Ask the readers: How much money would it take for you to compromise your principles?

An Allegory

There was once a man who became a vegetarian. Because he believed that all living creatures have souls, he swore he would never again consume animal flesh. For three years, he ate only vegetable matter. People offered him money to eat meat, but he steadfastly refused.”Will you try a turkey sandwich for $2?” a woman asked one day. “No,” he said.

“Will you try this hot dog for $20?” a little boy once asked at the county fair. “No,” he said.

“Will you try a piece of steak for $200?” asked his mother-in-law at her 70th birthday party. “No,” he said.

“Will you try a piece of ham for $2,000?” asked his wife on Christmas Day. The man considered it for a moment, but then he shouted, “No. I am a vegetarian. I will not eat meat!”

One day a crafty gentleman appeared to him. “Will you try a piece of bacon?” the gentleman asked. “All you have to do is tell me what you think of it — and then tell your friends. If you do this little thing, I will give you $20,000.”

What did the man do?

Have you ever wondered how much money it would take for you to compromise your principles? I’ve thought about it, but I’ve never really been tested.

Today I was tested.

A major U.S. company offered to purchase advertising on this site. That’s not unusual. What’s unusual was the money involved and the method they wished to employ. They were offering to pay an enormous sum in order for me to provide “advertorials” — to promote their product under the guise of a series of blog posts.

Though Get Rich Slowly generates revenue through traditional advertising and through affiliate sales, I’ve always refused to provide paid posts. Maybe I’m performing mental gymnastics, but for myself, there’s a difference between earning money when I recommend a product of my own accord, and earning money by posting an article for which I’ve been asked to be a shill.

I’ve spent the last two days laboring over this decision. I’ve talked with friends and family. I’ve talked with colleagues. I’ve sought sage advice from every corner. And I’ve considered a variety of creative solutions:

  • Have another blogger write about the product, and split the money with him.
  • Write about the product and then offer all of the income to you, the readers, via some sort of contest. (I really liked this idea.)
  • Write about the product and donate all of the income to charity.

I cannot deny that I’ve been sorely tempted by this proposal.

In the end, however, a problem still remained: by accepting the offer, I would be allowing an advertiser to direct my editorial content. And if I did this once, then what about the next time? Where would I draw the line? Would there even be a line? All of the solutions left me feeling a little bit dirty, and I didn’t like it. The only way I could feel clean was to decline.

Note: I am not condemning bloggers who might choose to accept this offer and others like it. We each have our own personal codes of conduct. Some people are vegetarians, and others aren’t. This isn’t about whether paid posts are always right or wrong. This is about what is right and wrong for me, for my own conscience. It’s about the general relationship between money and personal values.

Instead, I submitted a proposal that says, “Hey. Get Rich Slowly is one of the biggest personal finance blogs on the internet. It’s good to advertise here. Give me the money and I will take down every other ad for a month. You can have all of the ad space.” Again, maybe I’m performing mental gymnastics, but this doesn’t make me feel dirty. I’ve accepted paid advertising on this site since day one. The only thing different about this would be the order of magnitude.

But it’s unlikely that the advertiser will accept my counter-proposal. It’s not what they’re after.

Posting an advertorial isn’t illegal or immoral; it’s just against my personal principles, and conflicts with my vision for this site. But if I had been offered a million dollars, I’m fairly certain we wouldn’t be having this conversation. My principles would have vanished. I would have eaten the bacon — and then I would have told you all how great it tasted.

Have you faced a similar dilemma in your own life? Have your principles ever been challenged by money? What did you do? Were you happy with your decision?

207 comments

  1. I hear your pain.

    The only time in my life as a writer/photographer that I’ve intentionally destroyed negatives was when I had a large cash offer for some powerful images I’d shot in the midst of a tragedy. Oh, btw, the offer was from the New York Times. Would have changed the course of my career.

    Problem was, I felt that these particular images didn’t belong in the newspaper. They were too … um … intimate (not sex; death).

    I said no.

    And I’ve never regretted it.

    🙂

  2. For me, I’m glad you didn’t take it. I like my ads along the side, where I know what they are. (Which is why they want to get around me by purchasing the content space.)

    For you, I’m sorry they didn’t offer you a million. Then you could start a new blog telling how you invested your million-dollar windfall!

  3. I love the solution you came up with. Would you have been able to go along with it, if you loved this company and what they stood for? Or was it just the thought of, in a way, having to pretend and talk up this company to us? I considered pay per post at one time, but I wasn’t able to fake my enthusiasm enough to get approved – I had to create an introductory post that raved about the site. I didn’t know anything about it, so I guess I was kind of dull. Besides my BlogHerAds let me know I needed to create a sister blog for this type of thing. I don’t recall having been tempted by money in this way in my life, although I do face moral situations where I have to make a decision involving money. For example, I am known for not “overlooking” an extra payment from a contractor – yes, the one that proceeded me would just keep mum about it. Or maybe she really didn’t know, the record keeping was atrocious, invoice numbers weren’t even used when I took over! It is good to have an intact moral base within. I meet too many who don’t, it seems to be less and less common. Off my soapbox. Thanks again.

  4. Doing advertorials would also have been a bad business decision in the long run. Your blog’s cred would go down by the majority of readers who are smart enough to notice and traffic would also likely decrease.

  5. Regardless of the outcome, I’m just inspired by your willingness to be honest with me, the world and yourself. This is something that’s really hard to do.

    Thanks for inspiring honesty.

    I had a situation where a client asked me to sell a mutual fund and i forgot to do it. It was a huge amount and as a result of the delay in taking action, the client lost $16,000. It was 100% my fault.

    I guess I could have tried to make up some story but I just picked up the phone and told the client what happened and ate the loss. I actually felt really good (and broke!) because it was the right thing to do. I hesitated at first before calling the client. I really didn’t know what to do and I flashed on ideas on how to get out of it but in the end I was very happy I made the right decision.

  6. Good for you.

    I’d only caution you about taking too much of a relativistic approach to this issue (“I’m not condemning others, it’s just not right for me”).

    It is wrong for anyone, and not just because of how it makes you feel. And it’s a little different from the vegetarian, because of your relationship with your readers.

    Why? Because in good faith you offer your blog as an independent view of your content. It’s an issue of trust.

    This goes for anyone who doesn’t say, right up at the top of their content, “I’m being paid to say what I’m saying.”

    When you violate trust, even implicitly, it becomes a moral issue. It has to do with lying.

    You chose not to lie, even covertly, even if you could get away with it. That’s integrity.

    That’s a moral choice, not an emotional one (although it has emotional reverberations), and as such, is true for everyone. If someone represents himself as unbiased but actually has a bias, he is lying. Lies can be unspoken. And that’s immoral.

    If every private person held himself to these standards (and they are objective, though perhaps subtle standards), we would have more luck asking public persons to do so as well!

    So good for you.

  7. J.D., I think you made a good call on behalf of your readers. I’m sure you’ve seen it, but there’s some industry research that suggests that *unidentified* advertorial content erodes reader trust if/when they learn of it.

    However, you might consider the example of the Fug Girls, who have recently accepted advertorial content, but with rules. It’s all presented in a black-framed box (a completely different look from their design standard), and they pledge at the top to notify readers when they are presenting advertorial content. It’s also tagged and titled as a sponsored post.

    http://gofugyourself.celebuzz.com/go_fug_yourself/2009/01/test_peoples_choice_sponsored.html

    (I note now that the black frame has been removed; I wonder if that was at the sponsor’s request.)

    Anyway, as a print journalist at a small paper, I salute your ethics, and I appreciate that even identifying the posts as sponsored still takes your time away from, um, legit editorial content.

    Still love the blog, still respect you.

  8. There is another way, which is to label the blogpost ‘advertorial’. Either you or the company can write the blogpost. This way it’s clear that it’s a paid advertorial, not your personal opinion. This is the way I handle proposals like this, I have several (dutch) websites with a lot of visitors.

  9. I strongly think you’re on the right track, there. Newspapers have (allegedly) kept a thick wall between the business/advertising decisions and the editorial decisions. Accepting payment for a blog post crosses a line that calls into question every product you recommend. We would have to start asking ourselves your motivations. Does he really like this product, or did he get paid?

    You made the right call, even if it was a tough one.

  10. Congratulations. I may not always agree with every article but they are unbiased (from corporations) opinions. Those unbiased opinions support free thought and discussion without the intent to motivate the readers to an inherent contridiction of the blog’s purpose. How can you help someone get rich slowly when draining them of cash on unneeded commercial items all for your personal gain. Again, congratulations!

  11. I would consider it to have been fine, possibly a good idea, to have done the article but with a disclaimer at the top explaining that it was paid for by the company. You need not have lied during the article, just given an honest overview of how their product worked. Obviously if the advertisers wanted you to lie through your teeth about how great the product was even when it wasnt, then that’s a slightly different matter.

  12. I write for another website for a small fee of $100 per article. Usually I write about any topic I choose. I was requested by my editor to write an article about a general topic of interest, but he specified that I should interview employees from a certain large advertising sponsor and get my information from their press releases on the subject.

    Since I am in medicine I absolutely would have rejected any request to write about something that was related to a pharmaceutical company, no matter what the pay, even for a million dollars, but we have to keep our standards higher in medicine because bias from drug companies affects patients’ health and can even be a life or death question.

    This company was merely a provider of educational services, so I ended up accepting the request, though I made a point of not writing the article in such a way as to try to promote the company’s services. I still feel a little guilty about this article because of course I was mentioning the company’s name in conjunction with the people I quoted, and thereby advertising for them in a way, but then again the site features ads for their products and so I didn’t feel that it was any secret that they were a sponsor and had probably asked us to interview them for this article. I believe that when there is a conflict of interest such as this (where you are trying to provide an unbiased perspective in a piece of writing but cannot because you are being sponsored by a company who stands to profit, you should make a published statement with the article that makes clear the nature of the relationship so that readers can draw their own conclusions about bias. This is how the medical community does things for research etc. To apply this to your situation, I don’t think it would be wrong to write about something at a company’s request and be paid for it as long as that was explicitly stated and you were able to apply some sort of objective analysis to the product you were discussing. Caveat emptor, as long as the sponsorship is plainly stated.

    I do know physicians who take money from drug companies and donate it to charity, but I don’t think this is a good solution in the case of medicine because by listening to their spiel (what you get paid for), you are consciously or not being influenced and therefore could prescribe someone a drug that perhaps is not indicated or would not be the best drug for them. However, unless you believe that you could be negatively impacting the lives of others by promoting a product that would perhaps affect their finances negatively, I’m not sure this is the case for your situation.

    What if you got offered a lot of money to be a spokesperson for ING Direct let’s say, and go on TV commercials and tell people to buy the product? Would you have done that?

  13. J.D., I’m glad you didn’t take it. I’d have to agree with cb @ #3. Your readers might notice, especially if the company really isn’t all that great, and your readership would suffer. I’m sure you’d still get search engine traffic, but this sort of thing really could affect your credibility – especially among other personal finance blogs if it’s not a great company.

    If it were a great company, it might be harder to tell and people might not notice as much. It’d be like writing about Vanguard a lot. We know they’re a great company, so no one would think that’s suspicious. But if you suddenly started writing about how great private equity is and that everyone should invest in it, we’d know something is up.

    Either way, thanks for sticking to your ethical standards!

  14. I think the if it was for a product that you really would endorse on your own, and if you make it clear that you were writing a paid-for-post, then I’d say it would be fine. Your readers do trust you, and they do want you to make money — you provide a great service to us. I think if you were upfront and honest with us (and yourself) about it, your readers would support you.

  15. You would be deceiving your readers and tricking them for your monetary gain. And how would that make you feel over time? How would it change your character and your self-respect. It’s kind of like selling your soul down the river. For myself, I know that I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing that I was secretly taking advantage of a whole lot of people in a way that they were unaware.

    You’ve done the right thing. You’ll make your money – but not in this way.

    Now you can change the name of your blog to:
    Get Rich Honorably.

  16. Mrs. Accountability wrote: Would you have been able to go along with it, if you loved this company and what they stood for?

    This is a fantastic question. I don’t know the answer. What if this were an advertorial for the Mini Cooper? Or for comic books? Or for bacon salt? I’m sure it would have been even more difficult for me to decide.

    RE: labeling advertorials or sponsored posts
    I did consider this. But it wasn’t really so much another option as a necessary component of any option I might choose to implement. That is, I felt like I’d want to identify any such paid content, regardless of how I handled it, so it wasn’t another way out really.

    Even this morning, I still don’t know if I made the right call. I mean, from the point of my principles, I did. But are my principles right? I turned down a lot of money.

    And I guess that’s my point. Until you’re actually faced with the choice of taking the money or standing by your principles, you don’t really know how you’re going to act. I’ve always said, “No paid posts. No way.” As if it were that easy to make the choice. but when it happens in real life, and the numbers are big enough, it’s not easy to make the decision at all.

    Finally, I should point out that the thing that finally tipped the scales for me yesterday was my ongoing discussions with financial planners, and they’re continued obsession with “compliance”. To me, this became a notion of “compliance” with my readers.

  17. It’s a tough issue, and you certainly chose the harder path for now.

    I hope I’m not being naive in this praise for Consumer Reports magazine (or Consumers Union, I suppose the company’s called) but this is exactly why they accept no advertisements whatsoever. The products and services they test are also acquired through normal means, not provided by the manufacturers.

    In the end, for the most part, Consumer Reports seems to be the most trusted and respected source of reviews and analysis in our country; and this is why. Others, like Car and Driver in the automotive world, are fun to read, but they always seem to like everything they “test.”

    So in an ethical sense, you’re definitely choosing the higher ground, not letting the trust waters become clouded with outside influences.

