October 28, 2010

From Gerald R. Lucas

The New “Store”

Yesterday, with a bad case of insomnia, I was playing around with my Amazon Affiliates account. And while I’m sure some part of my brain was aware of this, I discovered that I could make my own store, and I did so on LitMUSE. I think this is a cool idea for a couple of reasons: (1) it has the potential to make some revenue to support my web site habits, and (2) it can serve as a place where I can list required text books for my classes, but—more importantly—I can list books that I recommend on various subjects. It might surprise you, but I often get asked “what’s your favorite novel?”—“what science fiction book should I read next?”—“what books did you use to teach such-and-such?” So having my own store, I can just point them in that direction.

Cool, and I might even make a buck.

This is all well and good, but what about the obvious ethical implications of putting what really amounts to advertising on my teaching web site? I’ve been an Amazon Affiliate for some time—as well as having a Google AdSense account. I put ads on my web sites in various places (just glance to the right on this page), never really thinking that they would earn any money. And I’ve been right. I think to this day—after some years—I have a total of $29.62 in my AdSense account, and I’ve earned about as much from Amazon. The former is essentially unreachable until it reaches $50, so in 2015, Google might be buying me a bottle of Makers Mark.

I also have an affiliate account through my ISP. They actually pay pretty well. For each new account they get through me, I get $80. I’m not sure how they can even do that, since that’s about what they charge a year for web hosting. When I taught Writing for Digital Media a couple of years ago, I advertised for my ISP in various posts pertaining to the class, like this one. Nowhere did I require them to use my ISP, but I might have remarked that since I am familiar with how they work, and my experiences with them have all been good, that they could do worse choosing another hosting company. Many choose another company, but a few went with Midphase. The revenues I made just off that class paid for my year’s domain name renewal and hosting services.

So now I have a store on LitMUSE. Is that wrong? I could go on about the relatively poor compensation that English Professors make, that my “profits” are pretty pathetic in the scheme of things, that Amazon is cheaper and more convenient than the college bookstore, that students don’t have to click on the ads or buy their books through my store, etc. However, that does not mitigate the skunky odor of capitalism from wafting into my educational spaces.

In a world where everything is increasingly an advertisement, am I being naive in thinking that the system hasn’t been in the classroom for years now? Just look at the average price of college textbooks these days. Those “creative ways” that publishers use to make more money are likely not going away anytime soon. In fact, one walk around campus will prove that many colleges provide businesses with prime advertising spaces, not to mention that belovèd marketing to campus email systems—and I’m not even talking about penis-enlargement spam.

The bulletin boards are even in the classroom. I found myself lecturing in front of one the other day. Most of the flyers are for campus organizations and activities, but many are also for off-campus businesses, yard sales, guitar lessons, and spawn-care services. That’s in the classroom. I’m talking about a web site. My web site, funded by me, solely.

Still, if I were using paper syllabi, would I ever put an ad on it? Are required texts themselves an ad?

While you’re thinking about answers, you might as well do some shopping at my new store. Just click the advertisement below. Come again and have a nice day.