Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Blog Thoughts, Year Six

via Unsplash

In two weeks, it'll officially be Invincible Summer's six year blog anniversary! And gosh, what a wild ride this year has been, albeit for reasons completely unrelated to keeping this blog. Back in May, when I wrote my belated "blogiversary" post for 2019, I was still cautiously optimistic that NYC might be able to return to mostly normal life with face masks and other precautions within a few more months. Unfortunately, that hope did not pan out long-term, as things are trending badly again here. The 2020 US presidential election did come out the way I wanted - thank goodness for that! - denying Trump a second term, but his team seems determined to do all they can to try and burn down our democratic system on their way out the door.

As always, I remain deeply grateful to all of you for reading here. It's been difficult to know what to say this year, especially because my normal wheelhouse as a writer is shopping; overthinking everything to do with my purchases and wardrobe; and my own personal finance management, all very navel-gazing topics that simply aren't important in light of everything that's happened in 2020. But I'm happy you're here, and I hope I've also been able to offer you something with my writing here at Invincible Summer.

There's been one big, important change when it comes to my blog income disclosures: In November, I opted in to the  Shopstyle Cost per Acquisition ("CPA") model, so I'm no longer getting a flat rate of a few cents per click on my Shopstyle affiliate links. Instead, I will earn a commission, at a percentage negotiated between the  retailer and Shopstyle, from actual sales resulting from use of my links, at no extra cost to you as the shopper. 

When Shopstyle first introduced CPA sometime in 2018, they originally said they'd force all users to switch by sometime in 2019, although that never ended up happening. But it seemed clear to me Shopstyle would eventually phase out their original Pay Per Click ("PPC") model; they'd stopped recalculating my commission rate every quarter like they used to - I spent roughly a year at $0.06/click before my rate was dropped to $0.05/click this June - and their new announcements and tools all seemed focused on CPA. So I figured it was time to lean in voluntarily to the change, rather than to be quietly transitioned with minimal notice at some unknown time in the future.   

I've felt nervous about this switch. I'd liked earning a flat rate on every click regardless of whether anyone ever made a purchase, it felt... neater, I guess. When my compensation is tied directly to someone's purchases, I feel more responsibility for how those purchases turn out. It's important to me that I don't let the switch to CPA change how I write about products, I'll continue to be completely honest about how I feel about products I've personally tried. I'm also personally committed to not letting CPA change how often I mention products I haven't tried, but that have caught my eye or interest. 

I think I'm helped in my efforts to not let the CPA model affect how I write by how small this blog is, and how few sales are historically made through my blog. From the limited Shopstyle tracking data available to me when I was on PPC, there's a lot of randomness to how many sales occur - or not - in a particular month, and I think it's averaged out over the years to something a little less than two sales a month. (Keeping in mind how affiliate link tracking cookies work: The most recent blogger or other influencer whose links for a specific retailer a shopper clicked will get the "credit" for resulting sales, if any. Tracking may remain active for a period of either a few days or weeks, depending on the affiliate link platform or retailer. My understanding is that cash back program cookies like from Ebates/Rakuten or Jewel may also "cancel out" affiliate link cookies, and I highly encourage everyone to use cash back programs to their own benefit when that's an option.) Furthermore, it appears that the vast majority of my sales are L.L. Bean boot or J.Crew sweater blazer-related, rather than anything resulting from newer posts. 

But because CPA commissions are based on a percentage of sales rather than a flat few cents per click, I think my total Shopstyle compensation will likely increase - at least slightly - even with all that randomness to whether and when sales are made through my blog. Before the pandemic, I would have been confident that my compensation would increase by a significant margin over the ~$15/month PPC commissions I used to earn, but because of the pandemic I believe many retailers have cut commission rates. (My PPC earnings also decreased to ~$5 to $7/month for a time, mostly because Ann Taylor and J.Crew briefly left Shopstyle, probably due to their bankruptcy restructurings.) So now I don't feel like I can make a reliable educated guess.  