    But practically, what you’re doing is simply further defining your business model. You’re turning down the easy money now, and hopefully you’ll be rewarded for this choice in the long run because readers will come to respect your word as that of an independent source rather than a writer/spokesman hybrid.

    By all means, you should certainly do your best to capitalize on this premium that your writing has versus the words of other bloggers. I agree with you that it’s not necessarily wrong for other writers to be product spokesmen in disguise, but conversely you should certainly make it very clear that you are offering a superior product.

  18. FYI for GRS readers….Suze Orman’s new book is downloadable for free from Oprah’s website. Oh, and I wasn’t paid for this!

    Good call on the advertorial JD, that just sounds decietful and a “slippery slope” to me.
    Just curious though; would you accept money from a product that you’d previously endorsed (without profit) to do an advertorial for profit?

  19. p.s. I’m sometimes reluctant to post pieces like this that might be taken as self-congratulatory. Even this morning, I hate that it this can be read that way. My intent is not to pump myself up. It’s to discuss the nature of how money can corrupt personal principle. In a large way, I think our current economic crisis is a result of this problem. I’m interested in the philosophical nature of this question, not in adulation.

  20. J.D.

    A very inspiring post to say the least. Like the others who commented above, I believe you made the right decision and most difficult. One thing that comes to mind when reflecting over the decision you made is: What goes around, comes around.

    Congrats.

  21. J.D. —

    I think that your response back was a very good one. You have a very well known financial blog and many products would be extremely lucky to get the number of “views” that you can generate.

    Take a look at the following article to see what I mean: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20081230/0352103250.shtml. It’s not unheard of to have paid sponsorship since the content being created is meaningful and draws a faithful crowd.

    The Gaming website Penny Arcade has also always had a strong voice in their advertising. They will only promote the games/companies in their ads that they feel warrant the attention.

    Landon

  22. @Leila: Very well said.

    J.D., I understand why you are hesitant to condemn others who might do this, but Leila is right. There is a very clear distinction between paid advertising and editorial content. Or, at least, there should be. No mental gymnastics required to come to that conclusion. We read your blog because we trust you to give us honest information. We know what paid advertising looks like and we know the difference. Thank you for having the decency and good business sense to make the right call. And thank you for being so transparent about it. I hope if I am ever faced with such a choice that I am able to make the right call as well.

  23. @Ryan (#18)
    When I first started this site, there was a period where I considered being completely ad-free, just like Consumer Reports. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t do it. For one, it’s allowed me to quit my day job and do this full time. For another, I feel like I’ve found a balance with advertising that I can live with.

    Over the past two days, I spent a lot of time with Chris from The Art of Non-Conformity. He’s taken a different approach that has allowed him to remain advertising-free. He produces “value-added” products of his own to offer to his readers. For example, he’s writing a series of $40 e-books. I’ve read two of them, and they’re great. He also offers other products. By doing this, he’s able to avoid outside advertising, create additional content, and still make money. He’s hoping to go full-time this year. I think this is a brilliant solution, and it’s planted a seed in my brain. Could I do something like this, too? I don’t know. But it’s worth considering.

    @Sue (#19)
    Another great question. I sort of answered this earlier. I don’t know what I would do if, say, ING Direct were to ask me to do something similar. I do know how I responded to one similar recent request.

    FNBO Direct is a big advertiser at Get Rich Slowly. It’s a good bank with a good product. I’m paid when people sign up for an account. I’m willing to mention FNBO from time-to-time in places where it’s appropriate. In December, though, they were doing a huge push for sales, and their ad rep called to ask if I’d do something to promote their site, such as write a post just about FNBO Direct.

    This situation is similar to the one I’ve described in this post. An advertiser is suggesting I make a specific editorial decision. If I had thought of this myself, I might have done it. But because it was requested by the advertiser, I did not.

    I’ve mentioned before that I struggle with what to do when PR companies send me information to write about, or when the CEO of some tech startup wants me to profile his company. We’ve discussed that in the past, and you all convinced me that I should simply write whatever I would normally write. If a good idea comes from a PR person, so be it.

    But what if these people were paying me? How would that change things?

    This is yet another example of why I say money is more about mind than it is about math. If it were just about math, I would have accepted this offer without question.

  24. Good for you!
    I have never been really, really tested that way. I suppose I did join the military, dispite my opposition to the Iraq War, because I needed a good job (there were many other things I hoped to get out of military service, and I’ve gotten most of them), and I’m staying in because I can’t get a civilian job that will pay me this much, and I’m living pay check to pay check already, but I don’t think that is the same kind of situation. I betrayed some of my principals because I desperately need something that I don’t know how to get anywhere else. Its not a large amount of money, its a job. Still, you would never see me doing anything like you saw Lyndie England doing, that’s pushing the betrayal of principals too far. No matter how much money was offered to me (or how high ranking the officer was who “suggested” I do it), there are still certain lines I will not cross.

  25. I’ve had to deal with this. I’m a freelance writer, and I was offered $15K to do easy PR work for an organization whose mission was good overall, but which included a piece that most people would recognize as discriminatory, and which made me uncomfortable.

    Even though my work would not have touched upon the issue that made me uncomfortable, I wasn’t sure I could support their work. I wrestled with this decision for days, and came up with many of the solutions you suggested, including donating a portion of my fee to the organizations that fight this type of discrimination.

    In the end, I couldn’t do it. It was extremely hard to turn down the money, but I’m glad I did. Other assignments came in to fill the gap, and I never had to worry that I had compromised my principles.

    You did the right thing. You do great work, and you’ll have other, better opportunities in the future.

  26. Your general question about what one is willing to do for money is a good one, and one that in some everyone who works for someone else faces every day. When office workers first were given internet access, everyone had to create limits on how much time they surfed the web during working hours. The statistics seem to be that lots of people are willing to accept payment for hours they aren’t actually working for a company. Similarly, anyone who works as in independent contractor paid by the hour has the temptation to pad the bill. those examples aren’t quite the same as being offered money to do something you feel is unprincipled, but the effect is the same, one has to make a decision about the morality of accepting money…

  27. I’d eat a dead beetle wrapped in dung for $5. If someone paid me so they could control me – that’s like mental kidnapping. I think you did the right thing by choosing to keep your free will intact.

  28. As far as I’m concerned you made the right choice, the only choice really.

    Passive ads are a neccessary evil but to personally shill a product or service for pay under the guise of a legitimate post would instantly break all trust between you and the reader. People come here for legitimate advice, once the legitimacy line is blurred there is no turning back. IMOHO of course.

  29. Hi JD,

    I don’t think anyone answered your question directly yet, so I will tell you how much it would take for me to sell out: $2 million dollars. Or at least I hope I would be strong enough not to, up until that point.

    The reason being, it would have to be enough to retire instantly. $2 million at a modest 5% return produces a $100,000 revenue for the rest of your life.

    Even still, there would obviously be contractual obligations beyond that payment. The buyer would probably want to get a series of articles on their product which would likely be desired in between some legitimate posts you would NOT want to write (c’mon, you’re a millionaire sellout now!).

    Either way, I, like the others, applaud your decision.

    ~Chris Gammell

  30. I applaud your principles. I enjoy your blog entries for a relatively unbiased view of personal finance issues. If you had done your “sponsored blog”, it would have probably come across as fake, and it would have turned off many of your readers. Good job!

  31. This is one of those questions, what would Consumer Reports do? I look upon your (and a few similar blog sites) as providing honest and unpaid-for opinions. If you can’t provide that, then the blog becomes useless to me.

  32. Sorry to monopolize my own comments section like this, but I’ve literally been thinking about this for 48 hours now. It’s a lot of money. (On the order of Erin’s dilemma above.)

    Here’s another grey area: I heard the story the other day of how when blogger Steve Pavlina published his book, he sent it to hundreds of other top bloggers on the condition that they review it. He didn’t care whether they gave it a good review or a bad review, he just wanted them to review it. When I heard that story, I thought it was fantastic, and I filed it away for when I publish my book. “What great marketing!” I thought.

    But now I think, “How is this different than a paid post?” I mean, I do think there’s a difference, but I can’t explain why. Yet if I look at it objectively, it seems like the same thing, except the compensation is 1000 times smaller in this case. And maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe the larger the compensation, the more conflicted I become.

    Publishers send me books to review all the time. On Tuesday, I’m posting my review of the new Motley Fool book. It’s a glowing review (I love the book). But this was a book that the publisher sent me, not one I bought myself.

    How is this different?

    Ah, this whole thing makes me recall fondly my college philosophy class. These are exactly the sorts of things we’d talk about at 7:00 in the morning MWF. 🙂

  33. That truly is impressive, J.D. I feel like I am have rarely been tested in this arena. I hope I would make the same decisions you have in similar circumstances. Commendable.

  34. This is a tough decision I’ve pondered on my own blog. I have plenty of advertising on my site but I’ve also rejected hundreds of dollars worth because I don’t agree with the business I’ve been asked to promote.

    Would you ordinarily promote this business or is it something like a payday loan company which you abhor?

  35. Though admittedly not the point of the post, since this is a finance site, I couldn’t resist:

    This was also probably a good financial decision. As you said, this is a popular site, and you can make plenty off of normal advertising, because you have a strong following. However, the sudden rise of “Product A by Company X is wonderful”, “Product B by Company X is wonderful”,…would be pretty easy to spot. I’m always leery of any product recommendations that don’t disclose the author’s relationship with the company, and I tend to unsubscribe / unbookmark sites when I stop trusting the author. You loose readers, and your most engaged readers go first.

    It threatens the most valuable asset you have as a blog writer- loyal readers (which is why the company made the offer, they want your loyal readers). So the financial decision becomes, how much money do you make off of normal advertising minus how much of that would you loose from readers not visiting anymore (over the long term) vs how much they offered (short term).

    I’m guessing regardless of the amount, you made the right financial choice because big companies don’t get big by making offers that lose them money. If they did offer you a million, it’s because they realize access to your readers is worth that much or more. Whatever they offered, it’s equal to or less than the value of the assess you already own.

    In that way, the vegetarian metaphor is a little flawed – that’s purely a matter of principle vs money, because the vegetarian doesn’t gain financially by being a vegetarian – being a vegetarian doesn’t sell normal ads. Though there is definitely a strong moral component here, don’t forget that there’s also the chance of losing money over the long term in lost readership by taking the offer in the short term.

  36. I get this all the time. I’m not sure why.

    I always respond back telling them I will do it, then I tell them what the terms are for advertising on my site.

    I think it is overtly presumptuous for someone to contact a service provider to advertise on the service and try setting the terms of the ad rates.

    I mean, can you imagine what the NY Times would do if someone asked to run a full-page ad and then laid out how much the would pay? Give me a break.

    None of the persons wishing to advertise on my site have ever accepted my advertising terms.

  37. I think the difference in the Steve Pavlina example is that people may consent to review his book, but they don’t have to like it or disguise the deal. I personally am very glad you turned down this offer — and I think it is a very real benefit to you as well. I stopped reading another blog when it became obvious that the blogger was being paid for “product placement“ in the posts, and not coming clean about it. It destroyed his credibility for me. Your reputation is your most important asset. It’s built on not only the content of your articles, but your principles. If we know we can trust you to be aboveboard, not to hide secret deals or promote things you’ve been paid to promote while claiming to be objective, that puts you a notch above a great many pundits. If you were giving seemingly objective advice, but actually shilling for a company that paid you, what does that make you? A double agent. Like one of those investment advisors who tells you to buy So-and-So Fund without revealing that he’s actually paid by So-and-So Fund. Except that in that case, the lack of fee lets us guess that he’s paid by what he sells — in your case, there would be no way of guessing that you were paid to promote a company. But when it came out, it could shred your reputation. J.D., I think you dodged a bullet. More power to you for this impressive decision, and another reason I’ll turn to GRS (and any books you publish) above many other sources.

  38. I totally feel for you. It’s really easy to say what you would and wouldn’t do for money when it’s only a hypothetical. When they’re actually standing there with the check, well, it’s an awful lot harder.

    It’s also easy for me to say I turned down a lot of money, because this happened almost a year ago, and everything has turned out fine. Hindsight being 20/20 and all.

    I suspect this will not be the only opportunity like this that you will get. I wonder if there are other ways you could offer some sort of compromise. I also wonder if the company willing to pay you might have other ideas about how you could make some sort of partnership work so you don’t feel like you’re compromising your principles.

    Good luck!

  39. Advertisers have a clear and unmistakable bias and being paid to mask someone else’s bias as your own opinion without disclosing that is dishonest at best.

    Frankly, had you taken the offer I would have stopped reading.

  40. Advertorials that aren’t disclosed are a slimy way of advertising and I attempt to distance myself with any type of publication that has them. The great thing about the web initially was that you could read average people’s opinions regarding goods and services. You knew they were telling the truth about a product and how it held up or if it was worth the purchase price. Now that business has gotten involved, you AGAIN have to second guess everything, just as you do when reading magazines/newspapers. Why can’t companies concentrate money spent on advertorials with creating compelling products that people willingly want to purchase?

  41. A long time ago as a fresh-faced college graduate, my then soon-to-be mother-in-law asked me if I would type up a paper for a friend of hers. I never met this guy but he offered, through her, to pay me what seemed like a large amount of money for this task. I was ecstatic even if a little puzzled by the high rate of pay being offered, but then, I reasoned that in the adult world, people must have a lot more money than in the college student world.

    He sent a stack of books but no paper. I kept waiting for the material to arrive so I could type it up. I asked the middle man (mother in law) several times where the paper was but got no answer. It took quite a while for it to dawn on me that he expected me to write the paper, too.

