Is “Fake It ‘Til You Make It” The Reason We’re So Screwed?

Faking It Until You Make It Leads To Being ScrewedI remember when Milli Vanilli got busted for lip synching. I was so sad. They made their millions, garnered tremendous fame, and just like that, were humiliated off the stage forever. They probably would have kept selling albums for years if they hadn’t got caught, and Rob Pilatus may have never died from a drug overdose. After that incident, however, everybody started watching singers and music videos with a very close eye. No music fan ever wanted to get duped like that again.

But there are fakers hidden everywhere in the public eye, not just in the music business. It’s peculiar that so many fakers feel no guilt pulling the wool over people’s eyes when livelihoods and finances are at stake. I’m constantly surprised with how much nonsense there is online. I’m not talking about mind-numbing Buzzfeed articles. I’m talking about articles that pop up in search results when you’re looking for useful information on the web. What appears like helpful content written by niche experts is often plagiarized or written in a hurry by a random person with no relevant experience.

WHAT ARE YOU REALLY READING?

The online publishing ecosystem is fascinating. I’ve thought long and hard about making Financial Samurai into a magazine-type site with 10 different staff writers pumping out news and factoids. In order to grow readership, I’d direct my writers to write in as plain vanilla as possible so as to not offend anybody. There’s a reason why vanilla is the most popular flavor in the world.

In my quest to become a Vanilla Online Media Tycoon (VOMIT), I’d sit back and shake my head at all those starving writers pouring heart and soul into their craft. My fellow VOMITs and I would clink our glasses of Macallan ’46 together as we laugh at the poor schmucks who toil for hours over original pieces based on hard-won experience, yet receive no traffic…and therefore, no money.

Of course I’m joking about this evil plan. I would feel too guilty, churning out content about things I know nothing about in a greedy quest to make millions from the internet. That being said, it’s always good to see the other side of the story, so recently I had a nice conversation with a real VOMIT who is just killing it online. He said I could share his thoughts if I kept him anonymous. So read on what follows, if you’re prepared to handle the truth.

USE, MANIPULATE, EARN

Sam, I make $50,000 – $70,000 a month online from my portfolio of sites. I do basically NO writing. All I do is make sure people are doing what they are getting paid to do. That means my system admin is making sure my site is up, my staff writers are pushing out endless generic content, and my editors are making sure there aren’t any obvious spelling or grammar mistakes.

My biggest cost is content. When I first started, I used to hire experienced writers who knew what they were talking about. For example, I hired an ex-Federal Reserve economist with 25 years of experience for $1,000 an article. His writing was super in-depth, had lots of original charts, and great quotes from authority figures besides himself. His articles took about six months of advertising revenue each to cover the cost. Never again.

Nowadays, I hire recent college graduates or kids still in school to write my content for $25 a pop on average. The titles are the same as the expensive academic’s articles, but the content isn’t nearly as detailed. But guess what? Google and my already-established reader base don’t care! I’ve got this one guy who is getting his PhD in Chemistry of all subjects, writing about stocks. He makes around $24,000 a year as a Teacher’s Assistant to undergrads, so he’s jumping up and down when he gets to make $25 for a 500 word article. He once recommended shorting Priceline stock when it was at $550 a share for whatever fluffy reason, I don’t remember. The stock is now at $1,300+ a share.

The average age of my writers is 24. All of them either live with their parents or are living with multiple roommates. If my writers wrote about life as a 20-something year old, that’s one thing. They know very little about stocks, real estate, retirement, insurance, stock options, healthcare and so forth. But they publish article after article about these topics anyway because they are leveraging my platform. How many times have you ever questioned the credibility of the author? Most don’t. People just trust the platform.

My writers are good at researching stuff on the web written by others on the web who are good at pretending to know stuff on the web. I instruct them to avoid such people and only cherry pick people with credibility to gain an edge. Borrowing another person’s credibility is the cheap and easy way to go. Nowadays, every one of my writers’ articles covers its cost in less than six hours.

One of my writers wrote a great post about how to get promoted in the workplace, yet she’s never had a steady job before. She’s a freelance writer, but the post was shared all over social media partly because she is very attractive. I make her put her picture up on every single post and she loves it, so do hoards of her readers which are 80% male. Another one of my writers produces great articles on how to buy property with no money down. Don’t tell my readers, but he’s never owned a property before and I hope people following his advice don’t get burned.

