State of the Blog Union 2017: How The Online World Has Changed

by Grace Bonney

Earlier this summer, my co-worker Caitlin traveled from her home in West Virginia to our’s in New York so we could work together in person. Our goal was to spend a week planning the next year or so of content and projects for Design*Sponge, but we ended up spending most of our time talking about how planning that far out now feels obsolete and irrelevant.

Never has it been more evident that the state of the blogging world has completely changed. In fact, discussing only blogs feels a little outdated on its own. While most of us working online used to agree that blogs were essential for brands, it’s become clear that what works right now is very different from what worked two years ago — and what will work two years (or even two months) from now.

My last State of the Blog Union post was written three years ago, when all of the changes in our community were really coming to a head for me. Drastically shifting expectations from sponsors, dwindling comment sections, pressure to immediately adopt (and dominate) every new platform that comes along, and the need to diversify content and income sources was a lot to process after spending 10 years following the same path. But things change, and few things change as much (and as quickly) as the Internet.

So today I’m sitting down to have an open and transparent discussion about the current world of blogging, social media and publishing online. I can only speak from my perspective, but in the past year I feel like I’ve learned just as much as I did in the past 12 years combined. It’s been a fascinating 13-year journey at Design*Sponge so far, and while I don’t feel the same hopefulness I used to about blogs alone, I feel open-minded and curious about all of the interesting and unexpected paths these changes will lead all of us down.

For anyone unfamiliar with our backstory, here’s how we got started (here’s a peek at all our old website designs, too).

  • I started D*S in 2004 (when I was 23 years old) as a hobby. I wrote during my lunch break (while working as an assistant at a PR firm in Brooklyn) and posted 4-6 times a day, mainly about individual products. The blog was mentioned in a NY Times story and helped build our initial audience.
  • In 2006 I was offered a job as House & Garden Magazine‘s web editor, so I left my full-time day job to run Design*Sponge (mostly) full-time and work freelance for the magazine.
  • I hired my first freelance editors in 2007 (Kristina Gill, Derek Fagerstrom, Lauren Smith and Anne Ditmeyer) and started expanding the types of content we featured and the depth of coverage and writing. We launched a guest blog, a shop (where we sold work from independent designers, who took home 100% of the profits) and started a scholarship for design students.
  • From 2008-2010 most of the shelter magazines I was freelancing for closed (I had brief tenures at Domino and Craft Magazine and wrote a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer for two years) and I focused on D*S full-time, with help from the aforementioned writers, as well full-time team members Amy Azzarito and Aaron Coles (who ran our advertising program). This was one of our best eras of business, with ad sales booming and traffic rising quickly. We added new content about women in business, DIY, makeovers, essays and much more. I also took the Biz Ladies series across the country for an eight-city tour (self-funded) and Caitlin joined our team.
  • In 2011 we released our first book, Design*Sponge at Home, and did a 30+ city book tour that allowed us to receive press mentions in a way we never had before. Traffic grew and ad sales did the same. We published a free newspaper (delivered entirely by a street team of volunteers). We used that economic growth to get an office and hire more writers. The office would turn out to be a draining financial investment in the long run.
  • 2012 – 2014 were more challenging years, with social media really starting to grab hold of market and audience shares in a big way and introducing the idea of social media followers as currency (though it rarely turned into actual currency). I started teaching classes at a co-working space near us in Brooklyn to diversify our income sources. I also started my radio show, After the Jump, although that was mostly an unpaid venture as well. We looked into product designs of our own but ended up realizing that our strength was in content, not products. Toward the end of this time period we started to add more freelance writers, and copy editor/team manager (Kelli).
  • 2015- 2016 were learning and growth years that I am truly thankful for. In 2016 we released our second book, In the Company of Women (which became a NY Times Best Seller) and refocused the blog on interiors and essays/discussion about more serious issues (race, culture, inclusivity, etc.) and how they connect to design. These changes have made me feel more connected to this community than ever, especially after struggling to find a way to connect, personally, with the sometimes capricious world of social media and online publishing.
  • We have always been a small, independent team with no venture capital funding. People have offered to buy our site but we’ve always passed and chosen to stay independent (more on that below). Our team has waxed and waned to reflect the economy and our content needs; at our largest, our team was comprised of five full-time employees and 15 freelance writers and at our smallest it’s been one — just me. These days we are a team of two full-time employees (myself and Caitlin) and about 7 freelance writers/editors.


