Money, Andrew Skurka, and Me

My Website Now Has Ads

adsJust got back from an extended camping trip in the desert in Nevada and my website had a bunch of “ping-backs” from this post by Andrew Skurka.

A ping-back is when another website refers a reader via a link. Andrew was very complementary about this website and Dave Chenault’s Bedrock and Paradox as blogs with some quality content, although not a lot of content, and both sites are not monetized; that is they do not generate income.

I want to clarify this and state again as I did on October 16th, that popupbackpacker.com now incorporates affiliate marketing, which generates a small amount of income for me.

When I read Andrew’s post I felt kinda bad because just last month I started including affiliate marketing (ads) to help pay for the costs to continue to keep the site running, which might make him look bad by linking to popupbackpacker.com. So I want to set the record straight. At the same time, I thought it might be a good idea to comment on Andrew’s post that has been sending readers here.

Who the Heck is Andrew Skurka anyway?

I have never met or talked to Andrew, although I have discussed some of his blog posts on my blog, and have linked to a few of them also. Most have been complimentary and a couple have respectfully disagreed. I have also written a few times on an Internet Forum (backpackinglight.com) supporting him and a couple times challenging his opinions. As a young man Andrew undertook several epic backpacking trips using very lightweight gear and hiking expertise that enabled him to walk thousands of miles on each trip and often average over 30 miles per day. In contrast to the tone in this post on The Business of Backpacking, Andrew is an expert when it comes to backpacking skills and knowledge. In 2007 National Geographic Magazine named him their Adventurer of the Year. I can’t speak for him, but several years ago he got married and apparently had to cut back on his long adventures and settle down to earn a real income – alas, wives expect that kind of behavior 🙂

 As an expert he wrote a book, The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide, became a public speaker and equipment designer, started a guiding business to train backpackers, and created a blog among other things. This is his job; teaching others about backpacking and backcountry skills. He is self-employed and his opinions and discussions of gear and techniques are worth reading.

More importantly, in my opinion, Andrew has “changed the language” or introduced terms that have been adopted by many backpackers. He made the term stupid light (meaning taking equipment that was too minimalist and inefficient for a specific trip) popular, his style of lightweight hiking is often referred to as Ultimate Hiking, and he resurrected an old scale to classify outdoor fun (Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3). When an individual contributes to the common language of a hobby, as Andrew has, then we can say that individual is an influencer.

What Did Andrew Write That Prompted Me To Respond?

First of all, Andrew provides a plethora of useful and real world information on his site. Although he is biased towards his Ultimate Hiker approach, he does not dismiss how others backpack, and he does undertake trips that are more in line with mainstream walkers. No matter how you backpack, Andrew probably has some useful and accurate information for you and everyone who embraces the activity.

In his post he explains how his blog earns money using affiliate marketing, how affiliate marketing works, and how he makes sure he discloses any financial gain he obtains from any link on his website. Not only does he explain how all of this works, he asks his readers to purchase any product they like using his affiliate links and/or to do the same for any blog whose content the reader may value.

He also points out that if he cannot generate enough income to justify the amount of time he spends writing for his blog, he cannot continue to invest his time doing so. I applaud his frankness on the subject. He points out that several of his last posts on shelters took a full day to write. That sounds about right. Over the past few years I have written a handful of quality articles that continuously generate a fair amount of views month after month, and each one took me a day or two to put together.

You Can’t Get Rich Blogging

It is the rare blog that generates $12,000 per year. To make $60K or $100K a year is even rarer. For Andrew, his blog is just a part of his income stream. But let’s consider what I have learned over the past 4 years of blogging and during the past two months utilizing affiliate marketing.

A blog is just a part of the equation to effectively market and monetize a website; the blogger has to build their brand – that is making a name for themselves and generate traffic to their website. The more traffic, the greater the opportunity for a very small percentage of readers to click an ad or link, and then an even smaller percentage who will purchase something that will generate income.

For me, I am not doing it right. To drive adequate traffic I would need a presence on other social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) to help drive traffic to my blog. I would need to network with other people to drive traffic, and lastly I would need to open up the comments function in my blog and actually interact with my readers. All of this takes time, and it is time I am not willing to invest in. That kind of time would reduce my Recreation Inventory of Time to Backpack and Camp.