Look Sam, you and I are fine either way we cut it. I’m running a business, and you…. well, you’re running a blog. I’m totally on board with your Stealth Wealth movement don’t get me wrong. I don’t go to conferences. I don’t participate in community meet-ups. I have no time for forums. I don’t even write my own content thanks to ghost writers. Yet I know for a fact that I’m in the top 0.1% of online income earners. If you want to make money online, you’ve got to pump out tons of content in lucrative fields for cheap. Google caring about authority and authorship is baloney. Readers don’t care about authority either because they’re too lazy to even click on the author’s ‘About’ page.

Thank God everyone believes that what is written on the internet is true!

SO ARE WE ALL SCREWED?

If the blind are leading the blind across the internet and elsewhere, are we all going to eventually walk off a cliff? Maybe, but hopefully none of us on Financial Samurai will be hurt because we know better. What I encourage everyone to do is really understand the background of any author or service provider you consult. Visit their About pages, look up their LinkedIn profiles, search for the diplomas hanging on their walls, ask for testimonials, and speak with existing clients.

When I first started writing online in 2009 I didn’t share any of my credentials (education, work history, passive income amounts) because I wanted to see if my writing could stand alone without any help from my resume. I was forced to really inject personality or write detailed posts because I couldn’t depend on a resume or good looks to get me ahead. Furthermore, I didn’t want to mix work with pleasure. Now that I’m no longer working, it’s much easier to share my background and parts of my income stream to demonstrate some sort of credibility.

There’s definitely a moral issue of making money as a charlatan or hiring charlatans to make money for you. But if you are making $60,000 a month, would you really be willing to give it all up to take the moral high ground and produce material based only on real experience? As a business owner, would you be willing to pay $1,000 for an article that takes months to pay for itself, rather than $25 for a similar article by a very attractive person that generates the same amount of revenue in six hours? I bet most of you wouldn’t be willing to stop earning so much money just for the sake of feeling virtuous.

I’m thankful to have enough passive income to not be consumed with wanting to make tons of money online. Of course I’d like to make money online and have admitted before that active income is more fun than passive income, but beyond winning some advertisement deals here and there, money doesn’t excite me as much as it should. Can you really blame other bloggers for publishing crappy advertorials, volumes of product review articles, and buckets of thinly written content just to make money? I don’t. I just don’t bother to read their sites.

Faking it until you make it” is a very dangerous strategy for getting ahead, especially if you’re in a role that can significantly impact a life. The best answer to not knowing something is to simply say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” Nobody expects you to know everything. But everybody does expect a high level of integrity; if you lack integrity, you’ll lose your business. I give my VOMIT friend here credit for being a brilliant business man. I just can’t follow his path and feel good in the process.

EXAMPLES OF SITUATIONS WHERE FAKING IT REALLY DOESN’T WORK

* Your doctor faking knowledge of how to stent a clogged artery as you sit there dying from a heart attack.

* Your dentist faking interpretation of your x-ray and drilling the wrong tooth.

* Your stock broker faking knowledge of a company and buying the stock for you just because it’s hot— despite the fact that you are a conservative investor.

* Your mortgage broker faking understanding of the repercussions of a negative amortization loan, signing you up despite your precarious employment situation.

* Your lawyer faking readiness to defend you for a murder you did not commit.

* Your auto-mechanic faking knowledge of how to fix a fuel pump and ends up causing more damage.

* Your SAT prep teacher faking a mastery of mathematics, concealing the fact that she only scored a 1,600 out of 2,400.

* Your investment guru faking understanding of a company’s financials, yet still advising everyone to buy.

* Your electrician faking an ability to properly replace all your old copper wires, causing a fire while you’re sleeping.

Readers, why do some people try to fake it so much? Is “fake it ‘til you make it” a good strategy, given that people are wising up to the fact that this strategy exists? Do you know other examples where faking it doesn’t work? Why not just focus on being an expert at a few specific things? Is it worth trying so hard to be really good at something when you can take a shortcut and still make lots of money? Who or what is to blame for all of this?

Regards,

Sam

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. Income Surfer says

    I love the VOMIT acronym Sam. There is absolutely a point at which “faking it, till you make it”, crosses that “perception is reality” line, and becomes outright fraud. Are you really surprised people would do so, for money? Look at the other things people do for money, some even involve directly hurting themselves or other people. Like assassins, prostitutes. drug dealers…..
    The secrecy and anonymity of the internet, make it that much easier.
    -Bryan

  2. Money Beagle says

    If you’re putting someone else’s health, happiness or money at risk, then I think ‘faking it’ is the absolute wrong strategy. If you are putting those things at risk for only yourself, then I guess you have to decide whether or not the risk/reward is worth it.