So now that you know more about us, here’s what’s happening in our design blogging community at large…



  • Every part of a blogger’s life and work has been commodified. From personal stories and children to wardrobes and homes, everything is up for sponsorship and editorial discussion.
  • Advertisers (and readers) want more and more for less and less.
  • Profiting from all of the above is no longer seen as “selling out” by most readers. It’s become expected to share a lot and turn “real life” into content.
  • So much of the “real life” content being shared has become more like scrollable “reality TV,” chockfull of beautiful images that don’t reflect most people’s practical or financial “real” life.
  • Content is readily mixed with advertising/sponsorship and people are used to it. It’s rare to see a website/magazine/show without sponsorship in some form.
  • The age-old practice of “crediting” has turned into another vehicle for selling/profit. Links to other sites and roundup mentions are now offered as advertising options and affiliate marketing went from frowned upon to expected on most blogs (and is necessary for survival for most blogs at all levels).
  • Social media has added algorithms that make it very hard (and expensive) for a blog or brand’s social media feeds to reach their full range of followers.
  • It’s become even more difficult to get people to click on and read content that doesn’t come with a click-bait headline or some association to celebrity.
  • Advertisers and readers want different things. While sponsors are asking for publishers to produce video (which is expensive), most readers still prefer to read or scroll, rather than sit and watch.
    • One group not following trend is younger readers (Gen Z and younger Millennials). They often watch endless hours of how-to videos in all categories, but don’t follow through to make anything. The act of watching has replaced the act of making/doing for a lot of younger readers.

The overview of these changes can sound bleak. When I reread them, they make me feel a little woozy and wistful for the early days of blogging. But here’s what I know for sure: today’s new online publishing (including social) has given rise to more unique, fascinating and truly revolutionary voices from diverse points of view and backgrounds. Though it may be cruelly mercurial at times, the Internet has provided so many people ways to access, understand and share their voices and stories. And for that, I am grateful. I don’t need to be the loudest or best known or most relevant voice — I am proud to be one voice among a chorus of people discovering just how powerful the web can be for anyone with an idea.


So, let’s get into some details….

The primary system that supports most blogs is still advertising. While sponsored posts took over a few years ago, display ads (those static or moving banners from Blogging 1.0) are now coming back as people realize it can be harder track the efficacy of some product placement posts. That said, digital display ad spending has been reduced from previous levels as huge companies like Proctor & Gamble and Unilever are reducing digital spending and insisting that ad agencies become more transparent about their costs for campaigns (which includes the cost of content creators and agency fees).

So what we’re looking at now is the Wild West of online advertising. Networks specializing in blog ads have come, crashed and (mostly) gone. They’ve been replaced by a mix of big ad companies, in-house ad teams at big brands and middle men who act (with varying degrees of success) as a go-between. Here’s the problem with the “middle men” development: in our experience, these middle men come to blogs and request detailed pitches and content previews, only to disappear, use them with someone else or to later reveal that those requests were never shown to the client, so now the client wants to see something totally different. What that equals is a ton of time working on pitches and ideas and RFPs (request for proposal) that don’t turn into a paid campaign.

Another player in the sponsorship world is the realm of social media “influencer” networks, that pair people with sizable social followings with brands to “partner” with. Here’s where things get sticky. Partner can mean “paid” and partner can also mean “for exposure” or “in exchange for product.” Now, whether or not a blogger accepts free product as payment is up to them, but at the end of the day, you can’t pay a team, or your rent, in free product.

The other huge variable with blog and social advertising is which field you’re in, or can cross over into. The industry of furniture and design may seem like it’s awash in money, but it rarely is. Fields like beauty and fashion have brands spending millions on advertising, so those are often the blogs/influencers making the most.

