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What’s The Deal With Anna Viele And BlogHer?

I get a lot of Google searches on this. It’s kind of a long story. But that’s OK, I have a lot of archives.

I used to run BlogHer ads on this site, for a little over a year. Things were mostly without problems and I made a decent amount of money, so I never really questioned my percentage or their cut of the profits during that whole time. Then one day a very large and prominent publisher (for whom I have nothing but the deepest respect, incidentally) joined the BlogHer Ad network. I wrote about that here: 5 Disturbing Developments Ripped From The Cultural Imagination of Last Week.

Around the same time, bloggers running BlogHer Ads network had started noticing a decrease in profits. The people who noticed it first were mostly over a traffic range that was about 75,000 pageviews per month or higher, and there was a buzz in the community. People had been talking about it at some of the conferences, and word had gotten back to me about it. I had also noticed that my profits had gone down, but we had been told it was due to seasonal fluctuations in ad inventory, and that is something that does periodically happen so it had not occurred to me that anything was different this time. But the introduction of this large publisher to the network was a consideration in my mind, so I decided to look into the situation. Here is my first post on that topic: Concessions To The Pioneer Woman: Is BlogHer Giving More Ads To The Pioneer Woman At Our Expense?. BlogHer was happy with this post, for the most part, though I’m not sure the community was. It put things to rest for a while.

Life went on. I started writing more posts about monetizing, and experimenting with product placement on my blog. Though I was careful to work around BlogHer’s draconian editorial standards for such things, BlogHer decided that a post I wrote describing the process of landing a product placement deal (not the actual product placement itself) was the same thing as a product placement and therefore could not be appear alongside their ads. They pulled my ads until I removed the post to a page without ads. (The actual product placement is here: Mini’s Third Birthday Party At The Treehouse Social Club. The post describing how to land a product placement deal, for which BlogHer pulled my ads until I moved it to a page without any ads, is here: What I’ve Learned From The Great ABDPBT Product Placement Experiment Thusfar).

Now, admittedly, I had been doing things to inflame them. I had been tweeting things about my revenue going down. I had been gathering information about people on the BlogHer network who who had noticed drops in revenue and not really bothering to hide it. I had written a post entitled, “Can you sell private ads while still on contract with BlogHer ads?” (Answer: yes, but be very careful.) BlogHer had started emailing me regularly about my supposed infractions of editorial standards. They said that I had code missing here and there, that ads were appearing below the mark they had said was allowable. Some of the criticisms were accurate and some were not, but the more disturbing aspect of it was that nothing had changed on my site for months — the strict enforcement of editorial standards had only begun after I started talking about revenue problems at BlogHer.

On the other side, I was still getting lots of pressure from bloggers who, like myself, were losing money. Some of them were seeing half or three-fourths of what they used to get on their revenue checks from BlogHer Ads, and still getting the “seasonal fluctuations in ad inventory” explanation from BlogHer when they asked about it. I had started to investigate the situation on my own and thought I had come up with a statistical explanation. So I started writing about it. Here’s the post where I explain that I’m going to do it: Ceci N’est Pas Une Burned Bridge.

The posts that I wrote about the BlogHer ad network are below. They are somewhat dense to get through, but the main thing to glean is that they provide a statistical theory for what we could all see was happening — we were all not serving paid ads anymore. Since the introduction of the Pioneer Woman on the network, we were all either serving blank ads, Public Service Announcements, or house ads nearly all of the time, and we weren’t getting as big of checks, yet visiting Pioneer Woman’s site showed paid ads nearly any time of day. This was easy to see for anybody. What I did was to try to show how this could be happening.

  1. So, About That Post That’s Been Giving Me A Headache
  2. Understanding The BlogHer Ad Tier System, Part One
  3. Understanding The BlogHer Ad Tier System, Part Two
  4. The Curious Case of Blogger Three

Before you ask, yes, I published all of these posts alongside my then-still-running BlogHer ads. And no, they were not happy about it. They were clearly looking for a way to kick me off the network, which was difficult now since I had been made to toe the line in recent weeks with all of the coding and pixel standards. They had already asked me via email to consider carefully if the BlogHer network was capable “meeting my needs” anymore, which I took as a not very veiled invitation to get lost. But I was not willing to leave the network voluntarily, and I told them this explicitly so that there was no misunderstanding.

One day I tweeted something about a “case study” showing a rather shocking percentage of unpaid ads that had been served on one BlogHer Ads publisher’s site. It was pretty clear that I had been tweeting not about my own stats, but about a “case study” from the stats I was compiling, but BlogHer Ads claimed this constituted me misrepresenting my own statistics, and therefore lying, and therefore being dishonest, and therefore not meeting the rigorous standards for integrity they have for publishers in their network. This is the excuse they used to terminate my contract with BlogHer Ads.

After that, I considered filing suit against BlogHer for breach of contract. I sent them a letter, and they sent me a letter. I made the awful mistake of over-dramaticizing the whole thing, and immediately regretted it. (Don’t ever let emotions get the best of you in business: it is NEVER worth it.) The internet was confused about a lot of things about the circumstances of the hypothetical lawsuit, and shoddy reporting and irresponsible behavior on the part of several people complicated this. However, I also made things much more difficult for myself, and lesson learned there. In the end, I have decided that — although there is no question that my contract was terminated wrongfully (and I don’t think anybody who witnessed the circumstances would disagree with this) — the time and costs of litigation would not end up balancing in my favor, and that’s why I have not (thusfar, anyway) pursued it further.