A Commercial Message

Some readers will have noticed that, starting several weeks ago, I began running job posts from Cameron Moll’s Authentic Jobs. This evening, for the first time, I’ve also started running ads from The Deck, Jim Coudal’s design-focused advertising network.

Truth be told, with the first move, I tried to sneak it through, without acknowledging it in any blog posts. Aside from the fact that they’re advertising, I figured that those job postings, being in black and white and being styled in such a way as to be very similar to the rest of the site, were visually innocuous. The ads from The Deck, however, are in color, and not so easily ignored.

I’m bracing for some scathing feedback from readers, so please, let me know how you feel if you find these changes to be offensive. We’ve been living with advertising on the Internet for over a decade now, but it’s still a topic that can inflame passions among reasonable people, and I respect that.


How to Get Ahead in Advertising Without Really Trying

To be clear, I have no quarrel with online advertising as a concept. I’ve come to recognize it as a reality of life in digital spaces, and I’m willing to bet that, among Web designers, I’m generally one more supportive of the needs of advertisers and the salespeople who book advertising than you’re likely to come across in your average design organization. It’s a dubious distinction, I know, but I think it’s true.

However, I always did like the idea that Subtraction.com, my little corner of the Internet, was blissfully free of it. For a long, long while, I’ve tried to maintain this site as a place free of advertising, adhering to the idea that, in an age where anything can be advertised anywhere, it’s nice to have one place in my life, at least, that’s free of commercial shouts for your attention.

Clearly, if that was idealism, then I’ve abandoned the principle. Authentic Jobs and The Deck are two of the most elegant, least intrusive and highly respectful advertising networks available anywhere, and I’m proud as hell to have been invited to join their respective coteries, to be sure. But joining these smart, talented people still means running advertising — and entering into commercial arrangements — and I won’t insult anyone reading this by pretending to some higher-minded purpose for introducing them here, other than I wanted to make some money.

That’s Why They Call It Money

I’ve been blogging for nearly seven years now, and aside from the few hundred dollars that I made from my Hel-Fucking-Vetica tee-shirts last fall (thanks again to those who bought them and yes, reprints coming soon!), I’ve earned very little from this Web site.

That’s hundreds if not thousands of man hours devoted to this concern. As this blog has grown modestly more popular, it’s become more work too, between fixing bugs, combating comment spam, adding new features and just generally keeping things in order. All of this is compounded by the ever increasing duties at my day job, where time is scarcer and scarcer.

All of which is okay. I do this not because I want to earn money or because I have free time to burn, but because I genuinely enjoy the process of writing, editing and designing this content — and then reaping the reward of people’s feedback and opinions, good or bad.

Earning money from advertising helps in that equation, for sure. It makes all the extra effort required to maintain this site feel a little less burdensome. But while helpful and very nice (I won’t deny it!), money is not the reason that I blog. Without the money, I would blog the very same amount, I think. Without readers, though, I would blog much, much less. Were my audience to abandon me, I’m not sure I would stop blogging altogether, but I would have considerably less incentive to spend my evening hours writing these posts, and Subtraction.com would be a much, much poorer experience for everyone, me most of all.

I could go on and on here, but let me sum it up: I work hard on this site, and I would like to earn a little bit of cash for my troubles. Authentic Jobs and The Deck are the least offensive ways I’ve come up with to do that. If you hate it, if you find yourself in vehement opposition to this change, if you consider this an instance of me crossing some line of taste or jumping some shark of propriety, let me know. I’ll respond, and if the feedback is clear and uniform, I’ll take action on it. In any event — and I don’t say this nearly enough — thanks for reading.

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  1. I don’t comment much, though I’m an avid reader of your site, so I’ll come out to weigh in on this one. Personally, I have lots of respect for Authentic Jobs and especially The Deck. They’re both very well thought out and I think that because of the systems they run on, running their ads on your website is practically like adding more relevant content to your website (okay, it’s still advertising, but at least it’s not Google Ads or something more obnoxious and impertinent). I certainly won’t leave.

  2. No quibbles from me. You have the right to make something from your labours – the fact you’ve troubled to implement that in such a tasteful manner counts for you, not against.