    I was raised with morals so high that… well, it took a long time for it to cross my mind that someone would even propose that I write a paper for them. And to think that it was an ADULT, a working person going back to college for a further degree, who proposed this – I was disillusioned by the world a little bit. Especially since (irony coming) he was getting a degree required to become a guidance counselor.

    Since I had accepted the assignment so long ago and it was near the date due, and since I was confused about whether I should have known what he implied with his offer (but now I believe that man just operated in a circle with lesser values than my own), I went ahead and grudgingly wrote the paper, vowing that it was the first and last time I’d ever do that for anyone. I made a point of doing a very mediocre job, as my passive-aggressive way of taking out on him the fact that he had rooked me into something I did not understand that was immoral, to boot. Of course, I could have said no upon realizing the terms, and possibly today as a more mature person I might do that. But as a young person living under my mother-in-law’s roof, I just held my nose and did it.

    I heard back later that he was pleased and got a B on the paper. This was an eye-opener for me that the adults out there I assumed all had high moral standards don’t necessarily all share the values I was brought up to believe in.

  42. JD, I am convinced that there is currently a bubble going on in the financial blogosphere where a number of bloggers are trading their reputations, page rank etc… for easy money by advertising for payday loans, ambulance chasers and the like. In my view this is unethical when they are simultaneously posing as promoting frugal, sustainable habits.

    Perhaps I’m naive in thinking that, in the end of the day, good and honest writing and advice will win out.

    Also, when you are given a book or product to review, and disclose that you did not pay for it and did not make a deal to only talk about positive things, I think that’s all fine.

  43. It’s completely different from getting a free book. That is a standard practice in every industry. Movie critics, theater critics, book reviewers – none of them pay for the products they review. As consumers, we know this and we understand that’s how it works – and has always worked. (As an aside, I think that if theater critics had to pay the $100-200 for a broadway show that the rest of us do, they might be a bit more judicious with their praise of some shows.)

    But advertorials are an entirely different thing – there is no way that being paid a truckload of money to review a product would not affect your objectivity. Even if it didn’t, there would be no way for your readers to know whether they could trust your opinion. There would always be some doubt in their minds, because of the money. Once that lack of trust gets into their minds, it can’t just be segregated by putting a black box around the paid posts and labeling them “advertorials”. You made the right decision – no question.

  44. This is a great post.

    I think there are a few other issues, however, worth considering. One of them namely is what your circumstances are. Let’s say you had five kids and one of them needed surgery and you were struggling under the weight of the cost. Would that influence your decision? Would it be wrong to take that money when you clearly have an obligation to your family?

    I think it isn’t often as simple as saying, “That goes against my values.” In life we are presented with gray situations where one choice is not necessarily wrong, and you are forced to prioritize your values. In your case, you obviously didn’t NEED the money, it was more a question of how badly you WANTED it, so it was really a choice of personal comfort.

    But what if you really NEEDED the money for something like health care or extreme life circumstances? Of course, I hope it never comes to that. But in a harsh economic climate like this one, many people are forced into this exact dilemma as they are laid off, lose their health care plans and their pensions, and suddenly find themselves unable to take care of not just themselves but their loved ones as well. And then the real question is, can we blame people for sacrificing some of their values to uphold others?

  45. I think you did the right thing. You were clearly uncomfortable with the offer of there wouldn’t have been so much thought. I think you were kind of in a lose lose situation since either way you were going to wonder if you did the right thing. So better to go with your morals in that case.

    I don’t know how much I would sell out for. Way less than a million. WAY less. But I don’t have nearly as much at stake as you.

  46. Here’s what I do… On my personal blog, I don’t accept paid posts or even reviews because it goes against my advertising contract with BlogHer. But I do accept straight advertising revenue. I have another blog, which is a review blog. I do indeed have paid posts and reviews… But my one stipulation is that I post what I actually think. So – if the person is buying a positive review, I decline. If I can say what I really think, then I do it. If I had been placed in your position – on my review blog since it would have been an automatic no on my personal blog – I would have been inclined to say yes, if and only if, I really liked the product genuinely. If not – or I was only ho-hum, I too, would have had to decline. I don’t make broad strokes, I do take it on a case by case basis. But if I get that “feeling” I have to decline – it’s a personal integrity issue.

  47. JD, your blog is more akin to a news site than a lot of other blogs. If it wasn’t, you’d soon run out of material and the posts would get stale. I think this news angle is one of your greatest strengths and a reduction in impartiality would definitely harm your equity, since impartiality is implicit in the journalistic approach.

  48. I think you’ve found one of the greatest business concepts. Honest dealing. This is why I got out of the real estate agent business shortly after I got my license in a second state (I live close to the state line). I made $3000 by the second month, but found there was back stabbing between the agents and I realized that about 80% of the agents are really unecessary and cost homeowners thousands they need not pay. I went to a $6.00 an hour job. My boss decided to sell her home. I told her to use a lawyer, not a real estate agent. She didn’t believe me and signed with a friend. Surprise, she wasn’t happy within a short time. Dumped the agent, found a lawyer, a buyer and saved thousands. She moved to far away to be my boss, but we’re friends. It hurt my bottom line, but I haven’t regretted it. Honesty is an underrated gem.
    Pat yourself on the back.

  49. If you said yes, you would be violating the No.1 principle of journalism ethics, and yes, you are a journalist.

    It would compromise the integrity of your site and would make your readers question everything you have ever written or would ever write. Not worth it.

    Tell them to send a press release and cross their fingers.

    I have worked in journalism for many years. My first job out of college was for an unethical magazine company in New Orleans that made me write advertorials that were not marked as such. It was awful.

  50. Frankly, I would have struggled with this opportunity–not just for the impact on readers, but the financial implications as well. I have a wife and two kids who depend on me for income from my FT job and from blogging. If I had an opportunity that could get us closer to debt freedom and put food on the table for my family I’d lean towards taking it. This would be particularly true if I agreed with the product’s mission, or had tried it myself.

    I guess I am of the opinion that this is your blog, your content and your space on the web. If you have the opportunity to maximize your earnings then I say go for it. Particularly since you offer this great advice for free! I doubt an occasional advertorial would drive away thousands of readers. At least, it wouldn’t bother me.

  51. 46 comments already. Good for showing you one of the things that makes your site good. And you already know this. Your readers make your site good. I’m not downplaying the significance of the effort you put into your site, the research, the connections you build and share, or even your creative talents. They are all indispensable. But we both know that your site does not exist in a void without your readers. And the comments they add to each blog post make that post infinitely more valuable to the readers that take the time to read and contribute. If you betray our trust, you will lose some of us. You will lose many of the greatest contributors to your site. You know this.

    That being said, if you were completely up front… and just how up front can you be and still get the deal… by saying “I’m now being paid to write this blog post and say this company is good, regardless of my actual opinion” we just might give you a break. We might still come here and read comments and add our own. As long as you didn’t lighten up on the real content.

    I don’t know. My car magazines started a new trend where they’d let GM buy several high gloss pages, and there would be glowing “reviews” of GM cars. And in small print, it would say “Advertisement”. Or “Special Advertising Section”. I felt rather betrayed. I had read through half of this, wondering why the editors suddenly found themselves so in love with GM cars that had only warranted mediocre praise previously, before questioning it so much to look around for some sign that it wasn’t legitimate. And when I realized, I was really dismayed. I don’t want to get that feeling while reading something on your site.

  52. Different magazines have “advertising content” that may look like an article all the time. It’s really an advertising page, and you can only tell by a small line on the top with the text “advertising section” or something similar.

    The magazines (or newspapers) that accept this kind of advertising that “looks” like real content lose some of the value in their brand, even when it is marked. You have to wonder how desperate they are for money in this situation. What else would they do?

    Don’t dilute your brand. Stay the course. Don’t post “advertising content” along with regular content, even when marked.

  53. I hope they offered something that was above and beyond your wildest imagination because it’s gotta really be worth it.

    Unlike in your vegetarian example, the reason this site and your voice hold value is because it’s honest and genuine. And, as the its title implies, this blog is all about building value and wealth over the long term rather than giving into the temptation for large one-off payouts.

  54. As a daily reader of your blog, I really appreciate that you did not accept the money and start offering advertorial content.

    Ethics aside, these sponsored posts (and I’ve seen other blogs I enjoy do them in obviously identified, ethical way) are so much less interesting to read. I always delete them.

    What makes your blog so compelling to me is the honesty and ego-less way you write. And advertorials do not have that some feeling.

  55. You did the right thing and the ONLY right thing. Advertising disguised as editorial content without clearly stating that it is a paid advertisement IS unethical, and against all journalistic ethics. I wish more bloggers who suddenly proclaim themselves professionals on a par with those who have studied journalistic principles would understand this. It degrades everyone who blogs to accept money or goods and, in turn, promote them without making it clear that a transaction has taken place that benefits the writer. It’s called conflict of interest.

  56. Chris Brogan has an issue like this as well that caused controversy. I think if you are direct with the readers that the post is being sponsored by the company then you are not deceiving anyone. People can choose to read or not, I don’t feel it’s wrong.

  57. There are some fantastic comments here. I want to put the little grey box around all of them, but then it’s just a game of Sneetches. 🙂

    I love the comments from Christiane and Frugal Dad. They do a much better job of articulating what I mean by personal principles. Some people might call this sort of reasoning “situational ethics”, and maybe they’re right.

    But as these two have pointed out, my decision would probably have been much different if I weren’t now financially well-off. If this were four or five years ago, if I were still $35,000 in debt, would I have taken this offer? I’ll bet I would. If this blog had a different focus, might it make sense to take this offer? I think it might.

    That’s why I say that I cannot think poorly of others who choose to do this. They have their reasons for making their choices. I have mine. I exchanged e-mail with another blogger this morning, and he gently pointed out that I do a couple of other things that would violate some peoples’ principles (and may, in fact, violate my own).

    Anyhow — great discussion. You guys are awesome.

  58. Luckily I’ve had many strong examples in my life of The Right Thing to do. But that doesn’t mean the line doesn’t get hazy when you’re on your own.

    In my line of work, we’ve had many car dealers offer us considerable compensation if only we would give the cars they were selling an unconditional clean bill of health. My employer and I refused,”If it’s a good car, we will say so. But if it has problems, we will disclose them.” Loyalty to our customers and our principles matter more than any business we could generate with dirty dealing. I’m sure we’ve been hurt by it financially, but the loyalty and praise we have received for honesty is well worth it.

    But a situation like yours is much more agonizing; you have much to fear, including a much higher liklihood that you’ll be blackballed further down the line. But sticking to your guns is all you can do–you need to be at peace with yourself, not some pinch-nosed advertising executive.

  59. With the FNBO comment you stated that you may have written the post had you thought of it before being approached by the company. What if you did think of it first? What if you wrote the article but then contacted the company before posting it in an effort to elicit funds? Unethical? I do not think that advertorials inherently destroy credibility so long as there is disclosure of fee for services in the article.

  60. I don’t want to be a comment-hog, but responding to Christiane’s post… I am a writer and I am considering writing things I don’t want to – but this is fiction, not journalism, so no one will be misled and there’s no moral dilemma in this case, just a matter of how much I can personally stand. It would be sort of like a fine musician writing toilet paper commercial jingles for some paychecks. I’m just agreeing with her than when money is tight, people might drop their standards. What I mean is that I will write insipid short romances – which I was already doing for small amounts of money until the company behind that just stopped paying us as of this year, not answering the phones, not returning mail, etc. (While others are due something like a thousand dollars it’s about $150 I’ll probably never see) So I’m moving on to company B where I’ll do the same, in shorter format, but with scenes that gross me out to have to write (nothing obscene but let’s say not exactly tasteful either) and I’m going to be doing it because the price (substantially higher than the pittance company A was paying) is right. If money were not a concern of mine I would definitely not bother.

  61. Also, I wanted to note that there’s a diversity of opinions here on whether it’s okay to do an advertorial or not. I think that this is a clear indication that there’s not and absolute right answer for every person and every publication. There’s a right answer for me and Get Rich Slowly, but that might be different for Frugal Dad, for example.

  62. We still need to buy stuff, and figuring out what to buy is time consuming. So I don’t have a problem purchasing on recommendations from trusted sources. Saves me time.

    I would do something like this under these conditions:

    1. Most important: I am allowed to tell readers the post is a paid endorsement. If the product or service is valuable, the sponsor should be proud be mentioned as a sponsor. If they’re trying to get “under the radar” forget it.

    2. My personal philosophy and editorial POV aligns very closely with the business purchasing the exposure.

    3. The money was enough to radically accelerate my retirement goals. Just paying the rent is not nearly enough, not even close. I may be easy but I’m not cheap.

  63. I can’t say you did the right thing because readers want bloggers to struggle financially. We’re disappointed when people make it — maybe it’s jealousy? So you might have done the right thing, but I also wish you lots of money.

  64. Also, writing good advertorials is very difficult; its quite an art.

    David Ogilvy presents some excellent examples, and I believe Claude Hopkins does as well. The advertising was transparent, but the education content was high.

    I would actually like to learn this skill and would be willing to write a short one for anyone interested for testimonial reciprocation. I’ll switch on email updates for this comment.

  65. Where can I pay you?

    Keeping your integrity like that is awesome.

    Often, podcasts that ask for money get a few bucks from me (ie This American Life).

    If you had a subscriptions page, I would donate. Just have a link with this story and a pay pal site or something. I don’t even want anything to be different for the “subscriber”, but you gotta call it something besides a donation because IT’S NOT.

