Okay, my blog is less than a month old and TravelBloggerBuzz has already called me out the crime of trying to "build my passive income." I am guilty, guilty, guilty. I admit it and throw myself upon the mercy of the court. But I'd do it again.
Why? Because bare links to those sites would not benefit my readers (of whom there are very few). By contrast, referral links could, in theory, provide a very modest benefit to me, the blogger. Is that bad? I don't think so. [ed.: Of course you don't!] The question in the end is where the balance of benefit to me vs. benefit to the reader rests.
If I were to continue this blog with nothing but endless reiterations of "remember to use shopping portals and use my referral links, I'm sure that my pageviews (tens of views per day!) would drop to nothing. But I want to offer something that's worth reading to the public in general, and my friends and colleagues in particular. I'll never hide the fact that a link may benefit me, and I'll never knowingly steer my readers away from a better deal.
On a related note, there's been a bit of controversy at Flyertalk, Milepoint, and the like over bloggers who derive some financial benefit from their blog. Mostly, this seems to come in the form of criticizing bloggers who post signup links for credit cards. Much of the outrage seems to be over bloggers who publish points and miles earning techniques that make use of credit cards and offer referral links to those credit cards.
From my perspective, the question is not whether the bloggers are benefitting financially from the links, but whether they are offering their readership useful information. Gary has also been called out for repeatedly discussing the benefits of various credit cards. But the fact is that, on the whole, he offers a lot of useful information. So what if he occasionally presents the reader with the "opportunity" to sign up for a card in a way that benefits him? After all, he is very good about pointing out better, non-referral offers when they exist.
I say let the market decide. If a blogger wastes too much time touting the same cards over and over just to drive referral income, I, and many others, will stop reading the blog. But the fact is that in the post-mint-dollar-coin world, credit card signups are the single most lucrative technique for earning miles. Ergo, bloggers who give useful information will have to talk about credit cards.