The pricing and “worth” of this social content is really difficult to quantify. Some people can post something (think Kim Kardashian) and millions of people will buy it immediately. Some people can post something and and then, poof, nothing. Finding the right blogger to match with the right product and the right audience isn’t easy — and then finding a way to tell how much impact that post had is equally sticky. Are you looking for new followers? Purchases? “Engagement?” It’s all still up in the air until advertising professionals come up with standard measurements that both advertisers and advertising pros agree on. A lot of advertisers have talked about how they’re now going back to traditional banner ads because they can track them more simply. (Just reading this overview, you can sense this is a complicated, longterm process that doesn’t help blogs or online publishers create realistic, longterm cash flow estimates.)

So that leaves us back in the ad land we were used to a few years ago, but with ad rates going down and down while the asks (what they want from bloggers) continue to rise. Here’s an example:

A few years ago we heard from a brand that wanted us to use a product branded with their logo; they wanted us to use it for a full day, document it and post it on the blog and turn it into a video. We agreed to an amount and were happy with the result. The next year they came back and wanted the same post, PLUS social posts (on all channels) and wanted to drop the price in half. So more than twice the coverage for half the price with an audience that had grown in size.

This has become all too common as brands realize they can skip higher traffic blogs (which typically ask for higher rates and fewer restrictions) and focus on a long tail method. That means instead of investing in a few posts on sites with higher traffic numbers, they’ll invest the same amount (or less) in a larger number of blogs with lower traffic numbers. There’s no problem with that method, except that it seems to devalue the content in the eyes of the client and advertiser. If they can get one blog to do something for $1k, why shouldn’t all blogs do that? It seems to rarely translate that with a larger or more engaged audience, the cost of entry rises.

Lastly, advertising isn’t inherently bad — real people design real products that help solve some of our problems or fulfill our desires. But the route companies have to take to bring those products to their potential customers is a complicated one. Essentially, blogs today are the new “word of mouth” and because it’s often difficult for online publishers to make money, let alone a profit, the eco-system gets a little cluttered with products of varying quality. At D*S, before we even work with sponsors, we go through an internal vetting process where we ask ourselves what problem does this product or service help our audience (or a portion of our audience) solve, along with a list of other criteria and questions. This, in and of itself, can be a time-consuming process where you have to weigh your need for survival against staying true to your mission. It’s a fine, fine line and one that requires a lot of energy.

Whether this means teaching classes (although this is becoming one of the places where content creators are devalued the most), writing books and magazines, speaking tours (note: most conferences still want people to speak for free), designing product lines, freelancing for outside companies — getting a few irons in the fire is always a good idea. Some will last a while, others won’t. The goal is to always be testing things out. It takes a lot more work and effort to always be changing, but in an industry that doesn’t sit still, adaptation and evolution are requirements.

One part of learning to deal with changing economies (that most people don’t want to talk about) is downsizing. I feel more comfortable being 100% transparent and honest about these moments of waxing and waning, because businesses are rarely a steady line from start to success. It’s a journey of peaks and valleys and times when you have to grow and edit to survive.

I had a meeting with my accountant earlier this year where he basically told me that if we’re going to stay independent and have full-time employees with healthcare, we need to “pare down the tree.” My gut took a huge punch, but he was right. I’d gotten used to running a business based on advertising rates from earlier years and needed to edit down to the business I could afford to run now.

Once I stopped tripping over my ego, I realized it was a good chance to cut down and see what we really needed and what we didn’t. People on our team? Yes. But tons of different services and apps and software tools? Nope. I went through six months of bills (and taxes) to ensure everything we were paying for on a monthly basis was needed (it wasn’t) and made cuts there, too. Now we’re running like a lean machine and it’s nice to focus more on making sure I’m making informed business decisions rather than leaping off a cliff and hoping we make enough that month to cover it.

