Selling Your Readers


An Open Letter to Other Pagan Writers on the Internet

Hey, you–

I’m that anti-capitalist polytheist guy.  You may have heard of me, maybe not.  No big deal either way–I’m really just some guy who writes about stuff.  Some people read me. Some people don’t.

Maybe I read you?  Maybe I don’t.  Depends on what you write, I guess.

In fact, that’s usually how people decide whether or not they read you, y’know?  There exist a few writers I’ll dog to the gates of Annwn, they’re so good.  Many of ’em don’t write online, some do.  Some post something and I almost fall out of my chair I’m so excited.  Others–I might read ’em once in awhile when people I like and trust start telling me that they wrote something awesome.

It can be a little confusing, writing on the internet.  It’s sometimes hard to figure out why something you wrote and thought was awesome got read by like, no-body, while something you wrote drunk in a couple of minutes got read by 5000 people.  It’s weird, hard to tell, and definitely will drive you a bit mad if you try to discern the pattern there, or maybe even make you an alcoholic if you try to write drunk all the time because it worked that one time.

Mostly, I stopped giving attention to the matter.  You might have, too, or maybe you’ve decided to get a little…help.  Maybe you’ve invoked an entity with a contract in exchange for some insights, an entity promising you a glimpse into the secrets of the reader’s soul, and maybe a little taste of power-over.

I’m not talking about daemons, of course.  Rather, I’m speaking of Google Analytics. Or Livefyre. Or Opentracker.

They go by many names, and promise you the same things.  With their help, you’ll be able to know what your readers are doing, where they’re coming from, what they click on, how much time they spend on your site, and how often they visit.  They offer you knowledge, and power, a glimpse into a realm that you cannot see, and obviously, you’re probably hoping that their proffered tools will make you a better writer, perhaps more popular, perhaps even one day a wealthy writer.

Lots of you are doing it, I know.  And I’m sure you’ve got your reasons.

But I’m wondering–you know you’re selling your readers, right?

Maybe you understand how they work; maybe not.  But they may not work the way you think they do.

The bargain you make with these entities, like any other Faustian negotiation, is actually this.  You grant them access to all the activity occurring on your website, permission to track your readers (without them knowing, unless they’re tech-literate), and in return, they give you a glimpse of what they collect.

We tend to think, with most ‘services’ that corporations offer, that we are the agent and they are the servant.  But you know that’s not true, any more than it is in many witch negotiations. “Commanding” a corporation is as self-deceptive as ‘commanding’ a god or spirit–you’re flesh and blood, they are not. They’re big, you’re tiny (no matter how cool people think you are).

And besides, the looking-glass they offer you is distorted.  An algorithm can’t tell you if what you wrote had meaning to people.  5000 ‘hits’ on an essay doesn’t translate into transformation, any more than 100 views means your writing’s a piece of shit. That cloudy mirror isn’t gonna tell you what you actually want to know.

So hey–stop selling your readers.  You can’t possibly think that the browsing activity of your readers is more important than their privacy or what you actually wrote, because you would have gone into marketing, instead.

And if you think I’m wrong, that’s fine, too.  But tell your readers you’re using it, and why, otherwise you’re being deceptive.  They deserve to know you’re selling their activity in return for a glimpse at that data, too.

Be well, and write well.

–Rhyd Wildermuth


21 thoughts on “Selling Your Readers

  1. I’ve never done anything like that…

    I do, however, occasionally look at WordPress’ built-in analytics, and find funny or strange things in them, e.g. search term popularity. The most visited page on my site, likely by one-time visitor college students doing research (I’m guessing) is an entry I wrote on my own views about what the difference is between theology and philosophy. After that, it’s the post on St. Patrick’s day and hero cultus to Cú Chulainn from several years back.

    Wacky, innit? 😉

    1. Aye, those are funny. I get a LOT of searches for “Gay Satyr Sex.” 🙂
      Google stopped providing those search terms to non-analytics users about a year ago, by the way. Supposedly for ‘privacy,’ but actually because they realized they could sell search histories to the highest bidders….

      1. Now I’m curious to see how often “gay satyr sex” actually comes up in a search! 😉 Yours is the only place I can think of where I’ve seen it thus far, but I’m not that well-traveled internet-wise.

  2. People wonder why I don’t do FB. They are rather blatant–pretty much have been from the start–about the fact that they sell info to data miners. Between that, their never-ending gerrymandering of their so-called privacy policies, and what I *seem to remember and could be in error about* about never closing out your account or deleting your info, I have no trust of them. I gave up Twitter after realizing that four hours a day was too much–went cold turkey.

    I really do dislike–I laud you for choosing not to use those services–having my data used without my knowledge and consent for someone else’s profit. Yet another aspect of capitalism to detest.

    1. I have been trying to get off of Facebook for quite some time. Like money, it’s completely possible to get by without it, but it’s a hell of a lot easier when others are also doing the same so you can interact with them.

      And yeah, they have your info forever.

      1. Actually, I was going to ask you about that. FB is really one of the more egregious entities out there when it comes to tracking, data-mining, etc. I do realize that “everyone” is on FB and therefore people feel like they have to be too, but OTOH, the only way that will stop is if individuals decide to leave (or not sign up in the first place) and encourage others to do the same, even if it’s not easy at first. And, I truly feel that someone is not your friend if they can’t be bothered to communicate with you in any other way (which we all managed to do just fine before FB anyway, and some of us still do – email, phone, etc.). I admit to getting a little worried about the future of our culture when even radicals seem unable to disengage from the FB monster. I mean, money has been around for centuries, that’s a hard one to reject, but FB has only been around for, what, a decade? We’re old enough to remember life before it.