  3. Nick @ Step Away from the Mall says

    Wow. Two things popped out at me at how unfortunate this situation is. First, the guy has a wealth of information to share about how to make money online. Second, with a little tweaking he could insist on quality content, even from the current writers. It almost seems like it’s a race to the bottom for him – how far can he go without losing the $$.

    In my opinion, there is an “everyone wins” possibility, where he can have his cake, eat it, and help others at the same time. And it only requires a couple tweaks – perhaps re-releasing his initial passion.

  4. Austin says

    Your friend’s business model is no different than AOL/Huffpo, DMD. He’s probably just a little bit more efficient, albeit at a smaller scale, than they are. If he were dealing solely in pop-culture/celeb gossip/current events there would be no basis upon which to call him out for lack of qualification/topic authority.

    Have you ever read a newspaper article on a topic you know a great deal about? I find that in such an instance the reporter’s lack of knowledge and understanding on the given topic is glaring and laughable.

    What about these lifetime academics that end up running NGO’s or every Federal Reserve Chair in the last 30 years.

    • Austin says

      This is exactly why there is so much sustainable value in what you do here. You have a tribe (in Seth Godin speak), 1000 true fans (Kevin Kelly’s classic article). The value you create here can outlast google’s twists and turns and you’re building brand equity for yourself… Thus, the PC gig.

      • Financial Samurai says

        Thanks. The Google twists have been quite interesting over the years. I’m glad to have survived.

        You are right on the bigger media guys. I’ve met a ton of folks, and did a lot of research down at Stanford’s Communications school the other year and what I found is this:

        Journalists/freelancer’s are good at reporting the news, writing punchy articles, utilizing sources, and sharing a story. That is what they are taught to do. It gets a little scary when a journalist or freelance writer starts pretending to be an expert in what he or she is reporting about.

  5. Jamie V says

    I noticed at some of the websites I read that they were just pumping out the most basic articles, regurgitated for their own purposes, and it seemed like the author had no true interest, experience, or background in it whatsoever (like how back in college, some classmates used to do the bare minimum research to write a paper and pass a class with a D). I got frustrated and eventually stopped reading and found new places to go. What draws me to a blog and causes me to be a devoted reader is not only the knowledge in the article, but the personality that comes out of it. You (and MMM) are two of my most favorite blogs to read and I check back every day because I learn something. You take the time to have a human response to it, and you express that, too. Even if it makes the public angry, or cringe, you still do it because of your integrity. And I appreciate it. I like hearing about other peoples experiences and feeling towards things they advocate (or do not) because that is what the world is: feelings and experiences. So I give you a BIG thank you for your content and your passion shining through; I can only hope my blog is half as successful as yours in that same way. Keep up the good work!

    • Financial Samurai says

      Thanks Jamie! Kind of you to say. I’m a big blog fan and reader myself b/c I look for other people’s perspectives. I don’t want to just read the news, I want to feel the news. I think many people are gravitating more towards blogs as well.

      Good luck w/ your endeavors!

  6. Brian @ Luke1428 says

    “Be an expert in a few specific things…” I’ve been preaching this to my students for the last several years. In education, the adage has been we want the student to be “well-rounded,” which basically means having knowledge in many different fields. While there certainly are basic standards that must be met, not everyone is going to exceed in every discipline.

    If you are awesome in grammar but suck at Math, then forget math as a profession. Don’t worry about getting a “C” as long as you did your best to get that “C.” We spend too much time trying to get students/people to improve on their deficiencies. What might their lives look like if we poured that same amount of time and energy into improving their strengths? They might become elite in that strength/field and, as we all know, people pay big money for someone who has an elite skill.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Luke, I forget, but are you a teacher/professor? If so, rock on!

      I went to a liberal arts school, so I’m a big advocate of being well-rounded and then going for a Master’s to master your craft.

  7. Paul says

    Sam – What is the primary revenue driver for this guy? Clicks or Paid Advertising? If paid advertising on a moral basis, at what point do companies have to question where there advertising dollar is spent or does it not matter if it generates more revenue…..