    Doubt you’ll get too many complaints, the readers of this site seem to have a fairly reality-based worldview, and in the real world, money makes us (or at least makes it feasible to) work.

  3. Like the others have mentioned, when you integrate tasteful, unobtrusive and relevant advertising, there’s little reason to complain. I struggled with the decision to introduce advertising and luckily, I’ve received no complaints. I doubt you will either.

  4. It’s a little eye-catching that the ads are in color, but I… I trust The Deck in a way. I know they’re not going to run flagrant ads that annoy me or unnecessarily distract me and while I’ve never really paid them much attention, I know there’s a good chance they’re advertising something I one day might be able to use.

    It’s simple, responsible advertising and the ads are designed and placed respectfully. It’s advertising done right and I actually passed around the link to this post to some in-the-know friends with a small degree of excitement that Subtraction is now in the Deck too.

  5. The color ads seriously damage the integrity of the site’s design. They wouldn’t be nearly so objectionable in grayscale. You could try using the grayscale CSS filter to cushion the blow.

  6. I don’t mind them. Plenty of other sites I read have ads in some form of the other and are much, much more offensive than The Deck.

    And yet I still read those sites. Content is king after all.

    I do like that Authentic Jobs integrates nicely amongst sites who have it — with The Deck being in colour though, I think the impact is much more stronger but I think that actually works to the advantage of The Deck on this site.

    It doesn’t fit in perfectly with the precise aesthetic of this site but it’s a small price to pay (as a reader) and it certainly catches your attention more than Authentic Jobs does.

    The Deck does have a level of class and elegance that softens the blow and makes it both attractive to both the advertiser, a member of The Deck and to the reader.

  7. At first, when I read this post via my feedreader, I was a bit scared to find on your site a big ad with big colors that would have altered this so-perfect black and white design.
    A short visit on the site revealed that it’s definitely not a big deal, that the colors are definitely not too loud, and that it kinda respects the overall design.
    And finally, I gotta say I like your point of view of earing our remarks, which is definitely very democratic:)
    For all those reasons (sorry for not being short), I don’t mind you’ve putted all those ads ;)Keep up the good work, man.

  8. Hmm… recruitment ads on personal weblogs are a no-no in my book. I’m sure you make enough dosh in the NYT to leave them out.

    The color really compromises the integrity of the design in my opinion. Especially as it now highlights the ads even more than on a full colour website design.

    You may have ‘jumped the shark’ in terms of the concept of the website – less is more etc.,

    Maybe drop the personal weblog and turn it into a design mag if that is the way you want to go ?

  9. I’ve never minded relevant advertising.

    For example, I found out about, and was constantly reminded about veer.com through channels like The Deck while I was a student.

    Now I’m working, I often buy items from Veer, and am glad I know about it. The other items on the The Deck seem similarly useful.

    The only thing regarding Authentic Jobs is that it seems fairly us-centric, so the jobs listed are completely useless to me, some kind of location-based jobs might be more useful.

  10. “I’m not sure how I’d turn this into a design magazine, or what the difference might be?”

    Simple – you open it up to other writers. Я la designobserver.com

    Takes the pressure off you writing regular stuff too.

    Just throw a personal folio into a new khoivinh.com and bob’s your uncle.

  11. If anything, I think it’s kind of ridiculous for people to insist that there is anything unseemly about *you* placing discreet ads on *your own* site. It’s your decision, and hey, I like money too! The idea that their experience is worse by any more than a couple of miniscule degrees is silly.

    Now could you please get the Times to remove all the ads and especially the blow-ins from the Friday edition? Thanks. Also get rid of Times Select.

  12. I think this is a quite alright move and I have lots of respect for the deck and authentic jobs. You should be pretty proud that the deck invited you as well. The reasons you gave were good ones as well.

    The only thing I wish is that you blogged more. Maybe some shorter posts more often. Just a suggestion.

    Have a nice day

  13. Yes, me too, Ethan. I often resolve to write shorter posts and to post more often, but every time I sit down, one or two paragraphs become seven or eight or more. But I’ll try and blog more often, especially now that, in a sense, these ads are paying me to do it.

  14. So long as advertisements don’t start showing up in your RSS feed. That move had me unsubscribing from Om Malik’s feeds. Other than that, advert on.