One other financial option for bloggers is to look for investment money or a loan. I know people who’ve done both and for me, it boils down to: to each their own. I don’t like the feeling of loans or debt, they keep me up at night. So if I can avoid them, I will. And, for me, venture capital means putting a lot of pressure on a business to grow quickly (and so often the first cuts made when people don’t meet goals is the creative/editorial team) and introducing people who get to have a say in the decisions I make. I’m a stubborn, stubborn person, so for me, these options just mean giving up too much control over the thing I love so much. But they’re out there, and for anyone who can turn them into something big and wonderful and navigate that new world, they’re great options.


The major changes I’ve seen in the online community have been building for years. People don’t typically have long conversations in the comment sections anymore. They save those points of view for their own platforms (blogs or social media feeds, etc.) and tend to swing to the extreme ends of spectrums when they do comment. Meaning, it’s all “I love it!” or “I hate it and you and here’s why…” I’m not sure where that all-or-nothing comment style came from, but I think the general tone of online commenting has taken a difficult turn.

One of the things we’ve noticed hinges on the idea that most people seem to momentarily forget they’re talking to real people online. The things they say to each other online are rarely things they would say in person. I’ve actually confronted someone before (after seeing them in person at a trade show) and my personal consensus is most people freak out when you call them on their behavior in real life. But I think for a lot of people, those other commenters they’re talking to aren’t “real” in that moment. They’re just a brand or an avatar or a handle, so telling someone they’re a sellout or a jerk or that you want to punch them is no big deal because they’re just an online personality, not a real person.

I’m not sure how, or if, this will ever change. My gut feeling has always been that as more people move into running their own feeds of some sort, they’ll experience negativity online and that experience will give them greater empathy and understanding and change they way they speak to others. It’s definitely done that for me and thankfully I’ve learned now not to say anything online I wouldn’t say to someone in person or that I wouldn’t want read back to me in court.

The final bit of community behavior that connects to all of this is the idea that all content is something that belongs to everyone, for free, whenever they want. That concept is a tough one for me to stomach. It’s led to the devaluing of content and content producers (artists, writers, photographers, stylists, etc.), it’s made finding and crediting original sources difficult (Pinterest or Reddit or Instagram are never valid “sources” for a photo credit), and it’s created a really inaccurate perception of how the things we enjoy and devour are valued. It’s also changed the way content makers receive traffic from those images. Creative images, styled backdrops and graphic/illustrative projects now just circulate through the web in the course of a few days and by the time someone tries to find the artist (if they even want to), it’s nearly impossible because so many people have shared it without attribution. That may seem petty to anyone not producing content online, but when you make your living as some sort of content creator, being credited for work is crucial (it’s how they make sales, get job offers from people who like their work, etc.).

From my point of view, blogs are shifting into a few different camps: huge network sites that have hundreds of employees and venture capital funding, mid-range blogs that stay small and manage small teams (usually with other full-time jobs), and one-person blogs that have such a small overhead that they can skirt most of the major issues related to the ad world.

Larger network-style blogs tend to be, at least currently, operating under the idea that providing the widest range of content to the widest range of people is the best idea. I have my own theories about how this is poor advice from venture capitalists who just want to see the most “key demographics” covered as possible, but what it sometimes leads to is a site that feels disconnected and confused. Strong core voices can get lost among aggregated content (usually pulled in from sites that are also in the brand’s network), but in general this “more is more” mentality seems to be ruling that niche of blogs.

We are living in the now, while keeping a close eye on what’s important to us and what’s actually working with our audience. Home tours will forever be the core of what we do — that intersection of design and real life is integral to our website — but we will continually use the fast-paced, changing nature of the web to allow us more freedom to experiment with content and how we communicate.

Right now, I’m fascinated by the way social media allows us to connect to very different audiences. The main people commenting here at the blog are very different from the people that talk to us on Twitter and Instagram. Facebook is a whole different universe of people. I still haven’t been able to fully connect with and understand Facebook from a professional perspective. I mainly use it to talk to my parents and friends in different parts of the world, but I’m always trying to keep an open mind to how it could be a useful and meaningful platform in the future.