Before jumping in to specific 2020 numbers, a quick note about taxes. As far as I can tell when entering the relevant numbers into Turbotax each year, I pay my marginal tax rate of ~40%+ on my blog-related income, which I continue to report on a Schedule C-EZ. To date, I still have not made enough from this blog in one year from any single source to receive any 1099s for blog-related income. (This is not to be taken as legal advice about the tax implications of blog-related income.)

Please follow the link below for a detailed 2020 blog income report. Thank you again for your support of Invincible Summer all this time!

Shopstyle Collective: I've now been using Shopstyle for a little over five years. As discussed above, last month I voluntarily switched from the PPC model, which paid a flat rate of a few cents per click, to the CPA model, where people earn commissions only for actual sales resulting from the use of their links. Although Shopstyle had not forced everyone on to the CPA model like they originally said, it still seemed clear they would no longer support PPC at some point. So when my PPC commission rate dropped to $0.05/click in June, I felt it was time to lean in to the change soon. Shopstyle continues to send out payments each month after my balance reaches the minimum payout threshold of $25. It's too early yet to comment on any trends I've observed with using CPA, as I think earnings don't become "final" until at least a month - and maybe as long as 90 days - after a sale, to factor in time for returns. ($106.03 cashed out in 2016; $214.38 cashed out in 2017; $468.41 cashed out in 2018; $300.06 cashed out in 2019; $95.85 cashed out in 2020, $24.41 in PPC earnings pending.) 

Amazon Associates: I believe Amazon gives a percentage commission on all 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. I've largely switched to using Shopstyle for Amazon affiliate links, so I'm not sure I'll ever reach the Amazon payout threshold again. ($24.49 cashed out in 2017; $27.51 cashed out in 2018; $14.35 cashed out in 2019; $12.70 cashed out in 2020; $2.14 pending.) 

Google Adsense: Much like in past years, I continue to find Adsense's dynamic calculation methods impossible to decipher, and I've also continued to see income levels vary dramatically from day to day and week to week. Starting in late 2019, I started getting constant error messages about problems with my "ads.txt" file resulting in "severe impact" to my revenue. But after following their instructions to fix the issue, I continued to get the same error message. Oh well. Strictly speaking, I should probably just remove Google ads from this blog because I'm probably not getting my "money's worth" out of placing their ads here anymore. Except that I also have ~$72 in pending earnings, which will be forfeit if I don't reach the minimum payment threshold of $100. Presently, I make so little each month it could take another year to reach that target... Unless something changes, I'm inclined to phase out Google ads afterwards. Strangely, my Adsense earnings in the past two months have gotten close to original pre-"ads.txt" file problem levels. ($105.23 cashed out in 2018; $103.47 cashed out in 2019; $0 cashed out in 2020; ~$72 pending.)  

Share-A-Sale: Up until 2019, when MM. LaFleur closed their Share-a-Sale affiliate program, I used Share-a-Sale for MM. LaFleur. Share-A-Sale paid commissions on sales from their links, with rates that appeared to vary based on their deal with each retailer. MM. LaFleur briefly gave a generous $40 bonus for referral of new customers back in 2018. Share-a-Sale had a minimum payment threshold of $50, which I was surprised to reach in 2019 before the MM. LaFleur affiliate program closed. ($73.90 cashed out in 2019; $0 pending.) 

Referral Credit, Free Product, etc: Long ago, I was a participant in Grana's referral link program, which gave 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. I'm still fond of many Grana items, but they moved away from their original "basic, easy-to-style items in a lot of colors" approach long ago. Also, I think the company ran into financial trouble, and was known to break contracts with some of the bloggers and Instagram users they hired for sponsored posts. ($140 credit used in 2016, $140 credit used in 2017, $0 credit used since 2018, $100 credit pending.) I occasionally post other referral program links on this blog, particularly for the Ebates/Rakuten and Jewel cash back programs, but have never gotten any referral credit from those links. 

Thank you so much for reading here at Invincible Summer this year and for your support! Although it's often been hard to write and know what to say in 2020, I'm still greatly enjoying this hobby, and I'll still be keeping at it whenever I have time to write. 

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