  66. This totally caught my eye. As a vegetarian, who has not been a vegetarian her whole life, I honestly don’t know what I would choose past the 2,000 mark. I have credit card debt I am working hard to payoff, and I guess it would determine, for the most part, how much impact my choice would have. Would it be a piece of bacon that was on it’s way to the garbage? Than probably. Would it require ordering a steak that was waiting to be ordered–was I creating further demand of meat? I would REALLY have to need the money. (FYI–not a super strict vegetarian–I eat meat when I travel out of the country to experience other culture’s food, but lacto-ovo otherwise–I haven’t had meat (knowingly) since September 2007 in France).

    However, I do something that some may consider stupid with my money.
    I buy gourmet foods. Organic, local, artisan, whatever. Although I realize the organic issues are debatable, I would much rather put my money toward the purchase which has the better chance of being healthier and making my world a better place. I buy eggs from only a few distributors whom I can check out and see the quality of life of the birds who produce their eggs. Same goes for the milk and other daily whenever possible. Yes, I realize there are no guarantees, and I hear about the “buyer beware” all the time from my doubting counterparts. I have a hard time shopping at chain grocers and prefer the local coop. I am also paying for the experience of shopping. I happen to love grocery shopping, cooking, and eating, and love to “invest” well it it. It is hard to find some vegetarian items in big stores (soups, yogurt, cheese), and for me I feel that the chain supermarkets are often very detached from their food products. In the future, If I felt differently about eating meat, you could guarantee I would seek out the best meats available. I grew up around parents with horrible diets who were so detached from their food, and their health has suffered from it (yes, I realize that their lack of organic purchasing didn’t cause their obesity). They were also detached from their money. Those happen to be the two things I focus on the most when managing my household. I have chosen to drastically cut back my dining out (from $300 to $50 a month in the past year–on average) so I am able to treat myself with gourmet groceries.

  67. After reading the article again it seems that two points are brought up. One is whether or not advertorials are okay? The other is integrity. It seems that people are on both sides of the fence on the first issue, but the scary thing for me is that there are comments stating how the answer could change based on your financial circumstances or the amount of money offered.

    Maybe I’m overreacting but I see this as a poor reflection of society. If an amount of money can change one’s moral or ethical opinion on a subject then I have a problem with that.

    I would not have any problem with you doing advertorials on your site, but if you came out adamantly against it today and then changed your opinion tomorrow because you were offered more money I would be disappointed (though I’d still probably continue to visit the site).

  68. you are just a traitor to capitalism if you didn’t take the money. ;o)

    anyways, with advertising you are bound to eventually skew anyways. once you go down the road, you might is well go all the way down to the end. bottom line, principles are good if you don’t have to abide by them, and those that do are normally poor because of them or too wealthy to really be affected by them.

    I would have done it for a $1.05, because I’m in the mood for a Taco Bell soft taco.

  69. As with # 46, that is why I follow you JD. For me, as I struggle with my own definition of “rich” I can see what a dilemma it can be.

  70. Hi-
    I hope you get rich off of advertising. But, I hope that you never sell editorial content, since that would be the last of me as a reader. It is wrong.

    Regarding reviews: I would not accept anything for free. They are determining the discourse by what they put in front of you. I recommend deciding what you are going to review, and then buying the books.

    As a physician, I have a lot of companies who would like space in my brain for their own profit. Over time, I have come to believe it is my job to say no in a pleasant way consistently. It took me a while to get to this approach, but I am so glad that is where I am.

  71. Also, JD. I think that being honest is the key. We cannot judge anyone one person’s financial situation, and maybe money would help out some people even if they took a controversial offer. Hitmen and other jobs where it would harm the life of another are not okay in my opinion, but I am willing to consider something risky and controversial, but be honest about it, if it would provide for my brothers (I have two grown brothers with autism–and my parents have left no money for their care).

  72. I had an experience where I was threatened with LOSING money for holding onto my principles, rather than MAKING money for violating them.

    Back when I was a young engineer working for a defense contractor, one of my duties was to verify that our product had completed a contractually-required “burn-in” period. This meant that the electronic device had successfully operated with no faults for 72 hours straight. When it finished, I signed the final paperwork.

    The products rarely failed burn-in, and ones that had no previous trouble almost NEVER failed burn-in.

    One month, the 72-hour period fell right at the end of the billing cycle. If the full 72 hours were allowed to elapse, the product would have to be credited to the following month’s sales. My boss’s boss took me aside and asked me what the chances were that this tube would fail burn-in. I said it was unlikely, as it was a trouble-free device. He then told me to sign the paperwork so it could help with a tight billing month.

    I said no. He became angry and implied that this would have bad consequences for my job. I was 24 years old, and believed he had the power to fire me. This was BIG money to me, my entire salary was at stake. I said no again and told him this: “My father taught me that the only thing in my life that I truly own is my good name. My signature is a guarantee of that good name, and I won’t spoil that for your billing problems. If that means you fire me, then so be it. My good name and I will find another job.”

    I was shaking violently as I said this. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and it terrified and enraged me. But I didn’t lose that job, and I think that manager treated me with more respect after that.

    Was this a stupid thing to do? Maybe. The chances of the device failing were minimal. I risked at least the wrath of my management, and perhaps my job over what amounted to about 50 hours of “fudging” it. Our customer was the military, and one little fraud added to the system wouldn’t even show, right? But this was about me, my values, and my boundaries. Risk, gain, loss, fear: these are big deals, but not as big as integrity, shame, self-worth.

  73. You recently posted two book reviews. Did the authors ask you to review their books? If so, I fail to see the difference between that situation and this one. You provided a service and helped with marketing.

    Take the money out of the equation. Would you have written about the product/service because you thought it would be beneficial to your readers? It doesn’t matter if the pay is $0.01 or $2 million.

    I think you are already in a sticky web with your info above about FNBO. If you need a extra cash one month, do you mention the bank more? I’ve seen their ads on this site, but didn’t realize you receive money if people sign-up for an account.

    Why not put a box on the upper, right corner of the blog which shows your sponsors. If you want to accept pay for writing an ad, then disclose that fact. You could also add a discloser at the bottom of your posts if you receive sponsor money from any of the companies mentioned in the post. For example, if you mentioned FNBO in a post, then at the bottom insert “DISCLOSER: FNBO is a sponsor of GRS.”

  74. There is a thin line between moral and immoral advertisement. Adverts to announce the presence of a product are probably good, but ones who, with profit oriented bias, claim to be the best or that you must have it are wrong, regardless of what kind of advert it is.

    The problem is it’s a lie. This has countless repercussions. For instance, if you’re a free-market capitalist, a lot of economic theories are based on the fact that consumers make logical decisions about what they consume. In a world of convincing advertisement, a company with a lousy product but phenomenal advertising abilities (or lots of money to convince the few influential people who need money, cough*watch out JD!*cough) is the one that succeeds and literally stunts human progress by leading the public with flashing lights away from something that is genuinely better for them.

    This may seem trivial for small things like chap-stick and ice cream, but the problem is everyone is on the train and it happens all over the place and people, inappropriately influenced by biased adverts, make rash decisions like buying that brand new sports car on credit or eating the less healthy food.

    Then it spreads and spreads and eventually the entire US or globe is over consuming and you run into the problems we face today: resource shortages, environmental degradation, obesity epidemics, on and on and on.

    It even infiltrates our political system. 90% of all elections in the US are won by the candidate who spent the most money on his campaign to convince people he/she is the better candidate.

    Now – you may think that the thousands of dollars would benefit you a lot, and they probably would, and the detriment to others may at times seem small… but it adds up. You do it and then the next guy thinks it’s ok too. Then you’re not only betraying your readers who come here for honest reviews of products, but the readers on the other websites who’s authors/owners are compelled to compete or include your action with others to gauge morality. Everything is interconnected. Everything.

    The line needs to be drawn, and I commend you for your current decision. I sincerely hope you don’t change your mind.

  75. I think you did the right thing. But, obviously it’s still very much on your mind. Here’s a key to whether or not a decision is the right one for you … does it FEEL right? I mean when you consider doing it, do you get excited? do you feel like smiling 24/7? or does it make your body start reacting in terrible ways? queasy stomach, sweating, heart palpitations, inability to sleep … Most likely, it’s not the right decision for you if it does the latter. Always trust the “gut”!

    Shirley

  76. If they offered you $20 you’d say no way.

    If they offered you $20,000 you’d think about it for a few days and then say no way.

    If they offered you $200,000,000 what would you do?

    Some principles are for sale and others are not. If they’re for sale then you just need a high enough number to complete the deal. If they’re not then no amount of money will change anything.

    Personally, I would wholeheartedly endorse a chocolate bar for $200,000,000. No amount of money would have me endorse a new torture device.

    Thinking in the extremes helps clarify where you stand.

  77. I had to make the decision of whether to do pay per post and decided that it’s not for me. I don’t judge other bloggers who decide to accept them, we all have to pay the bills. I’m happy to put up ads where readers can decide for themselves whether to click or whether to ignore. But there is a definite difference when CONTENT is really an ad in disguise. The ads are off to the side and are clearly ads, no one can claim they were duped. I do write content posts about banks and credit cards and other financial products, in all cases they are products that I feel have something to offer my readers.

  78. If the ad material wasn’t offensive to you, I have a third option to suggest: instead of *secretly* blogging about the product, offer to have an open and frank discussion with your readers about it, with no guarantee on the scope or tone of the response.

    If it’s a product that some readers *might* be interested in, have them provide some giveaways (or discounts/rebates). All responders get an equal chance at it/them.

    If it generates buzz then the company gets their money’s worth. If everybody hates it then they are getting invaluable feedback. You get the ad revenue and generate lively discussion. Everybody wins.

  79. Wow! What a difficult decision and highly interesting discussion.

    Here’s my take on it.

    There is nothing unethical about you writing an ‘advertorial post’ if it is somehow (clearly) disclosed as such.

    Trying to hide an advertorial as a regular post could lead to lots of problems. If you do that, you are violating the expectations of your readers.

    If you come out beforehand and disclose that you will be writing advertorial posts you may be able to manage expectations ahead of time, thus allowing you to have your cake and eat it too.

    Of course, that is a risk. You could lose readers and reputation, which could impact the other income streams from your blog.

    Personally, I think you’ve worked too hard for too many years to build up what you have and unless you are ready to cash out the risk of damaging future income opportunities likely outweighs this current offer. I don’t know, unless it’s like a 6 figure sum or something?

    Lastly, my opinion of pay-per-post blogs is quite poor and I don’t subscribe to any. Perhaps that’s just me, but I think it kills any potential trust and there are just too many other blogs out there to spend my time reading the pay-per-post shills. Again…that’s just me. 🙂

    Cheers and best of luck, JD!

  80. JD what would you have done if a blogger offered to BUY your blog from you for the same amount of money, so that s/he could write promotional articles on it? Your situation is extra difficult because if you had accepted the offer in real life, you would be having your cake and eating it too: not only would you have the money, but you would still be able to write the blog as if nothing happened.

    Personally I’ve been lucky to never have had to deal with your situation. Right now in my “cold state” I would tell you in a second that I would have refused the offer. In my “hot state,” I’m sure I would have to rack my brains a bit more.

  81. As a long time reader of this website I’m glad that you’ve had the prescience of mind to decline the offer.

    One of the major reasons I gravitated here (and have stuck w/ it since) is the simple fact that you offer genuine, honest, and helpful money advice. At it’s core I believe it’s the reason you’ve been so successful in an industry that is often anything but (as recent times have shown).

    As soon as you betray that ‘genuine’ quality to your readers and yourself you may start to have problems. The mere fact that you decided to disclose the temptation and ultimately share your decision with your readers is proof positive that my impression was right all along.

    Thank you.

  82. Hi J.D. I think that if the product or service is something you really do endorse, money or no, and you’re allowed to promote it honestly then I believe that’s perfectly ethical, providing the readers know it’s an ad. For example if “XYZ Financial Planners” contacts you and asks you to promote their products and after doing your research you find they have a lot of good things to offer, it would be perfectly ethical to accept money from them in order to promote something you really do like.

  83. I’m glad you didn’t take the deal J.D. You have been a brand with integrity. I’m a loyal subscriber and trust the information on your site.

  84. FWIW, I think there is a distinct difference between the “I’ll send you my book if you review it” and “We’ll pay you money if you write posts promoting our product.”

    The difference is in the book case you’re free to express your own opinion, good or bad, only the topic has been selected. In the case of the advertorial, you’re being asked to disregard your opinion and promote the product regardless.

    It’s the freedom to write something that disses the product in question that makes the difference, in my opinion.

  85. What they wanted you to do wasn’t advertising, it was endorsement – covert endorsement.

    The thing is, your product is objective endorsement – of ideas, products, media streams… all kinds of things.

    What they wanted to do, for the enormous amount of money, was make you into a liar – destroy your credibility.

    Assuming you’d never want to use that credibility again – say, if they paid you enough money to retire in comfort AND if you did not particularly care about what all these strangers on the Internet feel about you, it might be a good deal. But if you do actually care what the strangers feel about you, or if the enormous amount of money would NOT have made destroying your product worthwhile… …you made the financially correct decision.

    Thanks for writing about it! It sounds like a very interesting experience!

  86. Another thing to point out – Most of the commenters here are glad about the decision you made. Most here don’t want the advertorials (or they at least want to know when your post is or isn’t one.)

    That should be a clear indication of what you should do.

  87. JD, this is a classic example of situational ethics.

    One of the critical components is, I think, that you considered your answer before giving it. Knee jerk “NO! I have my VALUES!” or “Sure! Where do I sign?” are equally shaky (ethically speaking) because you’ve not considered the situation, its consequences, or the impact it could have on your credibility.

    I think that some here are right that you could have given a disclaimer and written the article for pay. I also agree with others that you made the right choice.

    As with life, perhaps the cool thing isn’t so much as the decision itself as it is the journey to it.