I’ve always been someone who figures out what I want by figuring out what I don’t want first, so things are no different when it comes to Design*Sponge these days. I don’t want to be a site that takes direction from people in an office who have no connection to our community on a day-to-day basis. I don’t want to give up control to sponsors and lose our ability to be honest and talk about things beyond pretty houses.

But I do want to support my friends and co-workers who share their voices here. I do want them to know their jobs are safe and their health insurance won’t go away. And I do want to create a safe space where people can learn and talk and share and understand themselves and others better.

And to do that, I have to find a way to play the current ad game. I also need to keep trying out new projects to see how I can combine things that matter most to us and feel in line with our code of business ethics while still producing enough income to ensure the people who work with us can take care of themselves.

So I’m here to do the work. I’m listening. I’m learning. I’m trying new things — some work out, some don’t. But I will never stop trying to help this business to grow and evolve into something that feels even more meaningful, important and useful. And since day one, we’ve had all of you to thank for that. This business, in any form and on any platform, would not survive without your support. So thank you. Thank you for hanging in there while we work through growing (and sometimes downsizing) pains. Thanks for understanding when we need to try new things that don’t always work out. Thank you for embracing our new chapter of growth and change and allowing us to share more of our full selves, our full interests and our full hearts here. We are so thankful to be a part of this community and of each other’s lives online. xo, Grace

Illustration by Libby VanderPloeg 

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  • This was lovely to read and informative as heck. Much appreciated. I’ve always loved the way that you are so open and honest about the struggles of running a blog like DS. Over the years you have become the only blog I come to regularly because your content is so personal and unique. I look forward to seeing where the future takes DS, and I’ll be here along the way!

  • Thanks for this Grace! Very well thought out, written, and informative. I have always appreciated the transparency and the journey of DS as it evolves and finds its way through the ever-changing landscape of the internet. Keep up the great work!

  • I’m so glad to have found your blog over 10 years ago. You created one of the most honest design sources and it had a huge impact on my own life and career. I want to thank you for also highlighting many topics that need to be discussed, including gender, race and privilege. Greetings from Germany! Jackie

  • I love the honesty and insight in this post. About the 2015–2016 period in the D*S timeline—I definitely noticed something was different around 2016! I’ve been reading/scrolling/looking at photos off and on since the time you offered scholarships (when you were on Blogger!), but suddenly there was something much more engaging and relevant in tone and content, and I found myself skimming less and reading more. I appreciate the discussion about the connection between design and other serious issues. It’s been really resonating with me. Thank you.

  • Such an interesting view into your business, Grace. Thank you for taking the time to educate us, your readers, on the details that make up your short-term, day-to-day process as well as your long-term planning and challenges. I’ve often wondered how you can have so many different contributors, so much content, and whether you are actually able to make a living. I’m not sure why I’ve even thought of these things, because I’m not in your line of business, I have no reason to create content myself, nor am I overly interested in design. I gave up my subscriptions to Veranda and Architectural Digest years ago. But still, I’ve followed your blog for some time, and I rarely skip a post.

    While reading today, I kept wondering whether I’m part of your problem, part of your solution, or just an inert number – a “sponge” perhaps (no pun intended). I get your content on my Blogger Dashboard, I occasionally click through to a source of something that interests me, and I occasionally pin a photo to Pinterest (I always begin my pin with “From Design Sponge:” hoping that is an adequate way to credit the source). I’ve never commented before, leaving that to the pros who wish to be part of a larger design conversation. I truly hope you and your team can figure out a way to stay ahead of the every-changing world you contribute to and depend upon.

    • Charade

      Thanks for your honest comment and for your support. The short answer is that every time you click over to read a full post on our site (vs. a blog reader), you help support the content and people at DS. Blog readers may run ads in their feeds or services, but we don’t see any money from that sale, zero. So basically those services promise to bring traffic, but most people skim for pics and click over only when they want to see more (but then yell at us for not putting full posts in feeds, too).

