The Hobbyist

May 19, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

As many of my regular readers are aware, I have been analyzing the revenue potential of this site during the last year, attempting to see whether I can make enough via a bigger, better ReelViews to pay the bills. My conclusion can be summed up in five words: "Don't quit your day job." Or, to put it another way, ReelViews is a great way to earn a little extra money, but it doesn't generate enough to make me financially independent. In the final analysis, I have to admit that it's no more than a revenue generating hobby.

That's not how it looked in January and February, but the nosedive started in March and turned into a free-fall in April. Without revealing actual numbers (something that would make the advertising agencies I work with unhappy), I can state that my daily earnings from advertisements today are one-third of what they were on Groundhog Day. The downturn can be attributed to a number of things including how the decline in the economy has impacted the Internet advertising market. There's also a direct correlation between click-throughs on the ads and how much I earn. Early in the year, I would get (on average) between 80 and 100 clicks per day. That's a modest number but it generated cause for optimism. Yesterday, I got 38 clicks. That's across all reviews/reelthoughts/etc. on the day I posted the Indiana Jones 4 review. Not good. Ad blindness? Perhaps. Maybe things will improve when I switch to the new site design next week.

So how will this impact ReelViews? In the near-term, not at all. The upgrade will occur on schedule June 1. Although the original impetus for the changes was to make the site more commercial friendly, there are a lot of good reasons for revamping these pages beyond giving the ads a nice home. A steady diet of new movie reviews will continue unabated. ReelThoughts columns will be added on a regular basis (three or four per week). VideoViews will be expanded to become a more vital element of the site. However, some of the planned and proposed add-ons will not now happen.

One of the most frequently requested "new features" is to provide a place for reader feedback. The more time I spend surfing the Net, the less enamored of this I am. In principle, it's a great idea. It encourages expression and dialogue. It permits readers to air contrary opinions in-line and allows me to interact with them in a public forum rather than merely via e-mail. But there's a dark side to this. Nearly every site where reader comments are encouraged runs the risk of debates turning into vitriolic bickering. It's deflating to see how some people (presumably a vocal minority), given the cloak of on-line anonymity, turn vicious. They ignore the rule of never writing something on-line that they wouldn't say to someone's face, and it can get ugly. One solution is to moderate the message board, but that's time-consuming. Asking people to be civil only goes so far and I wouldn't want a section of ReelViews to turn into the venom-saturated feedback features of some popular websites.

I have never had a problem with people criticizing my reviews. While opinions can be neither "right" nor "wrong" in the strictest sense of the word, when they are expressed in a form that attempts to be an informative and entertaining piece of writing, they are as open to analysis and commentary as the works they are assessing. But there's a difference between criticism (explaining why a review is poorly written - and God knows I have written some horrendous reviews over the years) and personal attacks. I don't take umbrage with a statement like "Berardinelli really missed the boat on this one. His review indicates a lack of background and a complete misunderstanding of what the director is trying to accomplish." That's legitimate. I'm a big boy. I can take it. But insults and mudslinging, the vocabulary of many forums, cross a line. So for now, no feedback sections for reviews or ReelThoughts.

I never like ruling anything out, so I'm not closing the door on future growth. Maybe the advertising revenue situation will improve enough that I can once again begin thinking about ReelViews as being more of a second job than a hobby. Perhaps the design of the new site will result in so many clicks on the Google ads that I'll be swimming in money - something that would lead to a rapid expansion of the site in directions unforeseen. For now, however, my outlook is less bullish and my expectations for ReelViews more subdued.