  8. William @ Drop Dead Money says

    You get from life what you put in: you put in shallow, you reap shallow. It comes down to what you want from life. Used car salespeople think like your friend and there are millions of them. It’s not criminal, but it is shallow. There are big company CEOs who think and act like that, as well as Congresspeople and bureaucrats who take million dollar jobs with the people they used to regulate. It’s all around us.

    But since when do you set your life’s gyroscope to the lowest common denominator out there?

  9. David says

    Interesting article, but it’s not very surprising. A lot of content on the Internet is just a regurgitation of other content, which was most likely regurgitated from somewhere else. Your “friend” is making some serious cash, and I doubt most people would be willing to give that up.

    This situation gets a little more complicated when someone readers trust is making recommendations based on a conflict of interest. Is he recommending services/sites based on how much money he makes on the referral? Should he be transparent with his readers about that?

    Sam, sometimes you recommend financial products on this site? Do you ever disclose if there is a conflict?

    • Financial Samurai says

      I have the disclosure statement in my About page and footers, which I hope many folks take time to read. But I do wonder whether I should be more aggressive in trying to make money online, given your question. For example, writing this post does nothing to make me anything, but it’s fun.

  10. Matt Becker says

    Wow, pretty amazing candidness from whoever that is. I couldn’t agree more with the need to verify your sources, but I have to feel like this person is at least somewhat in the wrong when his content is putting real live human beings finances at stake. Celebrity gossip is one thing. Messing with someone’s financial stability is another.

  11. Mark Ferguson says

    At first, I though this would be about the fake it until you make it mentality with money. Pretend to be a big earner until you actually are. That gives your mindset the right attitude to make it big. I think there is merit to that fake it until you make it as long as you don’t dig yourself a huge hole doing it.

    As far as pretending to be an expert when you are not; I think that is a huge mistake and can cause irreparable damage to ones credibility. I like how you got started with your writing and that was all.

  12. Andrew@LivingRichCheaply says

    The reason why some people try to fake it is because there is a big incentive to do so. Just with your example…$60k a month! I know someone who is like this too. He did horribly in college, studying computer science. Somehow he has the personality where he can fake knowledge in whatever jobs that he has had…I don’t know how he does it. Yet he earns an excellent income, while knowing very little which someone in his position should know. On the other hand, the quiet hard-working, knowledgeable employee doesn’t get a raise or promotion.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Exactly, which is why I’d like more folks to answer the question: Would you fake it, and cross the line in order to make some big bucks?

      I think the majority would say yes. If it’s not illegal, why not right?

  13. FF says

    I think that in the long run “good business is good business,” which of course means that faking it will someday stop working – as it should. The guy earns good money and might even be right about Google never figuring out the difference between crap and quality, but I’m not willing to make that bet. Plus I’d have a hard time sleeping at night if I was directly or indirectly sending readers down the river, and I think it’s easier to feel good about yourself if you put some effort into things.

    All that said, I agree that it’d be tough to walk away from 60k/month. But gee whiz, how about only earning 30k/month and doing a little better (profits might even increase with quality – who knows)?

    • Paul says

      Why would he reduce his income in half if advertisers are willing to pay the price unless this is all off clicks, advertisers are culpable as well. In certain industries you are required to know who you are doing business with and to a degree fit their expertise and validation into a box so to speak by veryfing certain industry credentials. I find the advertiser and advertiser networks allowing their ads to be shown on less that truthful sites to be just as culpable to the degree of crap that is published on the internet these days.

  14. Untemplater says

    I didn’t know the extent to the many issues with online content until I became a blogger. If I ever need to find health info I always check at least 5 different websites, sometimes more, to see what seems the most legit. And then I get confirmation from my doctor!!

    When it comes to learning about finance matters I love reading your blog because I know you have a lot of experience in what you write about. Relevant and skilled knowledge shows!

    • Financial Samurai says

      Good idea checking multiple websites for health issues. And that’s a good point. The more severe or concerned we are about a topic, the more we should be checking and the more important the veracity of the info!

      I guess w/ PF, there is no gospel right and wrong way to do things. Just optimal and suboptimal.

  15. Wall Street Playboys says

    Amazing post. This is entirely true. Even from personal blogging experience (a hobby) when writing about the turn people don’t seem to give a crap and would rather live in their own reality.

    People can’t even tell the difference between someone who does versus someone who says.

