According to OpenSky’s creators, shopping has lost the authenticity and the relationships that give it meaning. That’s because “in physical world shopping, everything is the same and online shopping is efficient, but isolating.” Apparently, what’s missing is the connection between people. “We want to know, care about, and connect with people who are the merchants we deal with. We want their honest opinion and unique perspective,” the company says. According to the company, the entire OpenSky platform was created with a single question in mind: “What if we lived in a world where the people we trusted had the ability and desire to seamlessly connect us to the products they use?”
In a nutshell, the platform enables bloggers and businesses to monetize their blogs through the sale of whatever they choose, and according to OpenSky’s founder, what makes it special is that the merchants care, they know their customer base well, and they want to develop a relationship with them. What’s impressive is that OpenSky bears the burden of guaranteeing each purchase and making sure that all purchases arrive on time. Let’s find out more about this program and how it’s helping bloggers in particular.
Making Ends Meet
Let’s face it: blogging doesn’t pay the bills and in most cases, it doesn’t even pay a bill. Even more disheartening, blogging sometimes even creates bills, especially for those who self-host and must face hosting bills each month. Sure, there are things that can be done to monetize your blog, like placing advertisements on your site. Truth be told, if you’re a small blog, the advertising route usually doesn’t bring in much money. Some bloggers have decided to begin reviewing products on their site, but unless your site is specifically geared towards reviewing products, you may run the risk of cheapening your message, and for what — a free product?
This is where OpenSky comes into play. By helping bloggers make ends meet and proposing an alternative route to placing unattractive ads on their beloved blog home pages, the start-up enables fledgling writers to sell items — homemade or otherwise — that mean something to them and will hopefully resonate with their readers. If you have a food blog, you can now sell your favorite cooking utensils, cookbooks, and spice mixtures. If you’re a tech blogger, you can sell all the cool gadgets and gizmos your readers salivate over. If you’re a clothes horse with a passion for fashion, you can sell the hottest duds, the season’s trendiest makeup, and the must-have bag of the year. Essentially, these items will become an extension of the blog itself.
Sound too good to be true? Just to clarify, the fashionista doesn’t have to sell the clothes off of her back and the home cook doesn’t have to part with their beloved balloon whisk; OpenSky basically secures the products for you. Here’s how it works: OpenSky has a catalog of already existing products that bloggers can choose from — items they want to feature and sell on their site. If none of these products interest them or tie into their blog theme, they can request just about any item in the world, and OpenSky will negotiate the relationship and eventual business deal between you and the merchandiser, providing you with the products for your blog.
Then bam! Your blog is immediately turned into a marketplace and you don’t have to cheapen the content. As a matter of fact, just mentioning your favorite products to use while cooking, exercising, etc. and showcasing those items on the site is enough. It’s 100 percent up to the writer how much they want to push their sales and direct readers; it can be as subtle or aggressive as they choose. If you sell any of the products your blog features, you split the profits with OpenSky 50/50.
One of the best examples of how seamless and subtle the relationship between the blogger and OpenSky can be is on Michael Ruhlman’s website. Ruhlman is an award-winning food writer and blogger whose site boasts some of the most delicious and elegant homemade food on the web, and rightly so, as it’s the blogger’s goal to “translate the chef’s craft for every kitchen.”
On Ruhlman’s site there are no garish ads or mentions of OpenSky on every page. The blogger has cordoned off one section of his site to act as his store, though it basically reads as a blog as well. After explaining that he gets hundreds of e-mails from readers inquiring about the best knives and kitchen utensils, he offers his advice on his favorite kitchen tools and subtly mentions that the items can be purchased on Amazon via OpenSky. Simple, sweet, to the point, and most importantly — revenue generating.
The Real Point of OpenSky
According to OpenSky’s chief social marketing officer Ted Rubin, the point of OpenSky is of course to help bloggers monetize their blogs, but what it isn’t about is making already successful and wealthy companies even more successful and wealthy. “While the site makes it sound as if bloggers will be selling all the same products they already have and use in their home, the point of Open Sky is to connect bloggers with small businesses who might not have the stature to get their product sold in a brick-and-mortar store,” Rubin said. “The bloggers can sample the products and then become the suppliers’ champion. Meanwhile, the blogger also gets to earn money by doing something they would do anyway — talking about products they love.”
In other words, bloggers are encouraged not to promote Bath & Body Works products, but rather mom and pop operations they’ve found on Etsy; young, struggling businesses who are making handmade soaps with all natural ingredients; those who don’t have the funds or the means to get their products sold by major retailers.
When things are rough financially and bloggers are struggling to make ends meet, how trusting should their readers be? In other words, how do we know that a fledgling food writer who hasn’t experienced the success that Ruhlman has isn’t recommending the products just for the sake of monetizing their blog? How do we know they’re being sincere and authentic?
The answer is that there is no way of knowing. Readers can only hope that the blogs they love are truly recommending good products and not just products that provide them with an income. On the other side of the coin, bloggers have a lot to worry about as well. By deciding to participate in the OpenSky platform, their readers may begin to doubt their authenticity, and it begs the question: can bloggers have a genuine blog that keeps their voice and aesthetic intact while also participating in the selling of products for OpenSky?
As the numbers mentioned earlier suggest, OpenSky isn’t having any problems luring in both successful and fledgling bloggers alike with promises of monetizing their blog. After all, someone who is struggling would almost be crazy to pass up the opportunity to make a little cash doing what they love online — and oddly enough, the same goes for someone like Ruhlman who’s already experienced a lot of commercial success. The real question is how seriously will blog readers take these recommendations; will they purchase products based on their favorite blogger’s words?
The amount of success a blogger will experience using OpenSky greatly depends on how far of a reach their blog has. It may seem like it’s as simple as joining OpenSky and before you know it, you’re receiving fat checks every month. That’s actually not even close to the truth. Unless you have a large number of dedicated readers that you’ve developed a rapport with, your changes of doing well selling products on your site are slim to none.
Truth be told, even if you have thousands of readers each day and are pushing the products hard, there’s no guarantee that because a housewife in Texas or a single gal in New York likes your writing that they’re going to buy into your recommendation for handmade candles or homemade quilts. Some readers may even stop being readers if they feel they’re being pushed to buy products from a blog that previously had no sales tactics in place.
As you can see, it’s a slippery slope, and bloggers interested in monetizing their blog have to think long and hard about the possible consequences of using their site to shill products for OpenSky. The money is appealing, but losing the trust of your readers obviously isn’t.