Why I Don’t Do Internet Marketing

CommunicationJust about every week I get invited to join something called an “affiliate program,” in which I am supposed to promote someone else's book or program to "my list” in exchange for a percentage of sales. Usually the people who reach out to me are aligned with the work I do, and many of their offerings are probably wonderful. I would like to explain why I always decline these invitations. I hope I can do that without being self-righteous, because it really is a personal choice and not a prescription.

I just got one of those invitations this week, from a person I really respect. I could see the marketing genius in the affiliate program, which came complete with multiple sample emails, tweets, images, etc., along with the very real possibility of making thousands or tens of thousands of dollars if I did it. But even though I agree with every sentence of those promotional materials, the whole thing just feels inauthentic to me.

I don't see you as my "list" nor will I ever send you an email that I'm (albeit indirectly) being paid to send you. I want you to be able to trust that whatever I write to you, it is from my heart. .

I am not saying that anyone who does affiliate programs or other internet marketing is being inauthentic. And I am certainly not saying it is wrong to seek to earn money from providing wonderful material on line. I am speaking in large part about perception -- the experience of being incessantly marketed to, even if it by sincere people who truly believe in their product. This may be a result of my own wounding around money, but I usually feel a wash of cynicism when I get marketed to too much. I suspect -- justifiably or not -- that the purpose is the money and not the message. I want to avoid triggering that cynicism in others. I want there to be no doubt that the purpose is to deliver the content.

Furthermore, I know what would happen in the long run if I started using this list for marketing (even marketing my own programs). You would do the same thing I do to most of the newsletters that I somehow get onto. You would cease opening them. That would suck, because then fewer of you would read the letters I really care about, such as the recent one In a Rhino, Everything. If you haven’t read it yet please do. It is the whole reason I’m doing this. THAT is what I am serving. THAT is the practical reason why I don’t use my “list” for marketing. Good Lord, you are not my list. You are thousands of individual humans who have put a little bit of trust in me. Other lists may be different – with some you might expect marketing and not be offended by it at all. But this one isn’t like that. I won’t introduce you to a program, book, or product unless I’m so jazzed about it that I do it without being requested. That way you know my enthusiasm is real.

There are standard ways in this blogging "industry" to monetize one's audience and I don't like any of them. Sometimes I have a moment of wondering if I’m crazy, or the subject of “scarcity mentality,” watching others with a similar following making six or seven figures. A cynical inner voice says that’s just the way of the world, the aggressive get ahead and if I want my work to be more widely known I have to make some distasteful compromises. But I know there is another way, the way of the gift. Some of you are voluntarily paying a small monthly subscription to this blog and the associated podcast. You aren’t doing it for “premium content” or any other self-interested incentive. It is totally uncoerced. It affirms a basic trust I have in the unforced generosity of the universe. And it strengthens my commitment not to treat anyone here as mere members of a list.

Image:  elycefeiz/Flickr Creative Commons


  1. Thank you for giving a voice to this scarcely uttered meme. I reached the exact same attitude with my blog, which is focused on sailing and living in harmony with nature. I started it with the idea of making money, but like you, I felt too much hesitation to adopt any of the standard monetization themes. Now I write from a place of peace, passion, and love. It’s not bringing in money, but it more important to me than money.

    • I feel the same as you Chris. Am writing a book and following advice have started a blog to ‘build a platform.’ It has felt inauthentic all along. I’ve decided to focus on finishing the book and if people like it they like it. Will use the blog only when inspired to do so. Thanks for this great message Charles.

  2. Thanks for posting this Charles. I really appreciate your integrity. I never miss a post of yours. Read them beginning to end. Don’t always agree or connect with the message but always trust your sincerity in your writing. Thank you for creating and respecting the sacred space of conversation.

  3. I just want to thank you for protecting your audience and readers from affiliate marketing. While I agree that there are some really, really wonderful organizations out there that use it – I too feel it lacks authenticity and is unfair to use your subscriber base as a potential sales field for outside products/services/etc. The matter seems kind of pervasive at this point in the internet circles that I flock to…I won’t name names but I sure know way more than I wanted to about a hundred different online summits and training schools and new books and wholesale food retailers etc etc etc. 😉

  4. The (new and ancient) meta-currency is Trust. I feel you are spot on and appreciate this about your communication. So please continue to trust this guidance you have been following because it is the reason I can still open and read your emails as opposed to many of like kind I receive, which I also agree with in theory but find myself so flooded with the ‘extractive digital soma,’ which is the norm of our communication and attention hungry ghost times, that the soft animal of my body and psyche recoil in a reflex of self-defense from the onslaught no matter the content.

    So thank you for continuing in this way. It is slow growing, as I believe it is growing a new neural pathway through the collective mind. : )

  5. what a wonderful column. Jan and I started our website, remember-to-breathe.org, 4 years ago, and the thing everyone was doing was affiliate marketing and google ads. Both creeped us out so we never even thought about it. We were urged to submit the site to search engines immediately, start getting “lists” of people, get a following in social media, etc etc

    Haven’t done any of it. Spent the first year or so putting the text together and the last 2 years creating the music and videos we will sell – yes, we will have an online store, selling our videos and audios for a dollar or so. We feel ok about this, as we think that the minimal amount will serve to support our ongoing process of creating things that will benefit many people.