    “Better Well Done Than Well Said”

    This is why we read your blog. Anyone can be well spoken, and funny enough that gets more readership than well done.

    Blasphemy.

  16. Ravi says

    I think it depends on the person. In general, I hold the view that any person should be free to do as they wish, so long as they are not willfully hurting someone else. In this case, I don’t blame the guy for adjusting his content to fit his market and turn a dollar. Should supermarkets only sell organic food because it’s the best and refuse to sell butter because it’s unhealthy? In the case of the site owner, as long as he’s not misrepresenting his writer’s credentials, then people have that information out there… if they care about it.

    Perhaps some people don’t care and will read it anyway. If they do care, then they should look into the writers. I suppose you can always paint anyone in a sleazy light, but that’s freedom. It has both pros and cons, but it sure beats being in a place that isn’t so free.

    Sam, I hope you get to $600K per annum with this site eventually! My guess is you would keep a solid amount of residual income for yourself, but would pay up to improve the site and content so that everybody wins… but if you decide to keep the same content and take more of the earnings, that’s your choice!

    Best,
    Ravi

      • Ravi says

        I totally agree, but to me there’s a difference between what is “right” and what is “law”. This may stir up a firestorm, but take abortion as an example. I think it is a terrible practice and I would never want to have it done (for my significant other). HOWEVER, I believe in freedom and the power of choice, which means that regardless of whether I do or do not support it, I believe the truest course of action is to leave the choice up to the user.

        This situation is similar. If it were me, I would definitely give up some of my own earnings to improve the site. Once I hit a certain high level of income, it’s no longer about the money (but everyone should have the right to decide how much they want). I may choose to hit $300K and then start investing more, someone else may choose to hit $1.5M before investing further.

        It’s all about choice. I do believe in the goodness of people. It is my hope that most people with vast fortunes would give back (and given the sheer amount of generosity of many billionaires.. I do think this is the case).

        I am firmly against any type of discussion about how much income is “enough”. It’s a dangerous path of thinking when one person restricts another person’s freedom.

  17. Done by Forty says

    Yikes. I have to admit that $60k a month would be hard to turn down. I suppose my integrity has a price. Or, flipping it to a positive, my laziness prevents me from copying that guy’s strategies and trying to churn out VOMIT.

    I do admit that I tire of the reviews by bloggers about credit card deals or other products. As an alternative, maybe someone will just write a fifteen word post:

    Click this link and sign up for this credit card, so I can get $100.

  18. Broke Millennial says

    I think it can be effective to fake it til you make it — at times. For example, in my day job. I fake that I enjoy being there to make it to the next level.

    While I’d love to make $50k+ per month online, I’d hate to be doing it the way your interviewee is and I’d hate to be working for him. Plus, only $25 an article? Yikes that’s low. I’ll stick with my methods for now to play more of a long-run game. He can laugh all the way to the bank, but I’m keeping my brand and integrity in tact.

    • Cindy @ GrowingHerWorth says

      I definitely agree that “Fake it till you make it” can be worthwhile in the right context. When I was working in retail as a manager I worked with a team of people who were NOT morning people (myself included). When we’d do the 4 am Sunday Ad sets I’d plaster on a smile and remind my team to “Fake it till we make it. And try not to talk until after 7 am.” Faking that something is tolerable until it’s over is a great strategy to make it through. Faking that you’re knowledgeable about something you aren’t? I feel like that’s abusing the intent of the mantra.

  19. Romeo says

    Honestly, there is no new information, only reiterations of old stuff.

    It’s easy for a kid to pull “credible” information from a news source and repackage the information into a site similar to your friend’s. It’ll still be true.

    In other words, no one has to be promoted in the workplace before writing about it. There are lots of credible stories that one can read to infer how it’s done. That’s not immoral or faking it.

    Either way, one writer’s story is not a guarantee of other’s person’s success.

    Take each online article, every book, and television documentary with a grain of salt. If it keeps you great, it it doesn’t, “keep it moving.”

      • Romeo says

        haha. Naw. That’s just a reiteration of saying “big money bloggers have little to no creativity so they have to hire college kids for less than minimum wage.”

    • Chris says

      Romeo,
      I don’t think it’s a matter of any “new” information. Remember that presentation accounts for a lot.
      For instance, would an article written by a person that has a degree in Literature to write an article for say someone who is a janitor and has been for a while?