  88. I’m reminded of the Simpson’s Episode Homer vs. Dignity where he had to make a similar choice. Well he got offered the million dollars to do something a lot worse.

    There’s a famous Winston Churchhill quote about negotiating price. It’s a little bawdy, so I’ll leave it at that.

  89. I would not have a problem with anyone doing a paid or sponsored post on their blog, as long a few things were done:

    1. Post is noted as a sponsored or paid post.
    2. Users are still able to comment on said post.
    3. Blogger is not advertising or promoting anything the blog owner is morally or otherwise opposed to.

    I think blog owners have a right to make some revenue from their blogs, especially if they’re doing it full time as you are JD.

    I think the only reason I would be opposed to these is if it was done on the sly, without noting that it was paid – saying “I love this product, buy it!” only because you’re being paid.

    I have rejected ads for companies I despised (ie; payday loans) even though they’ve offered me a lot of money (for me). I just wouldn’t feel right advertising some products.

    If it’s a morally neutral product, or one I would personally use, I have no problem whatsoever advertising it – or doing a sponsored post. The caveat is that I would clearly mark it as a sponsored post, and allow comments and etc on that page.

  90. If you want to sell your writing, write a book, or charge $1/month for access to an ad-free version of the blog (although, since you have an ad-free RSS feed, this might be a tough sell). These are ways in which *I’d* be willing to support your writing.

    I have a problem with the advertising industry in general, though. I think it’s a bit of a plague that encourages a lot of destructive behaviors among people, while at the same time filling our world with visual and sound pollution.

    I think you did the right thing, and I know I’d have been disappointed to find out you were accepting money to pass off other people’s opinions as your own.

    If people want to pay you to tell us what *you* think, that’s OK by me, but if people want to pay you to tell us what *they* think, that’s not why we read your site.

  91. What would be wrong with writing the advertorial and clearly labeling it “Advertorial” or “Advertisement” and have that work stand separate from your own?

    That’s what newspapers have done for a long time.

  92. First off: You clearly said you couldn’t find a way to feel comfortable with it — always obey that. You’ll always be glad you did, every time.

    On the question in general though, philosophically, I find that my different principles are different for me. There are some things that I would not budge on for all the money in the world. There are other things that I budge on all too frequently.

    The challenge in life is two-fold: 1) try to continually “push up” your “price limits,” and 2) focus on the things that are most important first.

    For some of the most important things in my life, the prices are already “the world is not enough,” e.g. walking away from my wife. But most days I’ll go over the speed limit for free – you don’t even have to offer to pay me. There are lots of things in between those two extremes, things more important. Over the years I have made progress at raising my “valuation” — it’s harder to get me to make some mistakes now than it used to be. This is the progress we need to make in life, to raise our thresholds in the important places.

  93. Thanks for not doing it.

    Those types of posts are usually boring. The web is big enough if your readers sense uninteresting posts (or sheer advertising), we’ll find other places to go.

    I think Luke in number 83 has a creative suggestion, though.

    I don’t think it would have been immoral to do so, but it would have violated your own principles (which you alone established for this site.) It makes it easier for you to sleep at night if you’ve not done that.

    I think one of the differences between a book review and a product is that the book is sent to you (probably) with the idea that you will (probably) do a review, but without some sort of contract.

    As to the guy who said that the bank has a deal with you if we sign up. I think that many advertisers on the web all over do that. It has to do with weblinking, etc. (I don’t see the ads, cuz I have an ad blocker that apparently works.)

  94. JD,

    If I had been in your situation, I would have employed my mother’s advice: if you have to think that hard about anything, the answer is No. This advice has helped me in numerous situations. I consider it the single greatest piece of advice my mother ever gave me.

    I think you made the right decision.

  95. There’s nothing I can add to this that hasn’t been said already, but thanks for the article and thanks for turning down the advertorial work. I despise advertorials, and have cancelled magazine subscriptions in the past over them. They are obvious, deceptive, and an insult to your audience. You don’t seem to want to believe this is a moral issue, but it is. It really is.

    You’ve said–multiple times!–they offered you “a lot of money,” so I’m going to assume that’s what you’re really wrestling with here. You KNOW the difference between advertorials and book reviews of books you got free. You KNOW giving the money to charity doesn’t make it better. If everyone stuck to what was right, the way you have, the internet would be a much better place.

  96. This sounds like it it would have crossed the line from legitimate advertising, to the level of a devious & dishonest method of duping people into their product.
    Good post on the subject!

  97. I’m a journalist, and once I accepted a commission to write about a “case study” that was “generalized” (i.e. pretty much made up) as a way of promoting a particular medical treatment.

    I wrote it, I took the money, and I’ve refused all similar commissions since. A friend works in pharma advertising and keeps trying to hire me. I keep turning him down. It just doesn’t feel right.

    I’m not sorry I did that one gig, because now I know where I draw the line, and that’s very valuable to me.

  98. Leila (#6): Excellent!

    Leila said it so well already. All I can offer is this. I am one of the few who think that many, many decisions are black and white. Those that look for gray areas are lying to themselves and to others.

  99. I’ve skimmed the comments and agree with most of what I’ve read. I agree with Amanda (#101): if you have to think this hard about it, it wasn’t the right thing to do.

    My main objection is the secrecy clause. I didn’t realize you got money from FNBO, but they clearly have a paid spot on your web page, so I’m not shocked or surprised by that. Nor do I think poorly of you OR of them. I would definitely think poorly of any reviews I read that turned out to be an advertorial.

    As far as your book reviews: I don’t think it’s the same at all. You may be receiving a free book (which you could state, I guess), but you’re not receiving it with the condition of giving it a good review.

    If you had accepted the money, I think you’d have struggled with it afterward – a true sign of having comprised your principles.

  100. JD,

    You brought up college philosophy; I’ll bring up psych 101. Remember Kohlberg’s Theory on Moral Development and the Heinz Dilemma?

    From about.com

    “The Heinz Dilemma”
    Kohlberg based his theory upon research and interviews with groups of young children. A series of moral dilemmas were presented to children, who were then interviewed to determine the reasoning behind their judgments of each scenario. The following is one example of the dilemmas Kohlberg presented.

    “Heinz Steals the Drug
    In Europe, a woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to make. He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2,000 for a small dose of the drug.

    The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about $ 1,000 which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said: “No, I discovered the drug and I’m going to make money from it.” So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man’s store to steal the drug-for his wife. Should the husband have done that? (Kohlberg, 1963).”

    Kohlberg was not interested so much in the answer to the question of whether Heinz was wrong or right, but in the reasoning for the participants’ decision. The responses were then classified into various stages of reasoning in his theory of moral development.”

    The different stages are found in the link
    http://psychology.about.com/od/developmentalpsychology/a/kohlberg.htm

    I think for most people the answer would be it depends. You are in a much better place financially and really don’t have any pressing needs for money at this time (at least not that you have made the readers aware of). So, the decision is harder to make because of your morals. If Kris had cancer and you had no insurance and no savings would the decision to run the ads be different?

    I do think there are a few people who have unwavering morals, a few. But, for many more people it really depends on their “need” for the money. Given your current situation as we know it, I think you made the right decision.

  101. Taking money to deliberately lie to your readers is corruption. I applaud your honesty in sharing with us your struggle, but because you equivocate on whether creating advertorials is wrong, I will always have a twinge of doubt now if your product reviews are truly how you feel.

  102. @Louise: This sounds like what happened with the Challenger Space Shuttle.

    I had a business ethics class as a portion of my MBA studies. We went over a study that showed that management pushed through the launch of the shuttle, despite the fact that the engineering teams had noticed the O-ring problems.

    There were several conference calls and the engineers said there was a high probability of failure. Management asked them same questions multiple times to get them to finally say that they would allow for the launch.

    It sounds very familiar to your story – the guy who wrote the article had stood up and said this wasn’t going to work, etc. Because he stood his ground he at least didn’t have it on his conscience.

  103. Just to clarify a couple of recent points:

    1. There was no “secrecy clause” that I could see in the proposal. They’ve asked me to keep the details confidential, which I will, but their objective seems to be to have the product pitched in the guise of a natural blog post. I don’t see anything that prohibits people from labeling these posts as ads. (Though they may, indeed, object to that.)

    2. For Elizabeth (#108). My product reviews are how I truly feel. There’s a reason I mention ING Direct all of the time. I use them. I love them. I’m happy to share them with others. There’s a reason I don’t promote Capital One. I use their credit card, yes, but I don’t think it’s a great product.

    Okay, enough lurking in the comments. I should actually do some writing today!

  104. quinsy,

    You mentioned ING Direct, anything wrong with them? I’ve promoted them a couple of times on my site because I’ve been using them for over a year now and have been very happy.

    JD,

    I think you made the right call. Your site is about getting rich slowly and for you to take some quick cash that might hurt you in the long run.

    In reality though, one article out of thousands probably would have gone unnoticed.

    I’ve received requests like these for my site as well. I struggled with it at the time. Especially the first one I received. It would have doubled my website revenue for months if I had decided to participate.

    All they wanted to do is have me put a half dozen links on my home page that would link to articles I host that were written by them that had links to their sites.

    These weren’t scam sites either and they were not too far off the subject of my site. I think they even let me label them in a way so that people knew they were not my content. They really just wanted the link juice it seemed and the appropriate keywords on the page with the links.

    In the end, I decided that I wouldn’t do it to preserve the integrity of my site. I barely had any visitors at the time and I didn’t want to kill my site before it got off.

    My site is already on a topic that has a bad reputation to some. Just the word foreclosures in the domain name lumps me in with some of the vultures and con artists that deal in this area. Not everyone is though and my hopes for my site was for people in foreclosure to be able to have legitimate options and find information that could help them as well as find real people that might be interested in buying their homes if they couldn’t keep them. (I really hate that I feel I need to defend myself whenever I bring up this site)

    I do promote products and services directly in my posts from time to time, but these are products and services I use and can honestly recommend. My hope is that I might help someone keep from spending money unwisely for something that costs too much and promises even more.

    If I have or can find an affiliate link for that product or service, I’ll use it, because every bit of revenue helps. But I don’t let that stop me from recommending products and services I like and think others should use.

    For example, since my site is about foreclosures, there are plenty of educational materials I can choose to promote on my site. Some of which cost lots of money and would result in a large commission per sale.

    I don’t promote those. I think they are misleading and too expensive. Instead I promote a couple of books that I’ve read, one that I think is very good that costs around $15 and I even suggest people can go get it at the library. The few times I do have a referral, I get a few cents. Right now, it’s more about knowing I steered someone in the right direction.

    If I wanted to, I know how to promote affiliate links better within my posts and could generate more revenue. I started working online before many people even knew what the internet was and learned a lot along the way.

    My philosophy for this site is that we’re in a big mess because people were greedy and let that greed harm others. The way out of it isn’t to do the same.

    My general philosophy is that good money comes small but long while bad money comes big and short. Which is why I enjoy your site.

  105. I need to learn how to be brief and still succinct.

    Forgot to mention, after I declined the first one, the others were easier. Though if someone offered me something in the 10’s of thousands I’d REALLY think about it. A million bucks and I’ll promote crack to infants. 🙂

  106. WOW, there are alot of comments. I have no time to read them all, as i’m at work.

    My thoughts: THere is a HUGE F*ck difference between doing a review of someone’s book, good OR bad, and doing a paid advertisement (espeically where they don’t want it known).

    In the first, you are giving your opinion. he just wanted the opinion of other bloggers, and for them to talk about it, honestly. In the second, you are being asked to decive your readers, by making comments/post in a directed way. even if that was a way you DID feel, it would be wrong, becuase their condition of pay would have been you to give their line.

    THAT is the difference. One is YOUR opinion, JD. The other is the advertiser’s, GIVEN as Yours. One is moral, the other _IS_ unethical.

  107. J.D.
    I really enjoyed your post “You Are Not your Money” (https://www.getrichslowly.org/page/2/) which makes reference to Ben Stein’s recent article regarding investments.

    I think the same message applies to this scenario. You are not your money, your blog and insights are worth more than a few thousands bucks you’d get for selling out. Be the bigger person and don’t sell out your great blog to this advertiser!

  108. Good call, JD. Trust yourself. If it feels dirty is is. At the same time most of us are whores for the right price. You said you would have accepted $1,000,000. Would you feel dirty then? You would have deceived us, your readers. Its all a balancing act…

    BTW, keep up the good work. Love your blog. It has been very helpful to me. Cleared my debt last year and saving now. Feels great. Thanks!

  109. For the people saying or feeling that he should have been willing to write a positive review if he would have written the same review if he weren’t being paid:

    There are many things I would do, but not if somebody paid me. For example, if someone I really enjoyed hanging out with offered me money to spend the day together, I would not be willing to do so anymore, or at least not until the offer is withdrawn.

    ***

    As far as reviews go, it is standard practice to offer reviewers something free (and often early) in the hopes that they will review it. I don’t think there is anything unethical in this as long as the reviewer is careful not to let the fact that it was free sway the review, and the reviewer pursues things to review that are not necessarily free in order to create a balanced picture.

  110. I have to agree with Will @#72. Why does it matter how much money? I wonder how many congressional members ask how much before they accept contributions from constituents? J.D. you basically turned down a bribe. It doesn’t matter whether it was $10 or $15,000. I think you’d remember selling out every time you turned the key on a mini that was funded with bribe money, wouldn’t you?

    This is such a good post because it should cause everyone to consider what their selling price for integrity is. If we all accept the bribe then eveything is worthless. Gee, did this happen on Wall Street recently? We’re all paying for that bribe.

  111. I also think that people are sending you the books with no strings attached. You have the option at that point to review the book, but it’s your option. That’s not the same with the advertorials. You are getting paid to expose your readers to content you may or may not believe in. You should be proud of the choice you made.