      It’s definitely a complicated issue, but thanks for taking a second to think about it more deeply with us :)


    • I so appreciated these points, Charade. Another long time reader here, Grace. Have been with you since the beginning and there only a handful (4?) of blogs I can say that about. But D*S is certainly one of the truest, most beautiful, authentically-voiced spots out there and I appreciate your aesthetic so. But I also wonder if I’m part of the developing problem…I use Feedly to acces my many blogs (mostly design) and catch myself (frequently) flying through posts that I’m sure took a lot of time to put together. I can compare it to flipping through magazines, but I suppose the difference there is the more clearly-defined ad-revenue stream so I don’t feel as guilty doing that. But knowing some of the complicated back-story here certainly gives me pause. In more ways than one. I don’t want to be a thoughtless consumer of thoughtful media but I fear sites like BuzzFeed (which I shamefully enjoy) are subversively training my media-mind? I’m an avid book-reader so I’m not completely lost, but your post has really gotten me thinking about my role in your (and I’m sure others’) dilemmas.

      • Kelley

        It’s complicated. I read sites and fly through them, too. It’s hard for content producers, but it’s just the way things are now. I don’t mean to imply any judgment on that reading style, but I wanted to explain how that reading style means the way payment structures work HAS to change. We used to at least get ad revenue from the # of people who came to the blog to read, viewing ads unintentionally and without much interruption. But now sites that run feeds (Feedly, Bloglovin, etc.) have funneled traffic in a way that’s more convenient for readers, but that takes direct traffic and ad views away from home pages. So it’s tough. One the one hand I understand because that’s how I read, too, but I also know that this change makes it VERY hard for content producers to stay afloat.

        Magazines are different bc a lot of times they can live of subscription and newsstand prices (That’s how magazines like Kinfolk have planned ahead so they don’t run ads in-magazine, but that’s hard to do up front with no $$ to fund your first ever issue, which can cost at least $20k). Re: magazines, even if you don’t read the whole magazine, you still pay the stand price, which benefits the magazine. But it’s rough for advertisers because they can’t guarantee their ads are flipped through or seen- and they’ll never really know because it’s not tracked digitally. But at least the magazines still get that stand or subscription price to keep them going.

        So I don’t really know the answer. I don’t know if enough adverts will figure out that higher quality advertising with sites that are a good fit is worth it. I hope they will, but it’s definitely a “race to the bottom” feel right now, which is sad.

        Thanks for taking that moment to pause and think. I always struggle with whether or not to post things like this because a) I don’t want anyone to feel bad/blamed and b) No one is forcing me to blog and c) I also read this way and know it’s not usually a decision people make to hurt bloggers, it’s just habit now. But I truly appreciate you even just taking this second to stop, think and consider what this all means. That gives me hope for the future :)


        • Grace, I read through Bloglovin and when I click on a post title in my feed, it appears to take me to Design Sponge (the url in my search bar says designsponge.com). But when I copied the whole url and actually looked at it, I can see that it does reference bloglovin towards the end. So that means your site isn’t getting the benefit of my click?! I didn’t know that. I’m totally willing to click through the old fashioned way if that means it will actually count. Your site is still one of the only mainstream design blogs that’s stepped up to showcase greater diversity, and I value your thoughtful approach to sponsored content. It’s important to me to support those things. Thanks for doing what you do, and for this really honest and informative post.

          • Jen

            Yes, sadly until you see our URL and our ads, we won’t see views count towards the advertisements that support our business.

            Thanks for listening and reading :)


  • Fascinating post. I’ve been thinking about some of these trends for the past few years as a reader of blogs. Many solo-blogs aren’t producing content much anymore. And instagram follower folks are more about crafting the feel of an authentic person/story than showing a living reality. It’s curious to me that so many folks will write for free on a corporate website — think Amazon product reviews. No wonder it’s hard to make money in this business when so many give away free content to corporations. Agreed re: only hate speech. It’s everywhere in the comment sections. No wonder folks think this kind of language is acceptable and then take it to the streets. The internet has done great things as you point out to increase a myriad of voices, but I also wonder how it is eroding social norms. Thanks for the open, honest take. A fascinating read.

