Thursday, December 2, 2021

Blog Thoughts, Year Seven

Just like that, it's almost Invincible Summer's seven year blog anniversary! Much like 2020, this year has really been something, for reasons completely unrelated to keeping this blog. Back when I wrote last year's "blogiversary" post, I had no idea that, a month later, we'd see an attempted coup. Events since then have also been... complicated. 

But I'm thankful everyone aged 12+ in the US was eligible to get a COVID vaccination by June or so, and that vaccine eligibility has since opened up here to children aged 5 to 11 for their first shots and to everyone aged 18+ for their booster shots. I'm also grateful that by now most adults in Taiwan - including my extended family members - have also been able to get a full round of a COVID vaccine. 

As I say every year, I continue to be so grateful to everyone who reads here. Even if blogging is sort of an outdated activity that isn't as popular anymore compared to the use of other, more current social media platforms, I'm still having fun writing this blog and reading other blogs. I'm happy you're here and I also hope that you're also able to find something to enjoy in my writing here at Invincible Summer. Thank you so much for your time and your presence. 

Now that I've been on Shopstyle's Cost per Acquisition ("CPA") model for a little over a year, I feel like it's safe to say my approach to writing about items and shopping hasn't changed for the negative? Or at least, I hope so. I was originally quite nervous because it felt like a big change for my Shopstyle compensation to go from a flat rate Pay Per Click ("PPC") to getting varying percentage rate commissions on actual sales resulting from my links (at no extra cost to the shopper). 

In actual practice I've found that, for a blog as small as mine, there's so much randomness to how many sales occur each month - and at which retailers - that I honestly don't think I'd even know how to reliably drive more sales even if I wanted to. From the limited Shopstyle tracking data available, even on CPA, I still make an average of two sales a month, though there can be a lot of fluctuation both up and down on a month to month basis. For the most part, those sales are not just of the L.L. Bean boots or the J.Crew Sophie and Juliette sweater blazers anymore. Nordstrom now accounts for most sales made through my links, but because of their liberal return policy, the sometimes lofty initial commissions I'm credited with are often adjusted downwards by significant amounts within a few weeks. 

Because of how long CPA commissions take to become finalized after retailers' return windows close, it's actually hard to say for sure whether my average monthly CPA compensation currently reliably exceeds my old pre-pandemic average of ~$15/month in PPC earnings (more like ~$32/month if you just average out my highest earning years in 2018 and 2019). Though my 2021 CPA earnings are definitely beating the ~$5 to $7/month I was getting in 2020, when Ann Taylor and J.Crew PPC earnings were temporarily disabled for months at a time, most likely due to bankruptcy restructuring-related issues. Furthermore, I definitely get fewer page views now than I did in, say, 2018-2019, so it's not really possible to do a one-to-one comparison of CPA versus pre-pandemic PPC earnings. 

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 2021 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 six years. Last year I voluntarily switched from the PPC model, which paid a flat rate of a few cents per click, to the CPA model, where users earn commissions only for actual sales resulting from the use of their links, at no extra cost to the reader. Shopstyle still sends out payments each month after my balance reaches the minimum payout threshold of $25. Earnings don't become "final" until at least a month - and maybe as long as 90 days - after each sale, to factor in time to adjust commissions downward because of 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; $169.12 cashed out in 2021; $26.16 in confirmed CPA earnings pending with an additional $143.17 not yet confirmed and still subject to downward adjustments for returns.) 

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 long since 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; $0 cashed out in 2021; $3.83 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. I still get that error message to this day. My rate of earnings from Google ads has nonetheless improved slightly since 2020, so at the moment I'm open to continuing with Adsense indefinitely. ($105.23 cashed out in 2018; $103.47 cashed out in 2019; $0 cashed out in 2020; $100.38 cashed out in 2021; ~$26 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 links. 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 cashed out in 2020 and 2021; $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 of my 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 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 rarely gotten referral credit from those links. ($5 Jewel referral credit cashed out in 2021.) 

Thank you so much for reading here at Invincible Summer this year and for your support! Although many things about 2021 have been difficult and it's often been hard to write or know what to say, I'm still happy to be in this hobby, and I'll still be keeping at it whenever I have time to write. 

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