        You might want to take the time to read this: It’s a chilling run-down of some of their worst practices. If I hadn’t been committed to a life without FB before, I would be after reading this.

      2. I don’t think we have to give up money to give up capitalism. Of course, I also don’t know if giving up capitalism would stop the abuse of money, or if giving up money would stop the abuse of people.

        Either way, count me as currently stuck with Facebook for professional reasons.

      3. Yeah, sigh. Like the Wild Hunt message board.
        We came up with a communication solution for G&R that didn’t involve using FB–we’ve an internal blog for discussions.
        But of course, most readers of G&R are finding out about new posts from FB, which…gah. They have such a stranglehold over mediation right now…

      4. Fully agreed, Dver–as someone who never has been, nor will be, on BaceFook, I really don’t get the peer pressure to sign up for it. I think ultimately, as sadly so many things do in our modern lives, it comes down to laziness: it’s just easier to have “one-stop shopping” for contacting people, where social interactions can be reduced to “likes” on posts and comments that took less than a second to perform.

        I don’t care how many gender identities Fuckerburg creates/allows on the site now, I’m not joining.

        And anyone who won’t contact me because I’m not on BaceFook? I probably don’t really want to be in contact with them anyway.

        I’ve heard so many pagans and polytheists describe it as a “necessary evil.” Anything “evil” is never necessary, in my opinion. It would be nice if they started admitting that they enjoy or prefer it, it’s a crutch, or that it is an efficiency solution because they’re lazy, which is all probably more true than it is a “necessary evil.”

        But, this is one of my rant subjects, so you should probably ignore me. 😉

      5. Dver, right! Peter Grey also wrote a rather powerful piece on Facebook and other ways we’re being shaped into willing donors of our identity to corporations.

        I will be leaving Facebook at some point; I dislike that I haven’t done so yet.

  3. I can’t remember if I ever set up google analytics on my blog or professional website. I learnt a long time ago that the info is bogus and don’t bother with it. Before wordpress changed it’s statistic page into an incoherent mess, most of my blog hits were from gay porn websites and more disturbingly my most searched terms were related to child porn :/ (it was because of an article I wrote in 2010 about an artist that was accused of making child porn.) The internet is pretty gross.

    1. I get ‘gang rape’ and ‘rape in boots’ often. I don’t really want to know that much about people’s search habits, y’know? And aye, WP changing the stats page actually helped break me of the horrible habit of looking to see how many hits I was getting. The thing is, as you say, ‘an incoherent mess,’ and I’m actually glad of it. 🙂

      1. Yeah me too, I don’t take much heed to my stats anymore. This subject is making wonder how much governments profit from metadata retention and surveillance. Of course, no corporation would want to admit to buying that info, but I reckon it’d would be worth a bit. But nevermind… it’s for our ‘protection’ if the government makes some cash along the way that’s purely coincidental. Yeah?

  4. So, now that I’ve been disabused of this notion that analytics are helping me, can I just quit them? Or do they have their hooks into my website forever?

    1. Which service were you using? If it’s Google Analytics, you should be able to delete the script and have done with it. The WordPress stats are hard-coded, but fortunately un-intrusive and don’t track individual IP’s.

      1. Google analytics definitely, but I think Bing (or is it Ping?) as well. Unfortunately, because I’m not super techie, I will get up to speed on the mechanics of my website, then forget it all until the next time I decide to mess around with the back office of my website. I don’t even know where the script is located. *sigh* You’d think since I live in silicon valley, some of this stuff would rub off on me, like osmosis or something.

  5. I was considering some sort of service that might help attract a few readers. That kind of service would probably include the analytics. After reading your post and the comments, I definitely won’t do it.

    (I get about four hits a month, always from your blog. So thank you!)

    1. More people should read you. 🙂

      [And actually, you probably get more views than blogspot lets on–Google owns them and constricts some of that stuff in order to get you to use their services. And your format (multiple blogs viewable on one page) means that people can read multiple things but blogger/blogspot only tells you about the one person.]

      Also, WordPress makes it easier for others to find stuff they want to read because of it’s ‘reader’ function that google got rid of. That might be a simple way of becoming more visible without using third-party stuff. You can even migrate your old blog over to a wordpress site pretty seemlessly–email me if you ever want to do that and want someone to walk you through the process!

  6. I’ve never used google analytics, although I am very curious about the analytics provided by wordpress and why certain posts get more hits and comments then others… sometimes fits with the quality and sometimes not… I never get glamorous search terms like ‘gay satyr sex’ – it’s usually boggarts!…

    FB – yes, I use it. And I am aware of the bad ethics and coal burning power stations. I don’t view it as a ‘necessary’ evil. I make a conscious choice to use it because I have found it to be the best method of advertising community events, my own work and works of others. It is the best way I know of reaching a new audience. Blogging alone seems to stay trapped in its own bubble. FB provides access to sharing with lots of different groups and readers who, if your events and / or works and works of others are good, will also share. You can’t change the world from within a bubble. So until a better method of getting work out there appears, I will be using FB.

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