    Interestingly, in my job doing psychological evaluations (don’t get me started on how many pitfalls there are working in the mental health field) here in Asheville, I just checked with the state psychology board about recommending my site. (at the moment, it’s entirely non commercial). I honestly feel like there are valuable things about the brain and mindfulness that just aren’t available anywhere else on the site. But I was told no, i can’t recommend it because I have “undue influence” on the people I see and I’d be encouraging them to become customers.

    But everything’s free on the site, I told them! no, sorry because we’re GOING to be a commercial site. But what if I offer anybody who sees me anything on the site for free? “nope, because that’s still advertising.”

    Sigh. So instead, what I can do (shhh, dont’ tell the board!) is tell the mental health agencies I work with about it, and tell them I can make everything we have available for free, so i’ll be ok as long as I don’t mention it to the people I see or write about it in my reports.

    What a strange world we live in – I’m actually going to see how many different schools, health centers, businesses, etc I can offer free services to in the Asheville area, and see if that can be part of encouraging people to come together. WE have a page called “The Most Important Page” which features “Blue Zones” – essentially, describing what it takes to bring about that most beautiful world of connection, closeness and community that is so stunningly easy when we shift our mindset and open our hearts and see what can be done.

    thank you for your work/play!

  6. Amen, Charles! I wrote a book (Love Always Wins) and have resisted all the hype about website promotion, etc. in favor of simply giving away hard copies and PDF’s, sometimes with a request that if they like the book to post a review on my Amazon page, but the best review I’ve received was a total surprise from someone that I didn’t even know had a copy. Somewhat like Elon Musk of Tesla fame, I see that the narrators of the New Story have to give away the patents and copyrights in order to create the “co-opetition” of the new economy.

  7. I deeply appreciate your integrity and you strenghtening that path of honest, respectful, non-profit-focused connection and interaction. And thereby also ‘affirming’ the possibility for others to choose that path – which maybe seems true to them but is the harder or, seemingly, less obvious choice. Because of the reasons you describe yourself. And that is when we have to make the choice, that a part of us know is right, even though we question it and can’t make sense of it. Thank you for doing that.

    “When any of us meet someone who rejects dominant norms and values, we feel a little less crazy for doing the same.”

    — The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible

  8. Dearest Charles, thank you so much. I think I have said, written and taught exactly what you spoke here. I would absolutely love to post your article on our blog. I was an economist, and an accountant (hard to believe at this stage in my very multi-dimensional way of looking things, and teachings). Our entire philosophy in the company I run, is about heart service. WE have built a 7 figure business without using any of those tactics…..i have no affiliate program, nor JV program. Thank you thank you thank you. I feel like I am not a lone voice in the wilderness……..nor are the voices of many of our clients nor are the voices of our staff who totally concur. Muah. Genius.

    • Reading this gives me so much inner joy and faith. Charles, i recently discovered your work and it has given me a light in this very money driving online marketing world. Jennifer – thank you for sharing your story too. I’m just at the beginning of this journey – but I know that it is the right now <3

  9. I appreciate your perspective and personal choice on this Charles. There are very few things I’ve ever found myself with an opposite viewpoint of what you speak on, but I suppose this is one. And, of course, its a topic near and dear to my heart, being a marketing professional.

    One of the things that I believe create problems within this conversation is using labels like marketing, lists, audiences, affiliates, promotion, etc.

    The more connected we can become to “healthier” labels like conversation and community, the more authentic our voice and our communications become. (which, from a marketer’s perspective, actually make for super effective “marketing”)

    For example, when you mentioned this person you respect, and their program, my immediate reaction is… wow, I wonder who that is… I’d like to know about that program. Someone Charles respects a lot, is inviting people to participate in likely something transformational – that sounds amazing! I wish Charles would tell me more about that. So, for me, being a community member (a person on the list), I would actually prefer that I would be able to learn more, and expand my perspective, resources, toolbox, community, so that I can continue to transform in the ways that resonate best with me. In some ways, by you not being an “affiliate”, now creates a bit of a disconnect in that I wish you had shared more about that with me… and if was a product or program that I had interest in participating in, then I would love to ensure that you received a gift for telling me about it.

    • Yes I totally agree! I can see where Charles is coming from here but I think he goes too far sometimes. If you are being honest and authentic then what is the issue really?

  10. What a relief to read this. Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I cannot say how much I appreciate it. You express some of the very reasons why I always read what you write. Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Thank you!! You have definitely created a space where I feel engaged and valued just for listening and taking in what you said. I never feel like you are trying to sell me anything which is a huge relief to my deepest self. From here I can listen more closely to what arises inside of me to help guide me to what might be next. I love it. If I can’t read your messages, listen to your podcasts or follow your FB posts right away I flag them and go back to them when I have a moment to really be present to them. I can say there are no other authors/thinkers/healers that I follow with the same intent as I receive their emails. And because of that my support for your work is strong. Thank you!!

    • I’ve found this and Charles more recent article on psychiatric medications very interesting and closely tied.

