Reader survey on advertising

Dear F Word readers,

Back in September, we asked you whether The F Word should feature advertising on the blog. The F Word is, and will continue to be, a labour of love – no-one is paid for their contributions, from our bloggers to our reviewers to our feature-writers, right up to me – the editor, and Catherine – the founder.

We could have decided not to change anything, but we see this as an opportunity. The F Word is one of the most visited feminist websites made in the UK. We can mobilise those visitors to generate money for feminist causes. When we read through your suggestions on where such money could go, we were excited and inspired. Even if we don’t end up getting much money from this endeavour, we will be able to create a new funding stream specifically for feminist causes and activism. We also want to make The F Word better. We want options: whether that’s commissioning a re-design, putting on events in the ‘real world’, publishing an F Word book, or following up on our many ideas for moving forwards.

So, what did we decide to do? In short, we have joined the Amazon Affiliates programme. The F Word now has a shop – powered by Amazon. We will receive a small percentage from most items that you buy from the shop, or the rest of Amazon after clicking through. You can read more about the specifics of the programme at our FAQ, here.

We have not ruled out placing adverts on the blog (although we feel advertising is not suitable for the magazine section of The F Word, which includes features and reviews). However, we have decided at this point that we don’t have the resources to properly source and vet adverts to make sure they are suitable for a feminist website.

To help you understand why we’ve reached this decision, here are the results from the survey – and some comments from the 215 of you who responded.

Question 1: Generally speaking, how do you feel about seeing ads on the blog?

pie chart showing results on advertising

As you can see, the vast majority of readers don’t mind feminist-friendly advertising. Not many people were positive about advertising, but, equally, only a small minority oppose or strongly oppose any advertising – 21 and 8 people, respectively.

It’s clear that people have some widely differing views on this subject. People raise some really good points. For example, one person said:

You should only advertise small businesses (NEVER Amazon)

While this would be really nice to do, we are only a team of volunteers. One of the things we really want to do is make sure we are not dependent on advertising – but the amount of work that would go into searching just for small businesses to advertise would not be possible to fit in around our full-time jobs.

But then we got this comment as well:

I think it’s GREAT that women/feminists are making money online – just as long as the ads are feminist-friendly, of course

Question 2: If we did run advertising, what should we do with the proceeds?

chart of reader opinion on how to spend ad proceeds

As you can see from the chart, people had some differing ideas about how to use the proceeds of any advertising. We were surprised that few people thought we should give all revenue to feminist causes – 17 people chose this option. But readers overwhelmingly want us to donate some of the revenue to feminist causes – and so do we! We have decided to donate a minimum of 50% to causes and set aside the remainder for site improvement.

It was particularly gratifying that some of you pointed out that we ourselves are a feminist cause!

Bearing in mind this site could count as a feminist cause I would ask you to give as much away as you can afford

Contributing to feminist causes is too general – you are a feminist cause, retain the monies.

47 readers said that we should use revenue to pay contributors. However, both me and Catherine have reservations about this – we think this would change the culture of The F Word, and may even put people off sending in their contributions. The F Word is for everyone, not just professional journalists – although I’m one of them, and of course we love to get submissions from writers too. As this respondent said:

It is important not to pay the contributors. Now we know the opinions given are those of the writers, and they write them because they feel strongly. This could all change if money was introduced into the equation.

Question 3: How should we choose the causes we donate to?

chart showing how readers think we should choose causes

Although a small majority (51.2%) of readers did support the idea of voting for charities or causes, in the end we decided not to go down this route. We want to avoid pitting one cause against another. We have decided to set up a function to let people suggest where the money should go on a regular basis, but a Big Brother-style vote does not appeal. Therefore, we will make the choices between us, and give a full explanation at the time. We plan to regularly change the cause we donate to, but we will wait to see how much revenue we generate before settling how often this will be. At this stage we are not sure how much the income may amount to, and we may want to let it accumulate for a while, so we can give a bigger donation.

Question 4: Can you think of any causes or charities we should donate to?

We got 77 individual responses to this question. Here is where we think this gets really exciting, and we hope you will too, when you read some of the suggestions you came up with:

  • Rape crisis centres
  • Women at Risk
  • Refuges
  • Abortion Rights
  • Object
  • Groups working on domestic violence
  • Wish (provides support for women with mental health needs)
  • The Poppy Project
  • Women in Media (WIMNOnline)
  • Eaves Housing
  • Small-scale groups where the money will be most appreciated
  • NOW
  • Women’s Library
  • Fawcett Society
  • Women on Waves

On top of these fabulous ideas, me and Catherine had some of our own – including the idea of supporting small activist groups, Ladyfests, etc. We’ll have more information on this – including addressing important questions such as the split between international groups and UK groups, whether we will donate to big, arguably quite well-funded, organisations, later.

Question 5: An alternative to advertising would be to set up a ‘shop’, which would be part of The F Word, but link through to Amazon. We could stock it with feminist ‘must read’ books, classics, and other things like films and albums with a feminist angle. How would you feel about this? Would you use it?

amazon shop poll

As you can see, only 8% of respondents oppose the idea of an Amazon shop. We believe it has some big advantages over advertising: it is easy for us to do, and it provides a resource for those readers who want it. However, if you have strong feelings against Amazon – as some readers voiced to us – or you prefer to use independent stores, you never have to look at the shop. We also plan to create a list of alternative, independent bookstores in the UK that you can visit or buy from. Please get in touch if you want your bookshop to be added. It also avoids some of the concerns that people have raised about invasive advertising:

My main concern about ads would be that they wouldn’t be too invasive or distracting from the posts. As long as those conditions are met, I won’t mind seeing them at all.