  • i haven’t ever left a comment here before, but THANK YOU. this type of honesty takes courage and helps us (the readers) understand the WORK you and other brave people put into running these platforms that i LOVE. putting your lives (& hearts & souls) into the world for anyone to see whenever they want is so brave and i applaud you and your team for doing this for as long as you have. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.

  • I so enjoyed this post! Thanks for your refreshing and informative reflection on the current state of affairs in blogs. It is no small feat to run a blog like this, and I have often wondered about some of these logistics. What a great read!

  • Grace, thanks so much for such a thoughtful and deep reflection of the online world and your place in it. I am truly impressed by your ability to soldier on during such challenging and quickly changing times and I have been, and will continue to be, a daily reader. But I must say that I’m pretty worn out by the whole online design community as a whole, as it has become a source of unease and discontentment that I didn’t notice at first, but has, over time, developed into a series of attitudes and habits that have not been good for me. I realize that I have a choice in what I look at and what I spend my time and money on, but I really feel that, in *general*, I am better off without most of it as I have difficulty avoiding the “your home is not good enough” mentality that the online world relies on in order to push more and more product.

    I treasure your blog because I consider it a work of scholarship, art, and social justice. I wonder if you ever considered moving toward a subscription or donation model (like Brain Pickings, your peer in the literary world)? I would happily pay for the privilege of viewing your work. But maybe this would cause difficulty in terms of your audience reach.

    • Ginger

      Thanks for your comment. We thought about a subscription model, but very few people have been able to make that work long term for for me, it wasn’t worth the risk. People are used to reading DS for free, so suddenly making it (or even part of it) cost something felt like a sure-fire way to lose a large % of our audience (which we need to stay afloat) quickly.

      Writing books (and we’re working on a magazine/journal now, too) has been an interesting way to test out content that people have to buy to read and it’s definitely something I’m still toying with. Eventually we’ll have to make non-advertising a bigger % of our revenue, but for now we’re trying to find ways to edit our daily costs down so we can keep this model and our current team the way it is, since it’s working well for us for right now.

      Grace :)

  • Wow this is such an informative post. I’ve been a blogger since 2010 (single person blog) and I stopped blogging for a while because it felt like all the joy had been sucked out in a rush to publish.

    In 2015, I added an online store to my blog, and over the past two years, I’ve transitioned more to an online business that has a blog rather than a blog that has a business. (if you’re interested, it is http://www.bombaytaxiboutique.com)

    Lately I’ve been wondering what the future of blogging looks like, and your post has certainly given me something to think about, so thank you for writing it!

  • Thank you for writing this Grace. Your experience really shines in how you tell the story of DS and analyze the current blogging world while remaining balanced. I actually managed to see your panel when the In The Company of Woman tour came to Chicago and it was the best creative panel I had ever see.

    You and the DS team are huge inspirations, and not just in the #goals ways, but in true living what you preach, so thank you!

  • Hey Grace – great post, and your blog, your voice, and the Design-Sponge site are all meaningful to me. Thanks for the hard work, thoughtfulness, and creativity that you share with us. –Kathy

  • Thanks for sorting all this out and sharing with us. I’m a subscriber of several years but had never heard your story and how you got started. Congratulations on making a life out of this thing you love so much, and I look forward to visiting your site for years to come.

  • Wow! Solid post. Really appreciate the insight! Have toyed with the idea of blogging for years so this was very informative for me. I really enjoy all the different aspects you cover in the design world on Design*Sponge. You have a unique niche. Wishing the best for you in the future.

  • if you guys just did home tours forever and ever.. i would still be so happy!! i am 25 and ive been with you guys since right before your first book came out. love your site and i appreciate how you have grown and evolved over time. it would be really cool to see EVEN MORE essays about home life and trends (such as the white walls debate or the one on open concept living). i do have to say i miss the before and afters! there is just something so satisfying about them :).

    thanks design sponge. so long ago i came for the inspiration and stimuli, but i’ve stayed because of the way your content shapes how i view the world around me.