But these are the time investments that are needed to generate enough traffic to actually make money from a blog. Once there is enough traffic, the subject matter needs to be the kind that lends itself to making money. Backpacking gear isn’t one of them. Although my traffic is only 10% (or less) of Andrew’s, my subject matter is broader. I write about backpacking and camping trailers, and sometimes even bicycle touring. The income I have generated the past two months is around 90% camping trailer related. There is a lot of stuff you can buy for a camper compared to backpacking. It is not uncommon for a trailer owner to have over $100,000 invested in their trailer and tow vehicle, so they have money to spend. About the most expensive backpacking item one would buy is a $400 sleeping bag, or a $700 Hilleberg tent (which is not something the average lightweight backpacker is going to purchase anyway). I would guess I make more money per 1,000 page views than Andrew because my readership is more diverse and more willing to spend money on stuff.

Given what I have learned from research and my own experience, Andrew isn’t generating significant money from his blog, it is only a portion of his earning power, since he has several income streams, and it wouldn’t be fair to him to guess what his blog generates in income, and I wouldn’t expect him to share that information either.

The other thing I am not doing right is writing well. I write like I talk – on purpose. I once wrote technical manuals for a living and no longer care to spend the time organizing an article, doing the requisite research, or even paying close attention to grammar and spelling. When I get an idea, I usually quickly throw something together – just as I am quickly jotting down my thoughts in this post. This makes me appreciate even more the quality of Andrew’s work.

And then there is the whole subject of ideas for quality posts. There is just so much one can write about backpacking. As I often describe backpacking, “It’s just walking.” Frequently it takes more time to formulate an idea to write about, and keep the blog posts fresh and interesting, than it takes to actually write the article.

Another thing that hurts my blog is my distain for technology: smart watches, GPS, heart rate monitors, software to analyze nutrition or key body functions, personal locator beacons, satellite communicators, smart phones, smart phone apps, computer apps, water filters, etc. And this is what many readers are interested in. Even if I wanted to write about them, I can’t because I have no experience using them. Given that Andrew is about the same age as my kids, he is more likely to connect with the technically inclined younger audience; and he does use some of this technology, and can write about them with authority.

The last thing that hurts my income generating potential is the fact I don’t need the income. I’m retired and if I needed extra income I could do some freelance consulting, which would generate more money in an hour than my blog makes in a month.

I don’t need to blog either, I could (and often do) go backpacking or camping instead of spending time writing for the blog. The blog is a convenient way to keep my kids and a handful of friends informed about what I am doing. However, I do have a small following of people who I don’t know, and if the site generates a little bit of money, I will be inclined to write more often.

The Entitled Society

Most information on the Internet is free. You type in a search term into a search engine and then — POOF! — there is some information, which may be good info or misinformation. But thing about it; it isn’t free. Somehow, somewhere money is being generated to support the World Wide Web infrastructure we use everyday. Over the years I have seen a trend where people expect things for free.

You Get What You Pay For

Bottom Line If you read a blog that provides valuable information that helps you make an informed purchase decision, and that blog incorporates affiliate marketing to support it, then consider using one of the links to make your purchase. It costs you nothing extra – those links present the everyday price – but the referrer gets a commission. This motivates the blogger to keep writing and provides you a quality resource. On the other hand, if you read a blog that reviews several pieces of gear every week, month after month, year after year, I would question the value provided. You, the reader, will have to make that decision. Just as most people wouldn’t work for free, you can’t expect a blogger who consistently and frequently provides quality content to work for free. This is the point of Andrew’s blog post. The good news is folks who enjoy a quality blog can support it financially for no cost: that is they can purchase items they would have bought anyway via that blogger’s affiliate links.

My hope is Andrew’s post does encourage his readers to support his website by buying things through him if he provides value to them. I enjoy his blog. It is one of the best backpacking sites on the Web and it would be a shame if Andrew cannot generate sufficient income from it to justified the amount of time he spends writing for it. As I already stated, I don’t know Andrew. But I am a pretty good judge of character and my impression is Andrew is a sincere person and a person of integrity.

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