posts but only if I used the service or product beforehand, being paid is the bonus for something I already love.

    It is definitely tough reviewing and something turns out to be bad, but I just simply email the PR to let them I didn’t like it and won’t feature it, because I only post what I like and just because it didn’t work for me doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be great for someone else; which has brought up a mixed bag of most saying never mind, and sending something else that could works and others not supplying samples ever again but what can I do but be honest and people see right through you

    • It’s just easier not to review a product/service when I’ve been paid to do so. I was talking with family about it and someone actually said “but if you know you like the product anyway, what’s the problem?”

      I just started talking about lines… and not crossing them…

      Mr L told me that I’d never be rich.

  7. Siana says:

    Hi, I’m not a blogger but have been a reader for what feels like many years. You’ve hit the nail on the head when it comes to what I look for in a blog. For me, blogs are a wonderful distraction that I can access in my lunch hour, on my commute (hooray for smart phones), and at any time when I should be doing other things. I’ve tried vloggers by the way but I can’t commit to 12 minute videos and they’re not as easy to hide when my boss is looking!

    Anyway, I just wanted to say about the relatable aspect of blogging vs. magazines – this is what drives me to read them. I know what a product is likely to look like on me rather than a photoshopped to hell model when I see it featured on a blog. I appreciate the odd swear, the frustration when something doesn’t work because, I, as a voracious beauty buyer… feel those same things.

    Please don’t turn all “glossy” on us bloggers. Brands would be crazy to steer this phenomenon in that direction, I for one would simply turn off.

    I don’t blame anyone for wanting to make money from this “occupation” (not meant sarcastically, just didn’t know what to call it!) but knowing that your opinion has not been paid for in the same way as a magazine is 90% of your appeal.

    • Hi Siana,

      If it’s any consolation, I can’t bring myself to be known as a “professional blogger”, how cringe does that sound? (get a proper job)

      I want to sell my blog space, I’m happy to sell my copy and write posts (prefer that to guest blogs that don’t fit with my tone), but I’ll never sell my opinion.

      I’ve come over all Braveheart! What a twat!

  8. Michelle says:

    Agreed with the comment above, great post!

    I feel as though this sentiment is shared and growing by those following the online beauty community. Definitely makes you question the integrity of some of the bloggers. What gets me is when youtubers try to hide their sponsorship and fib to their viewers who got them there! Especially when the lies are so obvious. I hope that the online community isn’t compromised but I feel like this is just the beginning and sooner or later the companies will get it! Oh how pessimistic! But after all what are you without your integrity?

  9. Kristi C. (@lov2read68) says:

    Like Siana, I’m not a blogger but am a reader. For as often as I like to read blog posts, bloggers would have to be independently wealthy to purchase that much product. I have no problem with bloggers reviewing a PR sample. And it was already mentioned that there is a different “tone” in a sponsored piece.

    I admire those that have figured out how to make blogging a paying profession for them – it is not at all easy from what I’ve read.

    One of the things I really appreciate about blogs is seeing the product “in action” so to speak. Color on the face or swatches, what a mask looks like as it dries, the consistency of a scrub, etc. Not airbrushed & color corrected ad copy.

    Keep doing what you’re doing! I appreciate your honest opinions!

    • Thanks Kristi, I definitely could blog without any PR involvement (I started way back when there was none anyway) but posting frequency would be much less and you’d all have to make do with last season’s stuff!

      There’s definite value in that, although I’d never be able to make a living from doing this.

  10. Ivy says:

    Great post! As a blog reader, I don’t mind when blogs do sponsored posts. I completely support bloggers who want to earn an income from their writing, I think it’s fantastic. Even if the post happens to be subpar, eh, whatever. You skip it over in your RSS reader/whatever and move on.

    That said, I recently stopped subscribing to a blog I otherwise liked because they tried to shoehorn in a sponsored link for a site completely unrelated to beauty not once, but twice in the span of like… a week. I have no issue with sponsored links but I draw the line at stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with the blog I’m reading.

    • Hi Ivy, that’s interesting. I’m really torn on how I feel about that – firstly, I’d want it fully disclosed rather than done under the radar but when I’m watching TV, I don’t expect all the adverts to be advertising what my programme is about. If I watch the Sci-Fi channel, I don’t throw a fit because they’re advertising breakfast cereals.

      It’s a *really* interesting thought actually and it seems that you’re not in the minority. I haven’t actually had any approaches to write a sponsored post about Crunchy Nut Cornflakes by the way 😉

  11. cinseven13 says:

    I also agree w/both you and others who have commented – I want an honest blogger, one whose opinions I feel I can trust. I don’t want the company spiel. I take a lot of reviews with a grain of salt, knowing the reviewer may be biased in some way. Great post!

  12. Gemma says:

    I’m always dubious of sponsored posts, they always seem to differ from the regular content in the way you’re being addressed, the way the product itself is being spoken about – you always feel like there is an invisible finger prodding them from somewhere.

