A discussion has been going on recently in the quadcopter / RC model community regarding the use of affiliate advertising. Joshua Bardwell recently released a video stating that he is going to use more affiliate advertising on his channel, and wanted to ensure his viewers that everything should remain normal. He discussed his concerns, and reiterated that he is held to the standards of his audience and wants to do right by them.
We have always loved Joshua’s content, and are sure this will be the case. You can check out the video below:
Since Propwashed has always made nearly all of its money from affiliate advertising, I wanted to throw my opinions on the subject into the pool. To prevent myself from rambling off into a 10 page “manifesto”, I’m going to try to keep my thoughts in bullet point format for the most part.
First, what is affiliate advertising?
I don’t think that Joshua did a great job explaining exactly what affiliate advertising is. This isn’t to blame him or say he is trying to hide anything! Rather, it is easy as a content creator to forget that the average viewer might have zero experience with this form of advertising.
So, how does it work?
Many large vendors (Amazon, Banggood, etc.) allow content creators to link products from their site and give the content creator a portion of any sales that occur from clicking that link. This doesn’t mean the customer (you) pays more – but rather Amazon or Banggood or whoever gives up a cut of their revenue to the content creator for helping to facilitate the purchase. Depending on the product, price, or standing of the content creator, this cut can be anywhere between 1-8% of the sales price.
This has become almost the modus operandi for content creators across the internet. This is definitely not unique to the RC community. As viewers and readers of many hobbies have gotten tired of flashing pop ups, irrelevant ads, and other distracting marketing, content creators have utilized affiliate links to bring money into their site while (for the most part) respecting their audience.
Who does this? Nearly everyone. Click through a link on the RC Groups forum? What about in Steele, UAVFutures, or other big YouTuber’s video? Did some research on buying a new lawnmower last week? By and large, those are all affiliate links that help support those content creators.
Advertising models for websites
For content-producing websites, there are a number of ways to make money. For those who primarily do reviews and provide tips for “gear” such as quadcopters, we believe that affiliate advertising the best way to support the costs of running the site. Here’s why the others don’t stack up:
- Sponsorships generally cannot afford to pay for a lot of in-depth quality content. Sponsors need to take an upfront risk that the content will pay off, and there are a lot of writers out there who will not make an honest effort.
- Additionally, many sponsor agreements require that you only mention / use their products. For example, we may be able to get a stipend or free products from xyz frame manufacturer, but only if we agree to only use and review their frames. This can obviously create bias if not done transparently.
- Writing for “free samples” is a good way to be compensated for reviews, but most vendors are hesitant to send samples for articles we think would be more valuable to the community (e.g. “frame durability”, “battery degradation”, “water proofing” etc). Moreover, there can be more pressure to write a positive review for a vendor in the hopes of future products.
- Traditional advertising (banners / popups) are annoying and provide poor revenue unless you have a massive audience (we don’t). Think of this like traditional YouTube ad revenue or banner ads on a site.
- On YouTube, this basically translates to $1 CPM, or $1 per 1000 views. The dollar amount can skew higher depending on the channel type, ad network, etc., but $1-2 per 1000 views is a good starting point for channels with less than 100k subs.
- Merchandise sales (branded shirts, hats, gear, etc) can provide additional revenue depending on the goal. We have shirts for sale, but don’t want to gouge the crap out of supportive readers that are trying to rep Propwashed. We make about $1-3 profit varying on shirt quality for each sale through fulfillment services like Spreadshirt / Redbubble.
- “Subscription” support like what is done through Patreon is a really interesting model that has the best shot at replacing traditional advertising. We think this might have been a good match for us, but we have a really hard time outright asking folks for money. Additionally, Patreon seems perfect for big personalities on YouTube who people connect with, and potentially less so for faceless writers such as ourselves.
Why others may think affiliate links are bad (and why we disagree)
- They turn content providers into shills.
- While it is true that we are incentivized to link to affiliate partners – that doesn’t necessarily mean we are inclined to lie about our experiences with the product. If we did that, our audience wouldn’t come back!
