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Ask the Readers: The Problem With Sponsored Posts

by Ian MacKenzie Dec 7, 2007

Recently, Brave New Traveler has received criticism for choosing to publish sponsored posts in our regular content. For those of you new to the site, or unsure what a “sponsored” post means, here’s a quick definition:

A sponsored post is an article that has been written expressly because a company has paid for content.

In most cases on Brave New Traveler, our sponsored posts have been written by myself or co-editor Tim Patterson, and have offered an objective eye on the service/product. At no time were we “easy” on them because they paid for the post – we tried to offer a look at the service/product, and leave the reader to decide if they wanted to check out the companies’ website.

But some readers weren’t happy. They believed the posts were deceptive because they look like regular content, and were written in our signature tone and style.

A Change Of Tone

And so, after some discussion, Tim, Laura (our advertising manager) and myself decided we would continue to publish sponsored posts, but that we would no longer write them in our own style/tone. After all, if the posts are essentially advertisements, why not make it obvious? The first sponsored post in this format was 5 Reasons To Stay In A Timeshare, published last Sunday.

Again, we received criticism from other readers because they felt the posts were still deceptive. Even though every single post has been identified right at the beginning with the line “Please note: this is a sponsored post” some readers still view it as schilling for a company.

In an effort to remain fully transparent, I would like to argue our case for choosing to publish sponsored posts.

The Reality Of The Web

Anyone who has ever tried to make money online, quickly realizes it doesn’t come easy.

The truth is, I created BNT to provide a forum for excellent online travel content, and offer it for free.

However, that doesn’t mean I think our writers should work for free. From the very beginning, my goal was to earn enough money through various forms of advertising to pay for our content, and in July of this year, I achieved that goal.

Anyone who has ever tried to make money online, quickly realizes it doesn’t come easy. Unless you cram your layout with flashing banners, google adstrips, contextual text links, and affiliate referrals, it’s pretty difficult to earn more than a few bucks a month.

Currently, while small in number and frequency, sponsored posts provide the most income for the site. And that makes them tempting, because it means we can have a cleaner layout. It means I don’t have to hide affiliate sales links in the content. And it means that our writers can get paid.

Pay versus Product?

Yet I understand how sponsored posts can hurt our reputation as a quality source for travel content.

That’s why I’ve kept these posts to a minimum (less than 8 since the site launched over a year ago) and they always remain relevant to travel (which is why you don’t see sponsored posts about gambling or pharmaceuticals). And as always, the posts have been clearly labelled as sponsored, and not regular content.

So how to proceed? I’d like to hear your feedback on sponsored posts: whether you agree with them or not. I want to know if you have ideas on generating alternative income for BNT, and how we can keep publishing brilliant new writers, and share them with an ever growing audience of conscious and intelligent travelers.

Thanks in advance.

Ian MacKenzie is editor of Brave New Traveler. Aside from writing, he spends his time exploring the fundamental nature of existence and wishing he did more backpacking.

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