      I believe some visit for entertainment while being educated, and some just like to be educated only. Like my wife can watch several different “reality” shows, but I get bored with it.
      :-)

      In case anyone is wondering, I myself was a janitor for about 2 years, so I’m not busting them.

  20. Mr. Utopia says

    That’s pretty fascinating insight from your confidential VOMIT insider although, truth be told, it’s not really all that surprising to me. Greed is human nature and is prevalent almost anywhere you look. What VOMITers do is morally susceptible, but it’s not illegal so I’m sure it will continue on as long as there is an online forum that allows for it.

    Not that the writing on my site is scholarly or academically impressive, but I have wondered what it might be like to “dumb it down.” Could I pump out a greater volume, get more links, become more successful faster? I don’t know, but I can’t fathom writing about something oustide my expertise unless I’ve researched it fairly thoroughly. I also couldn’t bear to write “5 Ways to Get Your Whitey Tighties Super Clean When Washing” type articles or have some desperate student do it either. To each their own I guess…

  21. JayCeezy says

    An interesting topic. PF is a pretty finite subject, and boils down to just two things: spend less, save more. All the other tertiary subjects (i.e. investment strategy, diversification, risk, timeframe, outlook, etc.) are impacted every single day by changing events. The subject of “fake it, until you make it” interests me, because until just the past few years I have assumed that we all are playing by the same rules, and all have the same sense of right/wrong and moral obligation. But there has been something really changing for the worse in the culture (both U.S. and international). Here is a partial list (I have deleted anything political, because people get crazy defending the indefensible and lose the initial point) of some institutional failures in the past year. Remarkable, and these are just the examples we know about; any sense of personal or institutional shame doesn’t seem to exist any longer. Maybe it never did, and I was the sucker? Anyway, you can google these to find the background, but I hope you find this of interest and will keep it in mind as you are asked to defer to any ‘higher institutional authority’

    2/26/14 – Turkish PM caught conspiring with his son on how to hide over $1 billion.
    1/29/14 – UNC Chancellor admits failure in fake classes scandal
    2/4/14 – 1,200 US Army Recruiters defraud government of $29 million in recruitment bonuses
    11/19/13 – US Census fakes employment figures just before Presidential Election
    11/8/13 – DMV Official sells 300+ drivers licenses to illegals
    10/20/13 – Senior Navy Officer and NCIS Agent arrested in bribery for a defense contract
    9/4/13 – Poland seizes half of private pension funds in order to pay down national debt, so Poland can issue more debt.
    7/28/13 – UK release of Lockerbie bomber tied to Tony Blair arms brokered deal
    7/25/13 – SAC Capital, insider trading indictments
    7/22/13 – Principal caught plagiarizing in Boston
    6/28/13 – Vatican priest arrested for smuggling $26 million
    5/31/13 – Bloomberg reporters spying on Wall Street companies and decision-making, while competing with these companies.
    5/29/13 – Harvard Dean resigns after approving secret faculty e-mail searches
    5/10/13 – IRS Targets Organizations, and Apologizes
    2/6/13 – An election official in the last US Presidential race, in charge of administering a legal democratic process, admits to voting twice.
    2/6/13 – German Education Minister stripped of PhD for plagiarism.

    P.S. – I have always associated the “fake it, until you make it” saying as relating to a lack of experience or confidence or competence. This would assume that the intention is to really gain experience/confidence/competence, but this blogpost applies the saying in a way I had not considered before. Again, interesting and a good read.

      • JayCeezy says

        Madoff was 2008, this list is just for the last year. Coincidentally, I started keeping track of these stories in 2008, right in the heart of the crash. Madoff pled guilty in early 2009, and some contemporaneous stories from that time included failed Presidential assassin Sara Jane Moore giving an interview because “she didn’t want people to think she was a horrible person”, former Sen. John Edwards lying and claiming he was “99% truthful”, UK Ministers using public funds for home repairs, snow tires, pr0n, and then complaining to the press that they were being “intentionally embarrassed by the media”, the Gov. of IL charging $1mm for a State Senate seat on tape and then claiming it isn’t true while the State Senator changed his story four times, the FL airline that trained the pilot in a commuter crash turns out to have falsified the pilot’s test scores, lied about the flight hours, and installed substandard parts on their fleet.

