Why Mark Thoma doesn’t accept advertising

July 7, 2009

David Warsh has a good profile of Mark Thoma, who doesn’t get paid for blogging:

“I lose money on the blog,’ says Thoma. “The state pays me to do this, to be an economist. It would be wrong to take money for it. And if you take advertising, it just feels as though you’re captured.”

I don’t think it’s wrong to take money from outside sources for being an economist, just because the state pays you to be an economist. Is Mark implying that Tyler Cowen is wrong to run ads on his blog? That Mankiw is wrong to make millions of dollars writing textbooks?

What Warsh and Thoma don’t mention here is the legal reason that Thoma doesn’t run ads. Thoma tends to quote other people’s writings at substantial length, often with little or none of his own commentary attached. The vast majority of people picked up by Thoma are very happy about it, but inevitably there are going to be a few who get antsy about copyright. And if Thoma doesn’t make any money from his blog, it becomes virtually impossible for anybody to claim damages.

Some bloggers are much more cavalier when it comes to fair use than others; Thoma and Yves Smith spring to mind as bloggers who tend to quote at great length. But Smith’s blog has lots of ads on it, which means that she’s much more likely to find herself the recipient of takedown notices, C&Ds, and other nastygrams. Thoma, I think, has a much easier life, with much less tail risk, by making the decision to accept no advertising at all. And as an added benefit he has one less thing to worry about on the blog.


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