  15. I read this site, but rarely comment. I just wanted to tell you that these ads are fine. I don’t mind them at all.

    Carry on making a great site!

  16. I think this is a fine move, and your reasoning is sound. You deserve whatever you can make.

    The Deck’s tasteful, aesthetic design is pleasing on its own, anyway. :)

  17. If all online advertising were executed in the tasty and unobtrusive way you are doing it here, it would definitely be something we could all live with, and the world would be a much better place. Carry on.

    I second the “No advertising in RSS” petition, however. Nothing makes me hit the “Unsubscribe” button faster than that. It just smacks of greed and desperation for me.

  18. ads are fine, but you’d be remiss if you didn’t recognize 100% that you’ve already made a bunch of money from your efforts here.

    you’ve created loyal readership around the world and doors have been opened to you that would never have been opened without this elegant platform of show & tell & respond. would the nytimes have leaped at the opportunity to work with you without this blog’s existence?

    all that being said, there’s nothing like the sound of residual coin jingling in ones pocket. ;)

  19. I’ve been blogging for two years and have started to consider the same issues — there is indeed something wonderful about having your own little ad-free corner of the internet, and the decision to invade that patch with advertising is a bit of a psychological hurdle. But you’ve done it with some smarts and style, at least — if you’re going to have ads, these are the best ones to have (love the DECK). Rest easy, Mr. Vinh.

    I third the ad-free RSS petition, though.

  20. I just don’t know what ppl are thinking around here. I would read your blog even if it had purple background (#ff00e4 would be nice), table layout, blinking text links and Comic Sans MS for body text (actually Comic Sans would be taking it too far).
    Just keep doing a great job writing this blog and stop worrying about anything else.

  21. You know, there was a time when I could reliably be one of maybe 5-10 comments on your posts. Sometimes I was even the ‘first-post’ you know, the one people actually read.

    That’s totally off-topic. Just wandering where all these lurkers came from. :)

    Now, about ads. Do what you want. It’s not like I’m opposed to the Deck. I kinda like the Deck. No, I like the Deck. And the text ads? I never even noticed them. Perhaps it is a good thing that the Deck ads are in color.

    I’m not going to flog you for adding ads to your personal website. you gave me the grid. I think I can spare you the eyeballs.

  22. The Deck is simply the most beautifully designed and implement advertising campaign ever. No need to worry about its presence on your site, in my opinion.

  23. I think they’re fine. The ads from the Deck do slightly interrupt the visual integrity, but one can be overly perfectionist about these things and adverts are always a trade off there.

    I’m always glad for self published sites like this one and Daring Fireball to host unobtrusive ads because, as other posts have mentioned, there is a lot of great content here for free.

    If you are worried about scathing feedback then you could add a link next to the Deck ad to hide it. This is what Yay Hooray does for it’s members. Clicking the link writes a cookie, and then no ads, just a link to turn the ads back on.

  24. Good for you. I’m one of the “lurkers” that Chris mentioned ;-) and I still enjoy your site just as much. Nothing wrong with a little dough coming in for all your hard work. Keep it up!

  25. First of all, this is a good site and you provide it for free and we all know it takes work to build a good site. For that everyone who reads it, even once in a while, owes you a thanks. Thanks!

    One issue I wonder about with advertising on web professional sites like this is click-thru rate.

    Many design professionals and internet developers I know claim that they almost never click on ads. While a tiny ad pops out to a designer on a site like this, they also seem to have a mental ad filter for sites they visit often.

    This Deck seems very specific and focused at a certain community, so I would guess that counter balances it to some degree. But I’m wondering if there is any research or ideas about how to advertise differently to reach experienced internet users.

  26. Well Jerry that’s basically what The Deck is about. Choose affiliated sites by quality first and traffic second. Vet potential advertisers carefully, and only take ads for products and services that you respect and that are relevant to the audience. Then, only show a single ad on any page so ads get noticed and don’t have to scream for attention.

    Treat everybody in the process with respect and the net result is good for readers, good for readers and good for advertisers too. At least that’s what we’ve found. And wait till you see how cool Subtraction looks with the animated “punch the monkey” banners that start next month.