    Of course, it depends on the amount of money we’re talking about;) Kidding, of course.

    That’s why this is one of the best personal finance sites on the web.

    As your blog says, you can get rich slowly and be proud of your ethics.

  112. I have a price for anything that doesn’t violate the 10 commandments or the Golden Rule.

    I don’t mind reading blogvertisements, but I would prefer they come from the company instead of the blogger.

    I would scratch the back of someone if they scratch mine in non-monetary transactions, but the nature of the transaction will be transparent.

  113. What did the man do?

    He took the piece of bacon. His valediction rested in not eating an animal with another soul. So he gave the meat his sole (as in the one on the bottom of his foot).

    Said the man to the crafty gentlemen, “You’ve asked me to try this meat and I believe they make awful slippers…I’m indebted to make sure all my friends here about this and you can advance the $20,000 in kind”

  114. I haven’t read the posts past your question, JD, regarding how is reviewing a book that a publisher gave you different than a paid post.

    Well – first off, if you are are free to give it your unbiased review, than I think that is a big difference. This company wasn’t asking you to review their product unbiased where they? Seriously – they wouldn’t pay you to write anything but a favorable post, right?
    Secondly – reviewing these books are a huge service to the GRS community. You are doing a lot of leg work for us. If you get the books for free – even better, because it means you will get them faster and can give us a review quicker so we don’t have to wait or end up buying a stinker.
    Thirdly – you have stated in your posts before that you have sent books by publishers – I don’t think that is any real secrets.

  115. You did the right thing in my books.

    A lot of people can question you and the amount of money you offered and claim they might have gone the other way.

    Its harder when you are actually facing a dilemma like you did. Do you go against your principles for a quick profit or hold out and wait for the rewards as karma would dictate?

    You honesty and commitment to your readers will not go unrewarded…

  116. JD, advertising is always a fine line, and in my opinion, you can’t go wrong by trusting your gut. I believe the long term success of my site (or just about any site) relies on how much my readers believe in the content I produce.

    I have written quite a few review posts – banks, books, brokerages, credit cards, etc. I write these because people want to know which product or service is best. In all of these I give my honest opinion, pros and cons included. I wouldn’t let a company dictate how or what I write.

  117. Imagine

    We are in the 18th century (in another 18th century) and some smart guy already has invented internet.
    Immanuel Kant and Adam Smith are both top-ranked blog writers. Immanuel writes about ethics (sometimes with a touch of economics) and Adam writes about of economics (and also ethics).

    Both receive the proposal of incluiding advertorials in their blogs.
    Immanuel says no for a kind of ‘categorical imperative’ (“that’s not good”).
    Adam says no (“that’s not good for my blog”).

    In this 18th century there are a lot of smart guys and another has invented TV and a third low-cost online banks.
    An important Dutch internet bank offers both Immanuel and Adam the position of spokesman in TV advertisment.
    Immanuel declines (for the stuff of categorical imperative, kind of “I cannot sell myself advertising a bank in TV”).
    Adam accepts (“I mean, they pay a good money and the bank is good too. And I didn´t have to write in blog about them: I can separate my blog from the spots in TV”)

  118. I would like to see every good blogger make money off his/her efforts through advertising on their site. In fact, I’ve been pretty shocked at some of the backlash from commenters on other blogs when the author starts to accept advertisements or publishes a book. Everybody is entitled to make a living off their work and good blogs take a serious amount of time, but there seems to be something about the Internet that makes people feel like everything should be free.

    That being said, all advertising should be clearly marked, and it should be in the form of ads on the page and NOT posts by the author. If you write a post and mark it as an ad, then your endorsement immediately becomes suspect. Does anybody seriously believe the “Special Advertising” sections full of paid expert opinions and “real” testimonials scattered throughout magazines? Does anyone even read them? I flip right past them.

    You absolutely made the right choice, and it is the right choice regardless of a person’s financial circumstances. Pitching a product “in the guise of a natural blog post” is deceptive, period.

    In the corporate world, lots of ringing endorsements about companies are given by influential analysts who are believed to be impartial. When those companies fail fabulously (think Enron, Worldcom) and thousands of lives are devastated, it is often found out that many of those supposedly “impartial” analysts (and the companies they work for) were profiting enormously from their endorsements.

    Sleep well tonight knowing you didn’t sell your integrity and that everyone respects you even more now for the choice you made. Respect and integrity are priceless.

  119. Interesting decision JD. It’s clearly a decision that aligns with your personal values, and at the same time probabaly a brilliant marketing decision.

    In “The idea virus” Godin talks about people who spread ideas falling into two categories, powerful sneezers, and promiscuous sneezers. Powerful sneezers lose a little bit of their credibility everytime they shill a product i.e. William Shatner – and slowly become more promiscuous.

    You’ve made interesting use of this opportunity to solidify your position as a powerful sneezer.

  120. i respect your principle. i believe you do the right thing.
    your blog has been consistently the best financial blog by far.
    thanks for the great works.

  121. Hi J.D.,

    I admire and respect you for making that stand. This is why I like GRS.

    On a side note, what if they allow you to say good and BAD things about the product and at the end of the post acknowledge that you were paid to review the product or something to that effect? Will that change anything?

    I don’t know what I would do if I were in a similar situation where I have to compromise. I guess it depends on what value. Like moral values are probably not negotiable but maybe others might be ok? I can’t think of anything right now…

    -Charlotte

  122. J.D., you say you wouldn’t necessarily judge someone who did the same thing if they had a lot of debt and were in a tight financial spot. But what if you had consulted a financial advisor and he convinced you to make some investments? And later on you found out he profited from selling you those, despite having represented himself as an objective voice? Say those were inferior investments you made, and you felt duped by the guy? Would you feel better about your investments if he recommended them because he had a lot of debt and wanted to get out of it?

    You’re thinking from the point of view of a provider of information, not from the point of view of readers and people wanting advice and education. Do you really think bloggers should be out there representing biased information as the objective truth? I’d bet not. You may sympathize with the pressures that lead people to make decisions like that, but I’d guess you’re in agreement with us that information that says it’s unbiased ought to be unbiased. Maybe, because you’re a financial blogger, you feel you could distinguish the true from the bogus.

    But what if your car mechanic told you your tires were shot and you really ought to buy the expensive new kind? Wouldn’t you rather he were genuinely objective, and not secretly employed by an expensive tire company? Same situation.

  123. I respect the fact you did not give up your principles for cash. I totally understand it.

    I wonder if there was another compromise? Like, you’d do it BUT only if you told ‘your truth’ about the product. Meaning, if you didnt like it, you’d say so. It sort of sounded like you were expected to ‘deceive” us into believing in an authentic article – regardless of how you felt about it personally. That would be JD unethical.

    I comment that – because I do read a site about frugal eating/cooking with recipes and whatnot. The blogger is paid to review products. He goes into great detail and if it 100% horrible he will DEFINITELY say so! He is also upfront and will say “So and so sent me can of pork of beans….” We know where he is coming from. Many of his reviews are lukewarm (like, this product was “OK” for the $1 it costs) or positive (and gives details). I don’t see anything wrong about that sort of thing.

    I appreciate your integrity JD.

  124. I’m glad you didn’t; I wouldn’t read your blog any longer if you had. Keep up the good, interesting, honest work!

  125. An old joke: The gentleman is seated next to an attractive and proper young lady and engages her in conversation. Suddenly he says, “Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?” The lady blushes, but seeing the humor in the request, agrees. “Well, would you sleep with me for five dollars?”

    “Certainly not!” she says, now offended. “Just what kind of woman do you think I am?”

    “Madam, we’ve already established what you are. Now we’re just haggling over the price.”

  126. The joke Michael just posted (@134) is what immediately came to mind when I read your post, but I couldn’t remember exactly how it went. Very relevant.

  127. Great job resisting. I’m sure it was difficult. You absolutely made the right choice. IMHO, that would be trading the value of your word (which is priceless) for the traffic and following that you’ve accumulated through building this site. Way to keep your integrity.

  128. Jo, #127

    I understand your opinion but I don’t necessarily agree with it.

    Every where you go, you’re going to see advertisements. I even remember a segment on the news about people that get paid to pretend to have conversations about something in public so others will think they are genuinely recommending a product. Or even someone paid to do something like eat a sandwich in a public area with the bag and logo visible.

    So many people are paying to steer you in a certain, sometimes wrong, direction. That needs to be countered by people giving honest opinions.

    If the people lying to you are making money, shouldn’t the people that are being truthful deserve to make money too? To do otherwise seems backwards.

    Advertising and affiliate links can give the wrong first impression, but regular readers can develop a sense of what the blogger is about and whether they should value his/her opinion. As you said, most people understand the need to generate revenue in some way.

    JD has established himself and his many readers value his integrity. That’s why he was offered a large sum to post about something.

    That’s also why I chose to contact him about mentioning one of my posts on his site. I don’t have the same reach he does (yet?). Everything on that post is available for free and it’s an alternative to buying into something that costs thousands. I could have chosen to promote the product because referrals generate a lot of money for it. But that seemed unethical to me.

    If he chooses to bring it up, it helps to validate it. If it doesn’t, it either doesn’t fit into his site or he doesn’t think much of it, either way is fine with me. If I paid him it means nothing.

    That’s also my not so subtle hint in case you forgot about it JD :Seemed to fit in with this topic. 🙂

  129. Ahh… bacon. Didn’t you write about bacon salt a while ago? And they were also a paying advertiser. Did I think you were biased? No. Did you feel bad? No, because you really like bacon salt. Just like you like ING Direct.

    (Besides, what non-vegetarian wouldn’t like bacon salt?)

    If you didn’t like bacon salt, that would have felt wrong to you, and I can’t imagine you writing that post. It would have felt instantly weird on this blog. Therefore, I think what you did in this case was the right thing to do.

  130. come on, my man, “this site is for entertainment purposes only” and “nothing on this site should be construed as financial advice.”

    since you don’t give financial advice take the money and give your editorial on the product. i promise i won’t construe it as financial advice.

  131. Good post, J.D. I keep getting people emailing me asking me to do paid posts, and I’ve really been iffy on the idea. Your post has made me un-iffy, and I think I will go with my gut of not accepting paid post offers. I really want to keep advertising out of my content.

  132. Congratulations on being put in this situation in the first place, J.D. It’s a sign of your success. I applaud you for your integrity in this decision.

    Even more importantly, I’m greatly impressed that you chose to make this public. I think this says more about your sense of ethics than your decision not to accept the offer.

    During a company directors course I did some years back we had a module on ethics. When faced with an ethical issue, we were encouraged to think “What would be my decision if I knew it would be front page news of a major national paper?” I think you passed this test with flying colours.

    And it’s a really well written post, so well done there, too. 🙂

  133. Good for you! For having to make this choice and for making the right one and for writing eloquently about it.

    If I weren’t already “sold” as a reader, you would have sold me on this post alone.

  134. J.D., I’m also wondering why you’re highlighting the comments that construe this as a dilemma with a gray area, rather than the ones that think it’s a clear moral issue. You may wish to show that you’re considering all angles, but it looks as if you think it still might be all right for you to take money in exchange for writing articles in favor of certain companies. I think it’s clear that the majority of your readers would feel betrayed and offended if you did that. So why do you want to emphasize that it’s still a possibility in your mind? Are you looking for a way to feel it’s okay to take that money?
  135. @Faculties (#143)
    I wasn’t consciously highlighting the comments that construe this as a grey area, though it doesn’t surprise me that I did. My world view comprises shades of grey. It is not black and white. Naturally, I’m drawn to these more nuanced comments. That doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily better or that they’re right — just that they appeal more to me.

    I’m not trying to suggest this is still a possibility in my mind. I have made my decision. Having made the decision on this particular offer, I feel relieved. It’s the right choice for me, for my blog, and for my readers. It also means that henceforth, I don’t need to make that decision again on any offer less than this. And because the amount in question is so huge, I don’t anticipate ever having to revisit this.

    I’m not ignoring that many people find this a stark black-and-white issue. But I think it’s important to note that many others do not. If I thought it were clear-cut, this choice would have been easy.

    But, no, I’m not looking for a way to feel that it’s okay to take the money. For me, it’s the wrong thing to do.

  136. Comment #138 is spot on.
    I see no issue in taking ad/blogging revenue from product & services you use or like.
    Paid ads expect you to say wonderful fabulous go buy now!
    Most advertisers aren’t going to go along with a disclaimer of ad post-I’m getting paid to say this.
    If their product/service doesn’t jibe with your life/blog/mood of the day-turn it down.

    Do I feel you need to inform me that you took money from these companies to say nice things in your blog about them? No.
    You’ve already established repeatedly that your integrity isn’t for sale. I see no issue with blogging for dollars if it’s a product you believe in.

  137. @Tom #137
    I totally agree with you that we are being marketed to constantly and in ways we can’t even imagine. I don’t like being bombarded by ads all the time, but as long as it’s up front and not presented like the fake conversation you mentioned, I have no ethical problem with it.

    >If he chooses to bring it up, it helps to validate it.<

    Which is precisely why the vast majority of commenters here think it is unethical for a company to buy that validation for a large sum of money. From what I’ve seen here, JD’s reputation has been built on the fact that his opinions aren’t bought; they spring from honest evaluation.

  138. JD,

    I would have taken the money as long as it was for a product/service you thought was good. If you didn’t make money off this blog and didn’t have time to do it because you had to work full time, then the loss to your readers outweighs everything else. There is nothing wrong with providing information you feel is helpful to your readers if you do it for free or pay. If you feel it will benefit people, then I really don’t see a problem with it. If you did it JUST for the money, that is different, but otherwise I would have went for it.

