Monday, December 10, 2018

Blog Thoughts, Year Four

Invincible Summer is almost four years old! As always, I remain deeply grateful to everyone for being here, for everyone who reads along, and for everyone who chimes in to discussions with me. I'm still absolutely thrilled by, pleasantly surprised by, and always thankful for everyone who's here. Looking back at my previous "blogiversary" posts (please follow these links to my first yearsecond year, and third year posts), one thing that's been constant all these years is my effusive appreciation for everyone who reads along. Writing here is a delight, and everyone I've interacted with through this blog has always been wonderful. Even when someone might not agree with me about everything (and that's perfectly okay! I have grouchier than average views about tons of things), everyone has always engaged with my ideas respectfully, and in good faith, which is all I can ask for. It's one of the main things I hoped for when I started this blog in December of 2014, in a fit of nostalgia for what I remembered about 2008-era blogging.

Deep down, part of me is still that college student who, sometime around 2008, first realized that there were entire communities of blogs out there talking about fashion* in a far more accessible-to-me way than magazines or traditional media, and who found that absolutely magical and inspiring. Looking back, I was one of those young women for whom The Devil Wears Prada first ignited a powerful interest in fashion, except that it was also clear to me, even back then, that the film and the fashion industry it depicted also weren't for people like me. They clearly all occupied a fanciful, expensive, and glamorous world completely removed from my own, one that I would likely never be able to access. Accordingly, fashion magazines couldn't teach me anything about how to translate "fashion" to my more mundane, college student life.

Separately, like so many people in that awkward, gawky stage between being a teenager and a young adult, I also felt so often like I was an ugly duckling with no idea how to ever become that fully-fledged professional adult I hoped to be someday. The idea that the right outfit and some effort with hair and makeup could help facilitate that transformation, to help "fake it 'til you make it", was a big deal to me. It meant that I might not always need to feel so out of place, it might actually be within my power to someday, after having earned the right to do so, fit in as a working adult who could sometimes buy and wear some nice and beautiful things, and that I wouldn't be this gawky, hyper-awkward teen forever.

But I was hopelessly lost when it came to how I could possibly begin that process and figure it all out. Blogs were the first thing to really start bridging that gap. There I was, this young woman who could only ever shop at H&M (which felt expensive for me back then, by the way, I could only shop there sparingly!), Forever 21, Ross, and Target, and who had no idea how to put together outfits that looked anything like what I aspired to. But look(!), I could learn from all these other young women around my age and who also had modest budgets (generally, they were all students or very new entry-level professionals) who were out there putting together these really cool outfits, often with a lot of thrifting and secondhand shopping. Reading fashion blogs back then, particularly in the daily outfit genre, was such an important formative experience for me, and I'll always look back on my memory of fashion blogs from back then with considerable affection.

Even though that era of blogging is, I think, almost universally seen as being long gone, I'm still so excited and happy to feel like I can still recapture some of that old spark of what I loved about 2008-ish blogging here, and by reading the blogs I link to in my sidebar. I feel so lucky to be able to engage and connect with the ideas of so many other smart, interesting people through their blogs and my own. No matter how bad or weird or scary the internet or social media can get sometimes, I will always appreciate and value the good things that it's brought to me. 

Changing Views

While preparing this post, it was interesting for me to look all the way back at my first year "blogiversary" post to see how my thoughts on blogging have changed over the years, if at all. I'm still just as fond of blogger outfit photos showcasing items I'm in the market for as I used to be, though my commitment to taking such photos of myself has waxed and waned wildly over time. (I remain quite embarrassed by my weak photography skills, but also sort of continue to be without the will to improve.) I still feel like the "aspiring minimalist"-ish focus I first started with has slightly taken a backseat, this time to personal finance and career-related topics, which I write about far more freely now than I did back then. 

One sizable change is that I'm now far less grouchy than I used to be about the fact that fashion blogs and other types of social media out there can be monetized, sometimes to extremely lucrative effect. Although I haven't gained much new practical knowledge about photography, Instagram engagement stats, the business of social media, or anything like that for myself, I'm now much more appreciative about how much work those things are than I was before. It makes me feel very silly, actually, that I didn't realize this sooner. 

My true turning point on this issue, random as it is, may have been seeing a brief discussion on Corporette about Gal Meets Glam's collection at Nordstrom. Someone was being snide about why Nordstrom would carry it, and another commenter very reasonably pointed out that, hey, Julia Engel has more than a million Instagram followers. Regardless of whether one likes social media, and regardless of whether one likes her style, that represents real economic power. Plus, if a mattress review website can make as much as $2 million/year, which I think is more than double what some of the bigger players in fashion blogging make (albeit based on anecdotes that are a few years old), or if people from more genres than I am even capable of imagining (including in my wildest nightmares, recall the DaddyofFive and Logan Paul controversies) are raking in several times that on Youtube, then, well, it just doesn't make much sense for me to get grouchy about monetization and fashion/lifestyle blogs. As long as people are transparent and clear in their disclosures of what posts are sponsored and how affiliate links work, and as long as people generally try to make it so that people can "opt out" of the links and find the items separately on their own (all things I try to do here), it's all good in my book.