I find advertising on the web really annoying unless I’m actually shopping. Anything that moves or flashes, or expands when you (accidentally) move the mouse over it, is particularly bad, and people who create ads that sit on top of the content and have to be got rid of before you can read it should have their internet access taken away. Static ads that don’t get in the way are OK, I suppose, but you’d have to vet them.

How is ‘feminist friendly’ advertising going to be defined exactly? – I’m not opposed to some advertising as long as readers aren’t bombarded with annoying pop ups etc but I think this needs explanation. Thanks for consulting.

However, a number of people raised questions about how advertising would influence our editorial integrity. Although we are not immediately instituting any advertising, me and Catherine feel it is necessary to address this idea head on:

Generating any type of income from sponsorship erodes independance and autonomy. It eventually has to influence direction and priorities. If it is possible at all try to stay free.

I would agree with advertising only as long as you had a big legal wall between the advertisers and the content of The F-Word, so that advertisers had absolutely no editorial control whatsoever. I would also suggest reading Gloria Steinem’s article, ‘Sex, Lies, and Advertising,’ which gives a succinct overview of the problems Ms. magazine had with advertisers.

I think this is a difficult issue, but I would beg you not to go down this road. I have seen so many sites over the years start off with noble intentions regarding advertising and gradually become compromised. During the last twelve years I have been involved with many internet sites, espcially within the blogging/diarist community- both reading and writing them, and I have seen so many writers ‘sell out’ it is depressing. This is usually due to the presence of advertising on their sites, and the tragic thing is most people who start down this slippery path really do it for the right reasons- to improve their services and promote their sites when things are getting a bit financially tough. I really think you need to think this through- at the moment the f word is a really credible, authentically free space and in this world there just aren’t enough of them left. People in general, but especially women are the targets of hundreds of advertisements every day. Do we really need any more of them? At the moment on the F word we are free to review any woman focused product, films, books, events etc with no outside or inside pressure from editors or advertising companies. We can say more or less exactly what we like about what we choose. That for me as both a reader, writer and feminist is incredibly special. It means I can trust the reviews- even if I ultimately don’t agree with them I can be reassured that they were not put there with any ulterior motive. In the past reading people’s honest reviews has helped me make some really informed decisions from which musical artist to explore next to which sanitary products to use. I think, even if you promised explicitly that the advertising would not affect content, the very presence of it on your site would compromise your integrity in the eyes of many people. I mean, for example, how could you really trust a ‘mooncup’ review, when in a box right next to it is an advert for the same product? I, for one, know I couldn’t. And as site developers, as editors and contributors yourselves, how would you deal with issues such as reviewing events that have paid money to promote themselves on your website? Would you really have the nerve to print an article trashing the next Gossip CD if it was rubbish, if you’d just got a advertising contract with the record company to promote it, however large or small? I know we’re talking relatively small amounts of money here, but I think whether you’re talking hundreds or millions the principles regarding relationships to advertisers remains the same. With the best will in the world (and I 100% believe you have that) can you really guarantee that these won’t affect your editorial integrity? ‘The f word’ is my favourite site on the internet. I feel I can trust it. I feel it has integrity. I love that it’s all produced on a voluntary basis, which is why I didn’t mind spending hours and hours recently writing an article for the site, and will write many more in the coming months. I don’t mind not being paid, and over the coming months I would love to get more involved. I would even make donations to keep the site going if you guys needed it- I know paying to keep a website going can be expensive and I would help you raise money in many other ways. But I couldn’t stomach it if you sold out. I have seen too many voices, strong radical voices being severely compromised and eventually silenced by the pressures of advertising on their websites. Even if the products you are advertising seem like worthy ones, even if they are all from independent fair trade eco friendly woman run companies, or charities, or whatever, that’s kind of irrelevant. The point is that we have lost yet another free space on the internet, one free of the pressures of consumerism and it’s inherent corruption. Keep it free people. Please keep it free. It might make the road ahead tougher for you, but I suspect so many women will be grateful, both now and further down the line. I think that remaining a neutral space will only strengthen the f word’s power and integrity in the long run.

Editorial control of The F Word will remain independent, totally uninfluenced by advertising. We would simply not accept anything else. It is worth pointing out that our contributions all come from submissions sent in from a wide range of people. If anyone had a problem with any advertising we carried, we would be able to post up their article explaining why. Our bloggers are independent: their posts go up unedited by me, for the most part. If they wanted to post a critique of advertising we ran, they would be able to. If at any point you thought advertisers or the Amazon store were unduly influencing us, then you can write in and we promise to deal with your complaints. If we go down the direct advertising route in future, we are considering recruiting a volunteer to be a ‘readers’ editor’, along the model used by The Guardian. The readers’ editor can write anything, unedited by me or Catherine, and would provide a completely independent way to raise and address such concerns.

We hope that the information here helps you to understand why we have decided to go down this route. Finally, a big thank you to all the people who responded to our survey in such thoughtful and thought-provoking ways. We hope to be as transparent as possible when it comes to changes here at The F Word.

Jess McCabe

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