  139. The blogosphere was more fun before enormous sums of money began to be thrown around.

    One of the tenets of blogosphere when it first started was that it was supposed to be a giant authoritative challenge to the MSM. Now the MSM is showing it has established journalistic standards while the blogosphere has no similar baseline. Ironically the undoing of blogs who do this will be .. the blogosphere! There is no force stronger than the truth, especially on the internet where everything is totally open, things change very fast, and barrier to entry is very low. Bloggers who rest on their past laurels and turn to tactics like this to make money will be quickly exposed by honest bloggers and by humanity’s unrelenting natural quest for the truth.

    Kudos to JD for bringing up this under-discussed topic. GRS is one of the few big commercial blogs which I really trust. I’m extremely cynical about advertising and believe even things like banner ads fundamentally taint a bloggers writing. If a blogger is getting paid $1000/month to put ad for a particular pizza joint, how can you trust what he writes in review of the best pizzas? There is a lot more corruption going on behind the scenes of the internet probably than most realize.

  140. So it’s not about your morals, it’s about the price right? (Since you’d do it for 1 million dollars)

  141. I would have negotiated for more money, then taken it.

    Always look out for number one. Sure ethics and integrity matter, but this wasn’t about that. It was about the degree. If it was 50 dollars, no issue. $500,000 and you would be foolish not to take it and better your situation.

    As another poster said…situational ethics

    No offense to myself and other readers, but who cares about us. We weren’t there for you when you were deep in debt. You had to rely on you.

    Your readers likely wouln’t care anyway. If we knew you were doing something to better your situation, those who get how life works would not only understand but encourage you.

    If I knew you were making $50K by advertising a product, I wouldn’t care. I’d do the same thing. IF it gets you closer to your dream, go for it.

    No one cares about you more than you.

    Sometimes a tough pill but true.

  142. Like Ellen (a previous commenter) suggested, what about writing the advertorial, but identifying it as “advertorial” or “advertising”? You often see this technique used in magazines. Then, if you so chose, you could donate the money, give it back to the readers or save it.

  143. Strangely enough I was in a situation many years ago that would have given me what seemed like a huge sum of money at a needy time. I would have had to give up certain principles but really it seemed harmless and might even be fun. I meditated on it, not having much time to make up my mind, and the same thought came to me that you were inspired with: The next time won’t be like this time. Or in your case, it’ll open the door to more like situations.

  144. Good for you! You didn’t cross from honest advertising into conning your readers. Increasingly, advertisers seek to trick people and hide the fact that they are being advertised to. For example, when I’m watching a commercial I know I’m being advertised to and can choose to engage with the appropriate mindset. When I watch a movie or tv show and later learn that the products were in fact paid placements, it feels tricky and dirty.

    I didn’t even know that bloggers got paid to essentially do planted posts. I would stop reading a blog if I learned its author did this, because I could no longer trust the motivation for the advice.

    So glad that you’re transparent and honest! More than enough money will make its way to you!

  145. You made a good long term decision. And that’s the name of your blog!

    After all, it would have been a good short term decision. But your credibility would have suffered. And that’s what you have to sell!

    Early on, my own blog on Blogger had the ads that picked up on the words I used in my posts. And some of the products (I clicked through to check…) were okay, and some completely contradicted the stuff I was saying on my blog.

    So I decided I would control all my advertising. And, no paid posts.

    I have to agree with you.

  146. I’m sure that this has already been said, but:
    Once readers found out that you had accepted an advertorial for pay, they distrust you. After a few more, they’d stop reading you.

    I think that you made the right decision, both morally and economically.

  147. JD, Do you in fact have a comprehensive advertising policy for GRS? Is it written down for all to see, or is it basically an oral “rule of thumb”? I ask, because perhaps you should consider adding a link on this site to your advertisement policy–clearly written and publicly posted.

    This could bring up some interesting scenarios for you, though:

    If you develop and post a comprehensive advertisement policy, you will have to stick with it until you revise it or remove it. You will force yourself to observe it, and thus it will serve as your “ethics guideline” and online “conscience,” in a way. You can save yourself future dilemmas and soul-searches this way.

    Also, posting such a policy can pre-empt tempting offers. If you do not want to be tempted by similar proposals in the future, an online document will serve as a statement of terms that you will have to abide by.

    Of course (just being cynical here), perhaps you don’t want to box yourself in by posting such a document….? That’s legit, too, though that means your recent struggle with your conscience cam (and probably will) continue until something more palatable comes along.

    Also, it’s hard to anticipate all possible contingencies, so revisions will be necessary as technologies evolve, etc. But my point is that this struggle and your possibility of being tempted by advertising “gray areas” may continue as until you proactively set your terms in a way that’s public and accessible…. Sort of like a Hippocratic Oath for bloggers…. Just an idea.

  148. If I were to summarize the goal of personal finance it would be something like this:

    Make sacrifices, control yourself, and make smart decisions with the goal of becoming empowered over your life.

    That’s pretty general, but the number one reason people try to control their finances is so they have the freedom to make choices themselves.

    By controlling your finances, you have empowered yourself to be able to keep your integrity.

    Looking at the scenarios described where you might be more likely to have taken the money, they involve you being so out of control that you must sell your integrity to live (or for your family to live). Congratulations JD, I think you are officially rich! Do you change the blog to Be Rich Slowly?

  149. Ah, well I thought you were going to tell the old joke about the man who offered a woman to sleep with him for $100,000 . She accepts, but upon entering his bedroom, he states that he changed his mind and will offer her only $10. The woman becomes indignant and sputters “What kind of woman do you think I am?!?” The man replies “We know what kind of woman you are- now we’re just haggling over the price.”

    Good for you, J.D.- I commend your honesty (saying no, being candid about being tempted, etc.). And, this is a great topic to discuss.

  150. I think it is great that you made the choice you are happy with.

    From the comments so far, it’s quite obvious that a lot of the readers don’t necessarily appreciate that GRS is a business and a livelyhood – you (and other bloggers) are entitled to make money and grow your business as you see fit.

    The idea that a blogger can only endorse a product they use and like is a bit naive in my opinion. Do race car drivers use all the products they endorse? (I just saw Talledega Nights), do actors on sitcoms use the products/services on the commercials?

  151. J.D. – I think what I liked best is that you’re still doing the right thing, not naming them, and leaving doors open for them to work with you on your terms. And that you respect your audience enough to open this discussion.

    Gerard (post #75), thank you for adding a new level to this discussion. I was thinking in terms of gaining now versus losing integrity and income later. For a doctor (or many other jobs), it could lead to losing a life. And since we teach people how to treat us, selling your principles could be disastrous!

    As to me? I worked for Dominoes for two summers to pay for college, and I completely disagree with the owner’s (at the time) political views… So, hmmm $5 an hour plus tips.

  152. I’ve been in and out of prostitution for several years. My whole blog is about the conflict I feel when compromising my values to make money in sex work.

  153. you can send them my way. just kidding. maybe.

    lots of great points on every side of this issue. i guess i’m stuck around the question of if they are a good company and you have great things to say, why not get paid to say it? As long as you aren’t lying to yourself and your readers about the company and their business, it seems like a great opportunity to get some capital.

  154. I’ve not had to face such a situation myself but your approach is exactly what I hope I would do in a similar situation. You weighed up all possibilities but came to the decision that to not only keep your own self respect but also for the good of your readers you declined the offer, power to you for doing so.

  155. I am commenter 164, so someone might have already said this.

    The bottom line is whether you can stand behind what you write all the time. If you cannot say a resounding yes to this question if the advertiser were to come on board, then you have done the right thing.

    I have been tested somewhat like this before, once and for a large sum of money. All I had to do was to recommend that my employer buy this guy’s company. I turned that offer down flat.

    And it felt good.

  156. I’ve been tempted before. I backed out of the interview process for a job I thought would be great for my career development, but it turned out the position involved doing something I considered to be unethical and would exploit others. The company misrepresented themselves and the job to me.

    There were more consequences than just losing the money (I didn’t have a job at the time), but I don’t regret my decision. I listened to my gut and my gut said “no way”.

    J.D., that’s what struck me about your post, that you mentioned this was the only decision you could make that felt “clean.” I think it’s important to listen to that voice. Maybe you’ll change your mind further down the road and accept an offer (no judgments here), but only if you’re conscious is clean.

    Best wishes, and keep up the good work.

  157. There is a simple test i use in these situations. Look in the mirror and like the guy you see. If tomorrow you can’t get up and like the guy you see because of todays decision, it probably wasn’t the right one. I like the guy i see (almost 100% of the time)
    J

  158. This will probably sound obvious to some of you, and maybe somebody mentioned it earlier, but I just realized another way to look at this. I shouldn’t be thinking about how much money it would take to have me do something — I should be thinking, “Would I do this if there were no money involved at all?” If the answer is yes, then it’s fine to take money for it. So, for example, I would run this blog if there were no money involved (though it wouldn’t be at the same level it is now, of course). So it’s fine to post my story day after day. I would do it for free. But there’s no way I would run the advertorials if money wasn’t an issue. That should have been my first clue that I oughtn’t to run them even with money. 🙂

  159. It’s very easy to say that money doesn’t matter to you. It’s a lot harder to say it when a big hedge fund is waving an obscene check in front of your face. One of my proudest moments on this planet is that I said “no” to that check, despite the fact that I would have had the opportunity to work with the smartest group of guys I’ve ever encountered. However, the work was soulless and infinitely high stress. When asked what to do if I had to go to the bathroom while the market was moving, I was told, in all seriousness, “Piss in a cup.”

    That was 10 years ago, and I couldn’t be happier living a quiet, comfortable life as a tutor.

  160. My first thought was that you should have done it and taken the money! The more I thought about it, though, I realized that you probably made a good business decision, as comment #4 said. You may have gotten rich quickly if you had accepted this offer, but you would have risked losing credibility — and that would have been bad for business in the long run. In a way, your decision here exemplifies the whole “get rich slowly” concept.

  161. If it’s a product that you actually believe in and you believe everything they ask you to write, and you agree with it, then there’s nothing wrong with taking their money.

  162. And there was no way that you could choose the advertorials that you liked the products, and reject the rest?

  163. Good for you! Having principles and living by them is sometimes tough, but worth much more than all the cash in the world.

  164. Well, Your decision is good and Moral. But let me ask you a question.

    Do you Want to be Better or Bigger?

    You have selected to be Better. However, it is quite possible that someone else (Other Blogger) may want to be Bigger. And he would have accepted the deal.

    And I don’t think that there is nothing wrong in it. But you have selected to be better here. I know you are an Intelligent person so you must have taken this decision with soundness of your mind………

    Second thing is that, you have not mentioned in your article that, which product it was? If it was a Credit Card product than surely any Personal Finance Blog had refused the offer.

    So saying NO to such types of deals is also depending on the subject of your Blog. You can not promote Credit Cards on Personal Finance Blog.

    So you should have atleast indirectly mentioned to readers that which product it was (Without disclosing the identity of the Company)… And than the discussion would be more interesting….

    Anyway…….. I am also a Blogger just like you and very much inspired by you…….

    But Honestly speaking, if I had to chose to be between better or Bigger than I personally had chosen to be “BIGGER”…..

    Because I want to be GIANT……….!!!!!!!

    But I like your decision also and I respect your decision………!!!

  165. I would have donated to your website as of reading this post. But since you dont provide a donate link or seem to even request it take this as a simple thank you.

  166. There were “advertorials” in all kinds of small newspapers and major magazines by so-called financial experts telling folks that there was no better time to buy a home.

    There were video advertorials on television plus there were probably on air hosts and guests on financial news shows that were getting a kick back or two for supporting this “fantastic” boom time.

    Ethics! The lack of which has caused this country financial turmoil. We had people with education up the ying-yang making unethical decisions. Technically not illegal but morally foul.

    J.D. I’m telling you straight up, I got out of debt with the help of personal financial bloggers.

    I didn’t believe PF bloggers just because they wrote on the Internet. It was a trust that was developed over time. You and fellow PF bloggers demonstrated with examples and life stories on where you were financially and where you are now.

    J.D. I trust your posts. I’m not a blind follower. I check out what you and other PF bloggers are saying.

    70,000 subscribers do the same and they tell other people that lurk. You must be doing something right!

    If you had taken the money and not said anything and I found out about it I would have been hurt and angry. I would have killed my RSS feed.

    If you had taken the money and told me up front that you were doing this I would have understood. I would not have liked it. Over time I would have had to become more suspicious of the information delivered. I would have eventually dropped away.

    I’m not asking any blogger to not make money or do this out of the goodness of heart. Ads have their place and I choose to ignore or pay attention to advertisements.

    Content should not be infused with advertisements. Especially not consumer based financial information. We need honesty. Especially now.

    J.D. at this point I’m figuring you are not torn down broke. You are at a stage in your life where you get to make ethical decisions. That is called freedom.

    Your internal spirit said it wasn’t right. I’m not worried that you lost a chunk of money. You will get money back a hundred-fold.

    Get to work on that book.

  167. My personal way of looking at the situation would be that it would need to meet three criteria for me to accept the advertorial.

    1. I would be free to announce that it was a paid review.
    2. I would be free to express whatever opinion I had of the product.
    3. There would be no moderation of comments to skew the discussion to a more positive tone.

    As long as the situation is transparent–readers are fully aware of the relationship before hand, and as long as the discussion is honest, then I don’t see it as some big ethical dilemma. In fact, I would see that as being “more honest” than getting free books or movie screeners to review–I recall the apology that one movie reviewer made after he stopped being a reviewer. Once he had to pay for his movies, he became a lot more discriminatory about what movies he liked, so he apologized for all the times he’d given movies better reviews than they deserved.

  168. I am not sure I understand what the dilemma is – you were asked to write a series of blog posts about a product, and in return you would be paid for it.