- “Big box” retailers like Banggood or Amazon offer so many products of each type that you are practically guaranteed to be able to find at least one good product of that type.
- The honest truth is that we simply do not review products that we know to be poor. You may have noticed that the vast majority of our reviews are dated well after the most popular guys post theirs. Just like you guys, we do our research, and want to find products that WE will use – review or no review. Additionally, most of our reviews have a “guide” section to help troubleshoot frequent problems and cover any setup tasks.
- Advertisers can hold content providers “hostage” by threatening to withhold affiliate ad revenue.
- The companies we work with generally have no say in what products we review or link, nor do they even read our content in most cases.
- We currently work with 4 affiliate advertisers who all provide similar products. If one of these were to attempt to censor us, it would not be difficult to change over to one of their competitors or figure our a different solution.
Ways affiliate links CAN actually be bad
Affiliate ad revenue dis-incentivizes doing reviews on products that do not provide affiliate ad programs.
- It is harder for us to justify spending the time and money reviewing products from smaller manufacturers, which are often some of the most interesting products around.
- At the same time, the money we make from ad revenue allows us to buy products from minor manufacturers for review. We “reinvest” most of our income in this way – see our EFAW 2407 review for the most recent example.
- If you are a small manufacturer (or vendor) wanting to get your name out – contact us! We love doing reviews for the small guys.
- Similarly, affiliate ads incentivizes the use of “big box” vendors like Banggood and Amazon rather than local hobby shops or some of the great smaller vendors in the hobby.
- If you have a local hobby shop in your city that sells miniquad gear – USE THEM. Even if they charge 10% more. They are an incredible asset that hardly exists anymore.
- We link to smaller vendors where it makes sense, but we maintain a list of vendors we have used and like. Check it out here. We frequently post this list during holidays and to highlight deals we hear about from smaller vendors.
- Affiliate ads pressure content producers to provide sub optimal links for products being reviewed (for example, links to vendors who are not giving the best price).
- We encourage you to look around after checking out the prices of our affiliates. Most of the time – Banggood or Amazon will have pretty competitive prices, but please don’t assume we did the price shopping for you. Additionally, prices change all the time week to week depending on sales. We HIGHLY encourage you to shop around and save money if you can. Again, use this vendor list for cross comparison!
Why do we monetize the website?
It’s a good question. Here is our reasoning:
- The average article on this site takes us around 5 hours to put together – many take longer. Our longer form videos (such as our popular Betaflight configuration video) took around 40-60 hours of prep, filming, and editing among multiple people. Finally, some of our experimental posts (our month long battery test) take weeks or longer to assemble the data.
- This doesn’t include the time spent building and configuring gear I’m reviewing or using – I would have done that anyways!
- At 203 articles at the time of this posting, that means we’ve collectively invested over 1000 hours in building content for this site – likely more.
- None of us are working full time on Propwashed revenue – nor do we intend to on ad revenue. We do this because we are passionate about the hobby and thought it would be a fun project. That said, running a website isn’t free, and we want to at minimum cover all the associated costs. This means some form of monetization is needed.
- At this time, the vast majority of affiliate revenue earned has been re-invested into purchasing more products for review or improving the site. The remainder? Invested into a few drinks and meals where we discuss what to write and improve upon! Contrary to what some believe, we buy most of our own products!
Why we like the affiliate advertising model
- We are self sufficient. Affiliate advertising means we can start up an affiliate account, go buy a product, try it out and review it on our own prerogative. If we like the product and so does our audience – we get a little bit of money. There is actually very little reliance on interactions with the vendors.
- Our advertising is extremely targeted. There’s nothing more stupid than going to a quadcopter website and getting served ads for Viagra or some other nonsense. Our links are for products you may actually want to buy – and you can support us in the process. We hate going to a website and seeing flashy irrelevant ads too, so we have no desire to put them on our site.
- We get accurate metrics on what sorts of things our readers like reading about and purchasing. This helps us create articles that are relevant to your interests!