    I’m not a commenter but I have been a reader a long time now and your honesty is one of the reasons why I trust your reviews implicitly, everything I’ve ever bought as a result of reading certain blog posts holds up against what you’ve stated it to be and I’ve yet to be disappointed, I just don’t have that same level of trust in bloggers with huge amounts of paid for posts.

  13. I’m so glad you posted this. I understand the need for bloggers to make a living, but i do agree. if i can’t trust that it is an honest opinion, i’ll skip the post or the blog all together. I’m sorry you had to make some tough decisions! I think it is a really interesting subject, and we’ll have to see how it goes as blogging continues to evolve!

  14. Charlotte says:

    Like people have mentioned above I like to see a well rounded blog and I have started to avoid those who don’t post regularly but love to tweet that they are attending an event as it makes it appear like they love all the freebies but have lost touch with communicating and interacting with the blog readers.

    I don’t mind seeing PR samples in a post because at the end of the day blogs wouldn’t have enough to test and it would become incredible expensive.

    I don’t mind some monetisation of the blog, but I like to see some posts which are not all about the money, sponsorship and PR samples. Like items purchased by the blogger or I love the FOTD posts, they seem to be becoming fewer and further between on a lot of blogs, but for me they are a great source of ideas and a better way of seeing the products in action that a random hand swatch. Maybe we see less of them now due to google ratings?

    I also like to see the occasional product shame or dislike review. It shouldn’t be a brand beating but more of it may work for me but because of my skin type/hooded eyes/ eye lips / scarring etc it didn’t work great for me, this helps blog readers decisions and also reinforces readers views that the blogger can be honest and independant.

    A bloggers life at the moment seems to be pretty tough, there are loads of bloggers now out there now which is giving brands/companies more power, but the well established blogs shouldn’t be too worried, I think a blogger staying true to there beliefs and having an open disclosure policy with readers should be enough.

    It is becoming more obvious which bloggers have taken u

  15. Nazneen says:

    Thanks for this post – it’s actually quite a breath of fresh air to hear someone voicing this.

    I totally agree that the brilliant thing about blogging is the community element – and that community element only exists because of trust and openness. Increasingly I find myself raising a sceptical eyebrow at posts, if not worse. The betting posts that CityGirlsFashionBox mentioned raised huge ethical and moral issues for me – there was no link to betting sensibly included – nor, for that matter, do the Echo Falls ones provide any information on sensible drinking amounts. It’s really worrying that bloggers I otherwise respect and love to read would seize these kinds of opportunities just because they get to feel like a VIP for a night, without thinking about ethics and responsibilities that come with being popular and having an influence. Would that really be allowed in the formal media? Is that why alcohol/gambling companies are targeting bloggers? Will we be seeing cigarette companies hosting blogger events next?

    I always skip sponsored posts when they come up in my reader. I don’t trust them, they irritate me, and I don’t even need a tiny asterisked disclosure at the bottom of a post to tell it’s sponsored – it just reads all differently from the outset. I guess I understand the need to monetise, blogs are time and resource consuming, but I guess it’s just not the content I go to them for as a reader.

  16. Nazneen says:

    I just realised my post was overwhelmingly negative and I just remembered all the positive ways bloggers can have relationships with companies. I only subscribe to Grazia and its beauty section is pretty lame – and most magazines are slow on the uptake about product launches or incredibly selective when featuring them. If it weren’t for blogs and blogger previews, I’d be a lot less aware of new ranges and products coming up, less knowledgeable about new innovations, and generally, I’d buy less makeup and clothes. Upcoming previews of ranges are some of my favourite kinds of post – for both fashion and beauty – and they’re something only blogs can do really well. So there are ways and means, but I think there needs to be more thought and discretion exercised.

  17. Georgia says:

    Not necessarily concerning paid advertising, but so many bloggers give biased reviews on products they’ve been given at a launch or event by the brand. I understand that it might seem rude to say negative things about a product from a brand you have a good relationship has released but being overly positive is dishonest.

    Just a little rant there.

  18. Dana says:

    I wish bloggers didnt read other blogs! I just want someone to go to the shop, buy something that has little or no hype and give me a review. Don’t copy another blogger, youre own review is already being effected if you do that. I’m bored of seeing the same reviews over and over. One person mentions effaclar duo and suddenly the rest of the blogging/youtube community reviews the same product, those blogs have no value to me. Same as the molecule 01 perfume, really?, every single one of those bloggers were stopped in the street/train/bus by someone telling them they smelt great?, whatever, that stuff dosnt even have a scent, let alone one strong enough to get that much attention. My pennies are safe on that one. As soon as I see that little asterix that means its a sample sent for review, or a sponsored post, I switch off, I look to smaller newer blogs that dont have sponsors, but even then finding real unbiased content is tricky. I wish more people would say that bioderma smells metalic when you put it on cotton wooleven though its said to have no scent, or that ysl shocking mascara is very strongly scented but I had to find out those things for myself, It’s not a proper review if you leave things out and I want ALL the information on the product, you dont have to word it in a negative way as that part is subjective, just give me all the info, and Ill make up my own mind.