  27. The Deck has been, by far, the most effective web advertisement service I’ve encountered. (Everything else is The Dreck ::chuckle::). I can’t remember clicking through on any other ads anywhere else, but have clicked on Deck ads at Kottke and Daring Fireball. I’ll happily click through here as well, Khoi!

    You more than deserve to make a little money off your marvelous weblog… you deserve to make *a ton*. Here’s hoping.

    Aloha!

    (p.s.: as far as I’m concerend, the design integrity here isn’t at all compromised.)

  28. I find it rude when people with whom I am not acquainted make assumptions about how much money I make, need, or am entitled to. Who is anyone to judge what I do or why I do it or if I am compensated for it? I have had co-workers who have been offended if I’ve taken on perfectly legal, after-hours consulting work, and with a little digging, it usually comes down to people being jealous or annoyed that they can’t find a way to do the same thing, or that people aren’t asking them for their expertise, etc.

    No one is forced to come to your site and read your thoughts. I value your thoughts and your perspective and see no problem with you finding a way to monetize it. People complaining about the color on the b&w – please stop being so precious.

  29. Khoi – by all means keep the ad’s running, I dont mind them. I read your blog for it’s content, a small advertisement on each page will not change that.

    On another note which was mentioned in the comments, I’d love to see you start blogging more – I always smile when I see the unread signal next to your feed.

  30. No problem. The Deck ads are non-intrusive. I even like them — that’s where I found out some good services and products for designers.

  31. I think most people on the web (except for pretty much all of the fine readers that commented above) get WAY to worked up about ads.

    You deserve to make a little money for all the great content you’ve already published and will continue to publish here.

    Congrats!

  32. I’m not a designer so I don’t have the immediate “that ruins the design!” reaction that others have. it’s not what the advertisers would like to hear, but ads don’t even register on my radar most of the time. all to say, it’s your site, your decision. i appreciate that you’re open to feedback. that’s a huge part of the reason why so many people keep coming back i would imagine. a little ad or two couldn’t possibly keep them away.

  33. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned -and I learned it very recently – is that time is money. The more time I spend trying to get my USB drive working on my Great Aunt’s computer running Win98, the less time I have for actually making money.
    I actually like Deck ads and I often click on them, and I love to read new job postings and read them all the time via 37Signals.

  34. I don’t begrudge anybody making money from their efforts. What I do begrudge is the sort of slavish devotion to the idea of a “good” ad network. It’s the same kind of problem that I have with PBS pledge drives. It all seems so holier than though. I’m glad that you found advertising that matches your sensibilities and audience, but it’s not any more “worthy” than anything else out there.

    Love the site, with and without ad.

  35. I don’t understand why you changed your mind if you’ve liked having a space free from advertising all this time. It seems greedy to do it just because the opportunity to get extra money has been presented to you.

    There are hundreds of things people spend – or waste – a lot of their time on that they don’t get compensated for monetarily, but why do we have to be paid for every moment of our lives for us to see value in them? What about doing something just for the sake of doing it? The exception to this would be if you’d like to turn a hobby into a career… I would hope that you’ve gained something from all the blogging you’ve been doing and the participation of your readers for it not to have to be cheapened by you -also- wanting money for it.

    It seems like you don’t need the extra cash, so why bother? I’m less concerned about how this affects the design of your site than I am about your motivations for doing it.

  36. I may be a bit late to the party, but I’ll chime in with my own “carry on ol’ chap”. The writing keeps me coming back, and the beauty of the site design is phenomenal icing.

    (My only quibble is that I agree with those who feel the integrity of the site burdened by the colors of the Dock.)

  37. the only thing that bothers me about the ads is that they aren’t aligned left.

    the 40 pixels of padding-left don’t look good to me.
    it feels fussy and awkward, not systematic and free.

  38. Frequent reader first time poster. Whenever I read a post like this I say good for you. Heck I am in advertising and I don’t really like advertising :).

    But it is clear you put a lot of love and effort into this site and if you can make a couple bucks good for you.

    I also a a huge fan of Coudal and I got respect their business model and use their products as well as several of the advertisers.

Thank you! Your remarks have been sent to Khoi.