      I understand why people feel so strongly about this, but I noticed in just one or two sentences toward the end of the essay on medication, Charles expressed a deep humility – in fact, quite rightly pointing out that just substituting St. John’s Wort (or meditation, or yoga, or acupuncture, or twirling leaves over your fourth chakra or whatever) for prozac (or whatever) is not necessarily leaving the allopathic mindset.

      Similarly, decrying affiliate marketing to charge $5000 a head for weekend workshops (someone somewhere on the planet is doing that – no names here:>)) is not necessarily changing the mindset.

      on the other hand, a truly integrated program which makes careful, judicious use of medication, for only as long as needed, might be much more integrative than anything the Kalamazoo Holistic, New Paradigm, Great Turning, Beautiful World center has ever dreamed up (don’t google it folks, it’s not real:>)

      Similarly, if you have something that is truly beneficial, it just may be possible that the single best way – in your particular situation – to get the word out is through affiliate marketing. I’m stretching things here a bit – i tend to think Charles has nailed it with affiliate marketing even if I think he’s just a tad extreme on the medication issue. But the point is if we target a particular thing as “the bad thing i’ll never do” – well, we might be ending up in the same reactive trap we’re trying to get out of.

      It’s complicated, I know. I have an issue right now (i’m not going to mention my site or my “product” to keep it real). I’m a psychologist practicing in North Carolina. I honestly – and I hope humbly – think the site my wife and I are developing provides the best example of a particular kind of information that the folks I see could benefit from. At the moment it’s totally non commercial but we’ll be putting up a store online soon.

      I checked with the ethics board of NC and asked if I was allowed to mention the site, they said, no it would be an ethical violation. I get this – as the “doctor’ – i potentially have “influence” – “undue influence” is the specific term – which could lead people to do things I suggest which if it weren’t for my “position” they wouldn’t choose to do.

      But I still have the problem that I think the site would be incredibly helpful for them. So i said, well, what if when the store goes online I give them products for free? They said no, this is still a form of promotion.

      So the only solution I could come up with was to recommend to their counselor (I’m doing psych testing with them – and yes, I could give you a dissertation on all the moral/ethical pitfalls of this kind of work, but I’m trying to do my bit to make it a least a bit more integrative/integral/complementary, etc), and the “patient” themselves will not know the recommendation came from me.

      It’s complex, it’s tough. And Charles’ point (in the medication essay) that it’s not really about diagnoses; it’s a larger, societal/cultural even metaphysical problem most people are suffering from – yes, those of us in the humanistic/transpersonal world have been trying to get this across for 40 years or more, and it seems like the positive psychology movement is now – just barely – starting to catch up with this. And the thousands of schools that are teaching mindfulness and social/emotional learning – though keeping the same bureaucratic structures unfortunately –

      living in the world of separation, yes, is hard. but you know what – separation is ok too. it’s the way things are supposed to be – if you believe in a “supposed to be” – right now. We can all work as hard as we wish to build the world our hearts desire while admiring the awesome mystery of this adventure of separation and not complaining about it as much as really digging in and allowing the universe to use us in the process of transformation that is so desperately needed.

      If this sounds all contradictory, well….

  12. Dear Charles,
    thanks for putting yourself out there, once again. Something bugs me about this piece and I would like to offer my perception. I am reading an unexamined assumption pervading this piece and that is the assumption that your integrity could be corrupted by money. I don’t believe that to be true. My trust in you is such that I would not think you would be sharing something with me for the money it makes you, even if it would make you six figures. Reading this piece makes me wonder if I trust you more than you trust yourself. And then that makes me question my trust in you (just a bit).
    It is very easy to say money corrupts, money is evil, let’s stay away from it. One of the things I appreciate about you is that you don’t usually say that per se, yet clearly highlight the problems with the money we currently have. Similarly, I would love to see you engage with marketing in this new and discriminate way. Not sharing something simply because it might make money is also an odd way of selecting information – rather than just listening to your heart.
    With love and respect,

    • Excellent point Vivian. Since writing my comment, I’ve come to have more reservations about Charles’ article.

      I just received a very interesting article on PROUT’s 3 part view of economics (small business; worker cooperatives, and government run industries where appropriate, such as utilities). I wonder if, in such a world, Charles might have a very different view of money.

      It’s actually quite surprising, since I assume that Charles shares the view that ultimately, it’s the consciousness that determines the ethics of our actions, rather than something external like money. Here in this article he seems to make the old Marxist/objectivist mistake of assuming that the external thing – money – has ultimately priority over our consciousness. I don’t think he really believes that, but the article implies it.

  13. I absolutely appreciate this! I signed up for a newsletter from a lovely woman who also does work similar to, but not as deep shall we say, as Charles. Her line of work is geared to good nutrition and good health. She’s a lovely woman, but man the affiliate marketing is strong with her lol. I unsubscribed from her mailing list simply because I felt like I was part of a pyramid scheme. She’s still a lovely woman, she still cares about good health and nutrition but I just did not want to buy organic make-up products or homeopathic bath products, or kitchen gadgets or whatever else I was being asked to purchase that week. So, thank you, Charles!

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