        I could go on, it is actually remarkable and compelling once you start down this path.:-)

        In the end, blogs (and legit news) are mostly consumed for entertainment. The stories above show that we must not blindly follow those who claim authority. As for your friend’s blog/business, those writers working for $25 are building a portfolio of published work and it probably works out to less than minimum wage by the time it is all said and done for a 500 word blurb. The readers come and consume because they find something of value there, and return for the same reason. I’m not really sure anyone is being fooled or exploited in the world of blogs, unlike the stories above where there is a fiduciary, governmental, or legal obligation.

        • Financial Samurai says

          That’s true when you put those charges compared to writing.

          I like your feedback on blogs being consumed for entertainment. That’s a good reminder that I will try to be more entertaining!

          Did this article entertain you? If so, where would you rank it on a 0-10 entertainment scale, with 10 being a wildly entertaining, eye-opening, unique work of writing?

          Thx!

          • JayCeezy says

            Sam, you are a good writer, always entertaining. Your book has been a great help to me, in navigating my own Layoff. First, I am not really in your target-demo. Second, ‘entertainment’ value is binary (not 1-10); when I’m entertained, I keep reading. When I’m not, I click away (or go see what is in the refrigerator, or go outside, etc., Blogs are competing with everything else in the world for a claim on one’s free time, just like any entertainment medium does). I could never do what you (and all bloggers) do, and if I could produce regular entertaining content I would do so. Now that I have disqualified my opinion, I will now give you my opinion.:-)

            You have noted your frustration with ‘IRP’ (Internet Retirement Police) in the past. I wonder if you are judging your friend in a similar manner. There are only 3 variables for any product/service: 1) Cost; 2) Schedule; 3) Quality/Scope. People come to your friend’s site because it is a nice way to spend a few minutes clicking on subjects with interesting headlines. Is anybody really expecting “education” on workplace etiquette, relationships, how to get bargains, etc.? Ask yourself how much of what you read online yesterday is still in your short-term memory? Yes, the content of his blog may be lightweight and the writers are not subject-matter-experts. But are they really presenting themselves as experts? If it is the blog I am thinking of, I’m not seeing that. The incremental value of an expert paid $1,000 for an article is fractional compared to a $25 article. If your friend’s metric for revenue is Ads/clicks, it doesn’t matter if the reader spends 10 minutes on a page or 10 seconds, and if the article changes the readers life or is instantly forgettable. All that matters is that the reader/customer got value for the time spent on the blogsite.

            There is a reason people like Vanilla. Calling something ‘vanilla’ is mostly used as a pejorative, by those who value ‘edge’ ‘originality’ ‘fresh’ etc. This is where the value of the 3 variables come into play, and the fact is most people don’t care about ‘edge’ ‘originality’ ‘fresh’ etc. They just want value, as McDonald’s, Jay Leno, Matthew McConaughey, and Beyoncé can attest. At one point, Pauly Shore, healthyMex, CompuServe, and PSY all had ‘edge’ ‘originality’ and were ‘fresh’.

            Even the experts are not reliable. Ben Bernanke, Janet Yellen, Alan Greenspan, all of them sh*t the bed in 2007/8/9 and admit it. There would be no point in denying it, we can all see and judge the results of their actions/inactions.

            I like your PF site. I admire everyone that blogs. Most blogs are not worth my time (political, humor, general interest, PF, entertainment, etc.). There is a brilliant radio analyst found at Mark Ramsey Media, who’s wisdom can be applied to any form of communication. He makes this point which I will leave you with. “Radio Morning Show hosts have a relationship with the audience that is not just that morning. It is every show, every morning, the audience has ever heard from that personality.” This is also your relationship with your audience. The relationship your friend has with his audience has nothing to do with it, and vice-versa.

            • Financial Samurai says

              Thanks. A couple counter points:

              1) I write in my post, “There’s a reason why vanilla is the most popular flavor in the world.” In other words, I recognize and understand the logic. It is smart and savvy, which is why I will gradually go more vanilla so as to not offend any sponsors in order to make my fortune as the majority of commenters here have encouraged.

              2) For many who come to my site or others via Search, they really are looking for an answer to their problem, so I wouldn’t discount the value of posts so quickly. Regular readers are very different from search readers.

              3) I admire my fella’s business savviness, partly because I can’t do it. I’m introducing the readership to the fact that there are many ways to make a lot of money. I want people know they don’t have to be brilliant at anything to make a fortune.