    • Trona says:

      Hi Dana, I agree with you, it gets very tedious when everyone is reviewing the same thing, unless of course someone is giving a different spin on it. I try to put as much info in my reviews as I can, I’m still relatively new at this blogging lark so it’s good to know what people are looking for. There’s one particularly big blog ( I won’t name it) and they never give any specific details about the product and people never question this, bizarre. I might just be being an old fart though 😉

    • Completely agree and had a big chuckle at ‘every single one of those bloggers were stopped in the street/train/bus by someone telling them they smelt great?, whatever, ‘ LOL x

  19. Rhi says:

    I am a beauty lover and I have been reading blogs for many years. I used to trust them 100% compared to magazines as I felt they were real people giving real opinions. Most of my beauty product buying is wholly based on blogger reviews. And almost 100% of the time I have been bitterly disappointed. And it’s because of the blogs I was reading, every post was sponsored or a PR sample and it took me a while to figure that out. I’ve no problem with bloggers receiving samples but I think it’s important to occasionally post about something you actually bought and paid for, or write a post that wasn’t sponsored so we can see that you don’t just post about what you got for free.

    I find I’ve had to do detective work when reading blogs, try and figure out myself which are the ones waxing lyrical for money and which are being honest. I don’t really care who’s being paid I just want the truth and having to try and work that out for myself is so tiring! I’ve spent too much time questioning integrity of blogs, and too much money on expensive products that are ‘INCREDIBLE’ but are actually utter shite.

    Yours is one I always feel I can trust personally, mainly because you’re happy to say things like this. Keep up the good work, I wish there were more like you!

  20. MHope says:

    Great post. I follow a blogger who is increasingly going to ‘Events’ then ‘Trying out their products’. They always happen to be wonderful. It just means I don’t trust a word she’s saying, which is quite sad as she didn’t start out that way. I’ll probably still follow her, to check out new products – however I won’t trust any review she now posts. I’ll do my own research.

  21. That’s why we read you, my sweet. I’ve worked in advertising for major international brands and I know how the magazines are hand in wallet with them. How is it we never see the ‘cult’ brands that actually work reviewed in the magazines? I’m sick of seeing Estee Lauder’s brands, Lancome, L’Oreal, etc, etc featured in editorials. Some of the products are fabulous, but there others out there that match. I’m just going to do an piece on RMK which, I believe, are one of the best brands on the market and I have NOTHING

    • OOPS, computer misbehaving or wrong key pressed….. I was saying I have NOTHING to do with them, just really love the quality and colours and so much more about the brand. What about the fabulous skincare ranges you can get on QVC??? Never in the mags. That’s why I’ve stopped buying many of them. I find blogs much more honest and believable. Keep it up. We appreciate you and know you are honest.

    • Trona says:

      this is exactly why I read blogs, there’s a wealth of great products that just aren’t featured in mainstream media

  22. Jade says:

    Great post, I don’t always have time to comment but I just wanted to say that I come here when I want an opinion I can trust 🙂

  23. Donna says:

    Great post…can of worms springs to mind! Being a beauty lover (of a maturer age”) I still like to keep up with the new products on the market. I am new to reading blogs as honestly believe the comments were totally unbiased and a true reflection of the bloggers opinion. I was aware of the sample receiving and reviewing but not bloggers being paid to review. Thank you for mentioning this, I shall be more vigilant when reading blogs in future. Love following your blog…

  24. Lauren says:

    Interesting article and I can kind of see both sides of the story. Here’s my side: x

  25. […] Charlotte from lipglossiping published a great blog post about earlier in the week: At what point do blogs become purely paid advertisers? […]

  26. rhamnousia - desi girl does makeup says:

    Like many of the people above have said, I can smell a sponsored post even when the blogger doesn’t say that it is. If you run a beauty blog and then out of nowhere you are posting about the benefits of certain hoovers or non stick frying pans, then I’ll bet my bottom dollar that it’s a sponsored post. Also, a lot of the sponsored posts I used to see were so obviously a cut and paste job because the ‘self written’ posts were written in a completely different style.

    I’m a seasoned blogger and I can pick out the sponsored posts but new blogs are popping up quicker than anything and newer folk won’t necessarily know that what they’re reading is a sponsored post as I’ve seen some bloggers state that it’s a sponsored post but in a font that is so small that you could easily miss it.

    There are some blogs I used to read where 100% of the products were PR samples but it was only stated as such 50% of the time and everything was always wonderful, even though you could see in the swatches and results that this wasn’t the case. Those in my mind should be called sponsored posts as there’s no truthful opinion in those.

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: monetising a blog is a tough job. Walking the line between speaking your own words with …

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: monetising a blog is a tough job. Walking the line between speaking your own words with …

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: monetising a blog is a tough job. Walking the line between speaking your own words with …


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