The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke
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Is Everyone for Sale?

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This blog entry is something that has been building inside me for several years now and will be equal parts rant and cautionary tale. This site has always been a hobby for me, ad free, and not a source of income for me or anyone else. I never plan for it to be otherwise. I will be describing the sad state of affairs these days, where nothing is free and everything needs to be “monetized”. The other part of this is some of the sleazy techniques people are using today to promote their products. Now more than ever, you really can’t trust everything you read and you need to evaluate the motives of the writer. I will talk about the two items that got me going: “Monetizing” your website and slanted reviews. I am going to avoid mentioning names, though some of these folks really deserve to be exposed.

BACKGROUND - Trigger Number 1:
So what exactly am I going on about? Let me begin at the end. Two weeks ago I was at my Big Green Egg dealer’s Eggfest. I was talking to some people who were either new Egg users or potential Egg buyers. Based on what we were talking about, I (or one of the dealer’s employees) referred them to this site. I had written various blog entries on the topic they had questions about. I kept sensing this reluctance where the people were unsure of my motives. I kept feeling obligated to say it was a hobbyist site, that I promise I am not trying to sell them anything or make money somehow from their visiting the site. Sadly I realized that these folks were correct for thinking this way. Very little is truly free these days and everyone has an angle. Here is my angle: I got lots of help from various websites when I was starting out and was learning various aspects of this hobby. This site where I share what I have learned as my way of paying back for the help I received along the way. My other motivation is it gives me a place to share the food photos I take and helps give me an excuse to spend some time playing at my photography hobby.

Monetizing Your Website - Version 1:
I am constantly getting offers to help “monetize” this web site and vastly increase the numbers of hits on it. I would write off many of these as the web equivalent of the annoying unsolicited sales phone calls. But these aren’t just robo emails. These folks mention things from the site that they like, so someone has at least spent a little time visiting this particular site. They seem to think that blowing a little smoke up my a** will get them in the front door. Many of them are quite persistent. I used to simply not respond, but many of them keep inquiring. The concept of a free site where I don't want to make money off it seems to be foreign to them. It has taken several back and forth emails for them to realize no means no, and stop contacting me means don’t write to me.

Monetizing Your Website - Version 2:
I have also been contacted by several people who are marketing various BBQ accessories. They want me to write some reviews of their products as a “service to my readers”, who will no doubt be interested in these products and be grateful I brought them to their attention. Please. They want me to help them sell their products and could care less whether the stuff is actually any good. Some of these folks actually mention placing some “discrete” ads on the site for their products. The ones suggesting the ads also often offer a monetary incentive: I will get a small cut of any sale made by people following the links from my site to their site. How is this for unbiased coverage?

Monetizing MY Website - Version 3:
You may have noticed the subtle difference in the title here. This was an example where someone wasn’t trying to “help me monetize” my site. These folks were trying to make money off of my site. I got this glowing email from someone who had obviously spent some time visiting this site. He represented a new start up being funded by two of the original co-founders of a internet site we all know. They had recently sold the service (for a figure in the billions). This new service would be a portal with various areas of interest. I was invited to be a beta content creator for the BBQ area this “exciting new venture” and I would be getting a sneak preview. The email was intended to blow smoke up my a** and make me feel privileged to be one of the lucky few. Pardon me if I was not impressed. I know my place in the world. I am a Backyard BBQer who can turn out some decent food and can write about it a bit. But why would they want me instead of a real player in the BBQ world. Because unlike a real BBQ expert, I might be dumb enough to create content for free for a new venture for a couple of newly minted billionaires. Nowhere did it mention my getting paid for doing this or any benefits other than feeling good about myself because they contacted me. Pardon me for being underwhelmed. Not that I am in this for the money, but why should I waste time creating content for a couple of billionaires to make even more money? If I am going to work for free I will do it for my own site, thank you very much. Evidently many other folks shared my feelings, because I don’t really think this service ever got much beyond Beta.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Before I rant a bit about people trying to get you to say nice things about their product by giving you free samples, let me describe when I have written about things that were sent to me for free. Normally I choose what I want to write about, and it is something I have bought and paid for myself. In the last 6 months there have been three exceptions. You can decide for yourself what to take away from my blogs reviewing these products:


CyberCook: This is software for use on iOS devices in conjunction with the CyberQWiFi pit controller. I bought the iPad version and contacted the developer with several questions. He was very responsive and soon we were exchanging emails about how to improve the product and make it simpler to use. I spent quite a bit of time offering suggestions and the developer offered me a free version of the iPhone version and I eventually became a beta tester. This was a $6.99 supplemental piece of software for a product I was already using and loved. So you decide whether this was enough to skew my judgment.


Ranch-T charcoal: I was given the opportunity to beta test this charcoal and was given free bags during this period. Now that I am back to paying for my charcoal with my own money, it is what I am using exclusively. To me that speaks for itself.


Stump Chunks: I was given (for free) a small bag of this fire starting product to try out. I have yet to use and review it, but I will let you decide if a free $4.99 has biased me. If I like it, I plan to say so and will keep using it going forward. If it doesn’t work for my needs, I will say that too.



BACKGROUND - Trigger Number 2:
The second trigger happened two days ago. I was contact by a PR firm for an author who had a new grilling book just coming out. The person said she was replacing someone else and her records showed I had received a review copy of the cookbook. She was writing to inquire when I was going to do the review for this new book. She mentioned really liking the positive blog entry I wrote about Eric Mitchell’s Smoke It LIKE A PRO. She also wanted to know if I would be doing some photo entries for items in their cookbook, like I had for Smoke It LIKE A PRO. This annoyed me immensely., It seemed like they figured for a free copy of a $9.99 cookbook I would be willing to help them publicize their book under the guise of an unbiased review and some photo entries.

I had actually looked at this book a few weeks earlier. The cooking method was not appropriate for the Big Green Egg. Plus I already had some other cookbooks with good recipes for this food type. This meant I had zero plans to buy it. I was certainly not going to review a book I had no intention of using. I wrote back telling the publicist that I never was contacted, never received a copy of the book and any cookbooks I reviewed would be ones I paid for and actually had a use for. She apologized and said they had made a mistake and confused me with someone else. That was total BS IMHO. They mentioned things about the site, meaning they knew who I was. I think the plan was hopefully I would write back and say that I had not received the book. Then they would ask me if I wanted one and offer to “work” with me. This last episode was the trigger for my writing this blog entry.

CONCLUSION:
As you can see the current climate seems to be that everyone is for sale and “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” is the rule. I am sure there are many other folks who are not for sale. But sadly, others are more than happy to trade a good review for a freebie. The bottom line is a reader should go in with their eyes open when reading a review. Look at the potential motives of the reviewer, try to see if they bought and paid for the product and actually use it. So in a way, sad though it is, I can’t blame the folks I met two weeks ago who seemed to question my motives for directing them towards my site. I was just trying to share my knowledge and help them out-no more, no less. My intentions are that this site will always be a hobbyist site. There will not be ads, I am not trying to sell any goods or services and I will not share the names of anyone who contacts me via the contact form.

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