Please follow the link below for my annual blog income report and a "footnote" to this post. Thank you again for your support of Invincible Summer throughout the year!

Affiliate Link and Other Income Report

Before jumping in to these details, a quick note about taxes. As far as I can tell by putting the numbers into Turbotax, I pay my marginal tax rate of ~48% on my blog-related income, which I previously reported on a Schedule C-EZ, as I didn't make enough in one year from any source to receive any 1099s. That might change this year, but I'm not sure. Please note that this is not to be taken as legal advice about the tax implications of blog-related income. 

Shopstyle Collective: I've now been using Shopstyle affiliate links for a little more than three years. At present, I'm still on the Pay Per Click ("PPC") model, which pays a flat rate of a few cents per click. My earnings rate fluctuated a few times over the years, as often as once per quarter, but seems to fluctuate far less often now. My rate has remained at approximately $0.071/click for most of the last year. In a recent change, Shopstyle now sends payments out each month after one's balance reaches the minimum payout threshold of $25 (it used to be $100). At some point soon (they've promised 90 days' notice), they will switch all users to a Cost per Acquisition ("CPA") model, where people get commissions only for actual sales resulting from the use of their links. When that happens, I don't plan on changing anything about how I write about products here (which, based on Shopstyle's tracking, rarely generates actual sales), and so I expect my earnings to drop under the CPA model. ($106.03 cashed out in 2016, $214.38 cashed out in 2017, $468.41 cashed out in 2018, ~$10 pending.)  

Amazon Affiliate: I'll be honest, much like last year, I still don't fully understand how Amazon's affiliate program works. There's no rhyme or reason to my earnings rate, and they don't give much data. I believe they give a percentage commission on purchases made through one's affiliate links. Their minimum payment threshold is $10, and they also send payments automatically at a fixed time after the threshold is reached, usually within the following two months. ($24.49 cashed out in 2017, $27.51 cashed out in 2018, ~$4 pending.) 

Google Adsense: I continue to find Adsense's dynamic algorithms and calculation methods impossible to decipher, and I've also continued to see income levels vary dramatically from day to day and week to week. The minimum payment threshold here is $100, and, on average, it looks like it will still take me about 15 months to reach that threshold. ($105.23 cashed out in 2018, ~$70 pending.) 

Share-A-Sale: I use Share-A-Sale for one retailer who isn't available on Shopstyle, MM. LaFleur. Share-A-Sale pays commissions on sales resulting from their links, with rates that appear to vary based on the deal each retailer made with Share-A-Sale. MM. LaFleur briefly gave a generous $40 bonus for referral of new customers. They have a minimum payment threshold of $50, which I suspect I might never reach. ($47.95 pending.) 

Referral Credit, Free Product, etc: I was a longtime participant in Grana's referral link program, which gives first-time customers 10% off their first order and $20 store credit to the referrer. Grana also sent me three free items back in 2016, which I reviewed here and here. I'm still very fond of many Grana items. In particular, their silk ankle pants and the older version of their silk slip dress remain some of my all-time favorite items, but these days I find myself a lot less likely to shop there because they seem to have moved away from their original "basic, easy-to-style items in a lot of colors" approach, and I generally don't like their newer designs as much. ($140 credit used in 2016, $140 credit used in 2017, $0 credit used in 2018, $100 credit currently pending.) 

*My interest in "fashion: back then was, admittedly, always more commercial and "hot new trend"-driven. I was attracted to designer and luxury-to-me items for the mere reason that they were popular and too expensive to be accessible. For college-aged Xin, things such as a pair of Uggs or a large Longchamp Le Pliage tote already seemed unreachable, but I wanted them desperately (partially so that I could feel like I fit in better at school). A Marc by Marc Jacobs bag back then would have been a step even further, already an unthinkably expensive and unattainable luxury, much less the Miu Miu Coffer that was my dream bag at the time (it has not aged well at all). 

I'm glad I didn't get to buy most of what I wanted back then because, well, I definitely hadn't earned it yet (I worked a few jobs in college, mostly during the summers, but was otherwise reliant on spending money from my mom); I had terrible taste; I had no idea what actually suited me or what I would actually find practical and wear often; and it would all have been a colossal waste. I wouldn't say that I had any sense of what personal style as a concept even was until 2013 or so, when I started reading some of the blogs that inspired me to start writing here. So I always have a lot of admiration for other young women who, even as teens or very young adults, had a strong sense of personal style and were really able to identify the aesthetics they liked and shop carefully with that in mind.  I myself just got swept up in what was trendy, and that results in a lot of money wasted!

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