            • JayCeezy says

              re: 1) just before that, you wrote…“In order to grow readership, I’d direct my writers to write in as plain vanilla as possible so as to not offend anybody.” I’m not sure the main appeal of vanilla is being “inoffensive” and the use seems like a backhanded compliment. While Big Macs, Leno, McConaughey and Beyonce are ‘inoffensive’ they are also excellent and provide value. Not sure what would be ‘offensive’ about FinancialSamurai.com as it stands, but it is also excellent and provides value. Would you consider the idea that vanilla has “wide appeal”?
              2) Search readers may come for a reason (I did, I wanted to know how to maximize my opportunity for a Layoff), but they stay (or not) for other reasons. Google search algorithms are complex, but “edge” “originality” and “fresh” are not part of the calculation. “Wide appeal” is, which is why your friend’s site may be a little higher on the ‘search’ results.
              3) Glad you admire your fella’s business acumen. One point (which some may find offensive) is the tone of your post. It seems kind of personal, with terms like “charlatan” “pulling the wool over people’s eyes” “faker” “moral high ground” being something other than neutral or informative. His site seems like light reading, and the people that regularly come to his site don’t know what they will find that day but with enough choices they will find something to click on, because the site has “wide appeal.” I do wonder what he would think if he read this column.

            • JayCeezy says

              haha. Your writing style and vocabulary are just fine. Since your fella wrote 1/3 of this post, you definitely need to pick up the tab! And make sure you don’t get roofied!:-)

  22. krantcents says

    This has been one of the situations that has bothered me for quite a while! I think like all advice, you should evaluate it based on your own standards etc. I think I have received a great deal of advice of the years, but it is still up to me to use it. The internet has just multiplied the problem.

  23. David Michael says

    Sam…thanks for sharing such an interesting interview on a topic of interest to all of us blog readers and writers. Amazing to me that a person can earn $50,000 a month salary by organizing the content and activities of a group of new college grad writers with little life experience. But I gotta hand it to him…what a manager! Maybe not a writer, nor a research director, but what an incredible manager to put this scheme onto the web and make such a lucrative outcome. Sounds like he ought to be working for Karl Rove!

    • Financial Samurai says

      Good positive way to look at things, “What a manager!” is right.

      I’ve always thought there is more money and more opportunity out there that people can imagine. I hope people see this as another example of being able to rise up w/ limited skills here, but utilizing other skills.

  24. LaTisha says

    I admire his business model! There is definitely a way to make this model more substantive by using higher quality writers but like he said, it didn’t make sense financially. And if you are in business to make money, then you should always remember your primary goal.

  25. The First Million is the Hardest says

    There have been a few bloggers I was a regular reader of that have gone down this path recently. More power to them if they can make more money with staff writers and generic articles, but I don’t read their blogs anymore.

    I understand we all want to make money from our blogs, but its always a shame to see a blog transition from something really original into just another space filled with staff writers and bland, regurgitated content in the name of making a few extra bucks.

    I can’t fault your friend for the way he runs his business, to each his own. There are plenty of eyeballs out there for us all and the people who want high quality content will find it.

    • Financial Samurai says

      That is a good attitude “plenty of eyeballs out there.” The pie is big enough in this great world of the internet! The solution is to just consume what you think is worthy of being consumed. The markets shake things out in the end so there is no need to worry about anything. Zen.

  26. Grayson @ Debt Roundup says

    I can’t fault to man for running a business that it making money. He figured out what worked and it running with it. Sadly, that is how many businesses are run these days. They figure out the secret sauce that won’t get them in trouble and when they can sleep and they go with it. That is the nature of competitive business I am afraid.

  27. Jackson Davies says

    Great read Sam,

    I too liked the Vomit Acronym. There are a lot of those vomits out there!! You really have to be careful what you read and view it through a special set of rose tinted lenses. The dentist fakery sends the biggest chill down my spine.

    I write a end of month traffic report on my site. I’ve never been tempted to cook the books. I find it somewhat annoying that people talk up their figures, add a few zeros, its just not cricket.

    Cheers,

    Jackson aka headboy.

  28. Ryan @ Impersonal Finance says

    I loved the examples of when faking it won’t work. But I do have to say, as someone who spends a considerable amount of my freetime blogging, and barely making enough to cover the cost of a tuna salad sandwich from his monthly revenue, I’m interested in seeing how that guy really does it. Is there just some key that we’re all missing here? To be honest, if I was making what he was making, I don’t know if I could care too much about the quality if it weren’t my own writing. I’d be too busy jet skiing with models, I suppose.

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