    In my field, a researcher discloses all funding sources, whether they relate to the research or not. Of course, only the funding that is directly related gets closer scrutiny.

    In the end, it is up to the reader to decide what to read or not read, and what to think about the product and the writer’s intentions.

    I think you have smart readers, and with proper disclosure, I think this is a non-issue. Would you have done it if money were not in the equation?

  169. J.D. – The issue really is black and white, not shades of grey. Whether one decides to do something is often nuanced and influenced by circumstance, but whether or not the decision is right is not influenced by those same things. I want to say this again: Whether one decides to do something is often nuanced and influenced by circumstance, but whether or not the decision is right is not influenced by those same things. This goes for every scenario offered in college philosophy or psychology courses.

    My two cents is that accepting the term “advertorial” in some way legitimizes the activity. I know you don’t want to alienate readers and so you take pains to be tolerant and accepting of all views, but just because you tolerate and accept those views doesn’t actually make them good, moral or ethical views. Writing an *advertisement* in the guise of an *editorial* is just plain misleading. As a poster above mentioned, your name is all you’ve really got and once you sell it, it is yours no longer. You knew, without a doubt, the right action; if you hadn’t known it, you wouldn’t have felt any dilemma.

    I think it’s great that you chose correctly and I applaud you. However, I also think that until choosing correctly (no matter how politically incorrect it is to say “choosing correctly”) is the norm again in American life our society will remain mired in the mud of self-justification and moral ambiguity.

  170. Back in my teen age I worked at one publishing house for a little while. It was a nice experience and it sorta trained me to catch the articles that are actually made to advertise something. And in my home country this is a very common thing.

    I was writing about IT, but the best example would be newspapers that write about politics. I really do like when an edition doesn’t try to promote any of the sides and writes about things in simple proven facts.

    J.D. You’ve done a great thing refusing the writing, but if these money were crucial to you or this site, I think, no one would be against

    Anyway, you can never go wrong when doing the right thing

  171. I browsed through the comments. That would be a tough decision, but I think I would NOT do a series of blog posts for the advertiser. I think the idea of putting up ad space is a much better option. Why would people want you to do a series of advertorials? In my opinion, people are more intelligent than companies give us credit for and will see right through the thinly laced advertisement. If they want to get people’s attention, why don’t they give away free personal finance books through your blog to a random person who comments?
    Anywho, that’s my two cents!
    -HIB

  172. Once upon a time, a museum held a gala ball to raise money from wealthy businessmen to support a new exhibit. One wealthy, well-dressed entrepreneur was smitten by a beautiful woman who worked for the museum. He approached her and asked, “Young lady, you look positively ravishing. How would you like to make $5 million in exchange for a single night of passionate lovemaking with me?”

    The young woman pondered the offer briefly, before excitedly answering, “Sure, why not, it’s only one night and that money could change my life forever.”

    “Fantasic,” said the man. “But what if I only offered you $50?” Horribly offended, the woman recoiled in disgust. “Absolutely not!”, she said. “What exactly do you think I am?”

    “Young lady,” the man replied, “we both already know what you are. Now we’re just dickering over price.”

  173. Thank you for making the right decision. You blog frequently about frugality, which isn’t just making easy money or buying something because it is cheap, but getting the most bang for your buck. As previously commenters pointed out, the long term ramifications would have been decreasing blog cred and losing readers, so the money wouldn’t have been worth it. I definitely would have deleted my bookmark of your site if I spotted one of those! I stopped reading Hustlers Money Blog because of the ridiculous amount of this crap.

  174. My two cents:

    Advertorials are okay if it’s clear that the writer is being compensated for publishing it. Otherwise, no dice.

    Everyone needs to make a living in some way shape or form.

  175. Everything has its price. I don’t think it would be horrible for you to do paid-for posts, as long as you notified the readers or put them in their own category or something.

    Because if you don’t, in the end you’re really trading off your blog future for some money now. In other words, endorsing a product without really believing in it and not letting people know just erodes your credibility, and that is probably more valuable in the long run in terms of profitability of this site.

  176. Part of the reason they approached you with this is because of your reputation. They would be taking advantage of your reputation as an honest financial blogger. You, in turn, would be diminishing your brand for which they approached you for in the first place. If you decide to sell out, be sure it’s enough for you to retire on because once your brand is tarnished, it’s gone for good. Think Enron, Worldcom, Martha Stewart, AIG, etc…

  177. J.D. , stick with your morals & don’t violate your conscience. I’m still trying to figure out ,why people are saying you would have been deceitful, if you did the advertising ? Were the companies asking you to give a dishonest report or to slant your opinion? There is all kinds of GOOGLE advertising all over the site.One blogger I know got their own website , so they don’t have to have any advertising, but it’s now a pay site.

    Question for JD’s readers~~~How many of you that say it was wrong , will continue to keep reading this site, if he had to make it a subscriber site for $60 a year because , he can’t keep the site up without extra advertising?

    I know of several sites that have had to do this & only have certain areas that a non subscriber can use. I don’t like advertising much at all, but I guess it’s a neseccary evil, as even the Columbus ,Ohio Dispatch , even has cut it’s paper size because all the automakers used to advertise & now they can’t.They said that the paper daily rater doesn’t even cover the cost of printing it. If something is morally wrong , it’s wrong no matter what , but I feel if not deceiving people or changing your opinion for the money , it’s just a matter of what your conscience is telling you.Maybe your heart knew that taking the money would cause you to give a better recommendation & remember money isn’t everything. I about 10 years ago, gave up my share (1/4) of a property that was valued at around $300,000 total , because of my Biblical beliefs of not wanting to be in court for 10 years. Living & getting what I wanted, which was rightfully mine, but having the strife & stress , destroying our lives. I’m so glad I didn’t do it or my Mom wouldn’t have made it till her death last year. She was sick then & it made her have heart pains.So I thank the Good Lord for what I have & believe that he will take care of me . God bless, lisa

  178. I think this is where I differ from a lot of PF writers out there. I may have very well considered this. It’d be tough to turn big-time money down but you’re right, you’d want to come up with some alternative way of doing it without whoring yourself off.

  179. @Lisa:

    I haven’t seen anyone object to the ads. Being paid to write advertorials in the guise of being an independent personal opinion is offensive. The reason this company approached him with this money and this campaign is to use his reputation as an average, honest guy and pass it off as an honest endorsement.

    I used to work for an internet marketing company that used to do this very thing. They had a paid staff writer who would write basically fictional endorsements of products. It definitely conflicted with my morals. I don’t miss the company or the work at all.

  180. People who have such dilemmas are just spoiled.

    The question should be, how bad does the situation have to get to FORCE you to compromise your principles? Some principles are just silly and for people who can afford it.

  181. @Cathy

    Hi! You mean they wanted him to write just what they wanted , kind of like scripted? If that’s what you mean now I understand better. Thanks!

  182. Well, this is my first post (ever) although I’ve been reading GRS via email for a while now. I’ve gotten ‘rich slowly’ and honorably over the past 25 years working for a company whose products I believe in and always erring on the side of the customer. Yes, sometimes it costs and sometimes it costs big. I think too much money (especially if its fast) and too little money are equally corrupting. But at the end of the day we are a collection of our choices and it’s called a slippery slope for good reason. JD you are on a good path and I’ve endorsed your site to people I care about. I think if we were all as careful as JD about writing from the heart and lending a hand to others we could collectively shift the human experience a few degrees to a better place. Of all times in the past couple of decades there is rampant economic fear which is perhaps the most corrupting emotion of all. I say we all try to live up to J.D.’s example and maybe we can set some new cultural standards.

  183. it’s like the old saw:

    “sleep with me and I’ll pay you $1000”

    “okay”

    “alright, then. Sleep with me and I’ll pay you $1”

    “of course not! What do you think I am!”

    “We’ve already established that. Now we’re just negotiating over price”

    Good for you for standing firm. The very fact that you refused the offer has improved your reputation among your readers. And your reputation is EVERYTHING. You can’t get it back once it’s gone.

    Keep it up.

  184. I bought a camera once, fully intending to keep it but then I found the same one, in the color I wanted (I know, it’s a silly reason to buy a camera but I was going to buy the same one anyway and the blue looked nicer) so I returned the first one and bought the other. The store where I returned the camera credited me too much, basically making the camera I did buy from another store, “free” but I never felt right about not telling them… Ironically, the camera never felt right in my hands and it never took good photos so I gave it away to my s-in-law whose camera was stolen. Even though I didn’t pay for it and it wasn’t my fault they overcredited me, it would have been more honest to tell them about their error. In retrospect, I wish I had.

    I know it’s not exactly the same thing you are discussing but it’s as close a situation as I’ve experienced…

  185. It isn’t money that would cause me to compromise my principals; I just don’t care enough about it – although, possibly, it might be situational. Would I sleep with someone for a million dollars if my sister needed surgery? Sure, but I don’t think sex is THAT big a deal. Would I betray my country? No. Are there things I would do that are not what I would want to do, because someone I care about is at risk? Yes, because the people I love are my price.

  186. I thought I’d add that when I say the people I love are my price, that I’m willing to risk myself for them; not that I’m willing to do things I consider wrong.

    I’m reluctant to say I’d be enthusiastic if you were doing advertorials, J.D., but I wouldn’t mind if they were properly flagged: ADVERTORIAL written in nice bold letters at the top, the bottom, and in the middle of the advertorial. Heck, properly identified, I’d be tempted to write ’em for you; it could be an entertaining exercise. I object to the possibility of something being misleading; to me, deliberately misleading=dishonest, and I like this blog because I think you’re a very honest writer. The thing is, I don’t think YOU think it’s honest, and it seems as if you’re looking for permission. I have to point out that if principals crumple when dollars are waved at them, then they’re not really principals, are they? Sticking to your principals when you think your job is in danger, or when you need money, is when it actually counts.

  187. Lisa, the difference between posting book reviews and posting advertorials is that the authors don’t get to dictate content. People who pay for advertorials get to dictate content. Publishers forward free books to reviewers fully aware that the reviewer may not, in fact, think all that highly about the book; same with theatre tickets. The people who provide those don’t get to dictate the opinion expressed.

  188. kudos to you for declining. i have been faced with similar things in my life (i am a journalist) and i nkow what you have been through. it is getting harder and harder for us because the marketers know very well that the price of trust is high and that such an article would have been better than an ad saysing “this is an ad, buy this”. i work in medi and know that generally, the ways that the companied “invade” the editorial space are numerous – and yes, i have to sometimes work for media that actually for example prints an article on something because there is an advertiser of that product (it is in a field where the mag/paper would probably print the story on the thing anyway, but still it is fishy). my perosnal code says i would not do this myself, and would not want my name under an article like this. trust me, the trust you have and the loyalty of your fans/readers is worth so much more (both monetary wise and in th more, erm, metaphysical sense), that your saying no was the very best thing to do. also note that your honesty separates you from some others – and guess who has more fans, followers, or more influence: someone who is honest and works hard on puttiong ones thoughts to writing, or someone who just accepts that they will endorse whatever pays? i think you know the answer pretty well.

  189. PS and do not the fact that some people do not understand your principles discourage you. i have had it a million times too – people wondering why on earth i refuse to work in PR. (the “that would be so much better paid!”-“you would get a company car!” thing). even good friends i value do not sometime sunderstand the difference. and yes, i like money. but i like being paid for my honest opinion, or help, or editing work etc., not for selling somebody elses product.

  190. Even though my blog is much smaller than yours, JD, I get offers similar to this all the time (just not from big-names). I look at it like this: it’s the same as selling the whole site. So I quote them the price of my site: $40,000. Which, not coincidentally, is the amount I owe in student loans!

  191. JD, invariably when you ask your readers a question like this they will recoil against advertising.

    Two blogs friends of mine write became moderately popular. Both asked their readers about accepting advertising on their blog. Overwhelmingly the readers rejected such a flagrant abuse of their status as readers.

    One blogger has since refused to place advertising on her site, she is trying to earn money other ways.

    The other ignored her readers, placed ads on her site and lost a few faithful readers. Since then her site has grown and the advertising is supporting her online activities and some pocket money

    A year later she was approached to do a product review. She had learned her lesson about asking her readers, and decided to just do it. She labeled it a paid review, or just that the product was provided free for review. No one blinked an eyelid.

    When the time came for me to decide about advertising on my site, I went ahead and did it, and saw no loss in any stats or any changes. Granted my $5 a month pales in comparison to the numbers you’re talking, but my point is anytime you ask readers about advertising on a site you’ll get a negative response.

    I suspect if you had done it clearly labeled as whatever it was, people have the choice to ignore it or what not.

    Our local paper would have to close down if not for the 4-8 pages of advertorials each week. Perhaps readers should think on that when they demand you stay true to their standards.

  192. I think that everyone draws their own line, like you have said and something right so someone will be wrong to someone else.
    Personally, I only place ads on my site that I have actually used the product and agree with the company advertising the product. I know that it is a good product or service. I know that it has made my life better in some way and I would urge others to use those products for that reason.
    Of course I do also use Google ads, which although relate to the content of my site do not always promote companies that I have tried or tested. I did vow to myself that if I ever saw an ad that would cause harm to my readers, I would pull Google ads altogether. I guess one’s line of values moves regularly based on personal rationalizations…

  193. Hello JD,
    It’s a great article. We’ve run into similar situations several times with our business in contract financing. I’m glad to know that you have high ethical standard in your posts. In the end, we’ll all be judged whether one believes in God or not. I would not want to look back at my life and see how many people I deceived on recommending products or services I didn’t use. Like you said having an ad is one thing, posting is entirely different. I’m glad I found this article and I want to say I appreciate your honesty and values

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