  • This was incredibly incisive, Grace, thanks for taking the time to write it up.

    One of the points that struck me most was this: “Every part of a blogger’s life and work has been commodified. From personal stories and children to wardrobes and homes, everything is up for sponsorship and editorial discussion.” From my perspective, this is 100% spot-on, and also one of the things that bothers me most about social media today. I find that it confuses the issue of authenticity in complex ways. If anything can be leveraged for a potential boost in engagement, or to make someone seem “more real,” who can tell what stems from a genuine desire to share or express oneself and what comes from a perceived opportunity? Interestingly, this doesn’t bother me about bloggers or other people on social media–it bothers me about myself. When I go to post something, I always reflexively look at my own motivations, and I am surprised by how hard it is to stay to my true north and not be swayed one way or another by how things will be received, or the impact on my overall “influence.”

    Design*Sponge continues to be the only blog I visit every day. I admire how you have adapted and used your platform to speak out on important issues. I’ll be eagerly reading to see where D*S goes next.

  • Wow. I can’t help but read this and admire your doggedness–most people would’ve said, ” Well, it’s been nice, but the ad revenue is gone and so am I” around 2012. But thank you so much for sticking with it! D*S has really come into its voice in the last few years, and as much as I loved DIYs in 2012, I love the focus on celebrating creative women and their real lives even more. Thank you for making this such a huge source of encouragement for us in a time when it feels very needed.

  • I have a habit of scrolling and scrolling thru content and this is one the best pieces of content I’ve read (and wanted to read!) in a long time. I remember D*S back in the day and what a great journey. Keep up the great work and staying true to you intentions while navigating this crazy world.

  • What a thoughtful and wise post. As someone who runs a one-person blog and freelances for a few mid-range blogs, this was a fascinating read, and I’m sure it took forever to put together, so I just wanted to say thanks. I got a lot out of it!

    xx Hannah

  • Grace, I started reading your blog when I was 15, and now i’m 28 and working as a librarian at an art and design school. This blog has been a source of inspiration and has been a constant in my life through high school, college, my first job, grad school, and my professional life. Thank you for providing such great content on Design*Sponge and conscientiously evolving- it’s what has kept me reading through different stages in my life.

  • I think you are the most impressive individual. Reading about the background history was fascinating to me. I am proud of what you (and team) have built and enjoy being a regular visitor. Thank you.

  • Your “comment about comments” is so true. I’m overjoyed when just one person comments on my site (instead of on the FB link or IG post) and one time I had FIVE comments and that just the best day ever.

    I can’t imagine having hundreds (or thousands) of readers conversing on my site or having any sort of dialogue with fellow readers. Those must have been the good old days!

    p.s. I still listen to your podcast on trips.

  • I don’t know very much about blogs, and only read three regularly, including Design Sponge. Have been reading it for a number of years and love its authenticity. Was not really aware of all the changes affecting the blogging work, but it’s great to be able to make a living out of something you have created and love. Kudos!

  • Thanks for all that you do, Grace + the entire Design Sponge team. I’ve been reading D*S for nearly 10 years because it is a source of inspiration and beauty. I love the home tours. I love the recipes. I love the literary reviews. I have both of your books on a bookshelf of “my favorites”. I bought my first house 12 years ago and Design Sponge has been a great resource as I turned the space into a functional and personal home. The content of the site has changed overtime but the quality and solid principles behind the content remain constant which is why I keep reading. D*S has had a positive impact on my life, home and family. Thank you for your passion and hard work. I wish you and the team continued success.

  • Grace this was a great post and well written. I feel better informed and encouraged as I set out on my own ventures. I want to read more of your posts and engage better with other things I read as a result. Thank you

  • This was very compelling. As an avid consumer of online design content I often find myself feeling guilty that I don’t support the blogs I love enough. While I’d love to purchase many of the things on the blogs I see the truth is I either don’t have the financial ability to do so OR I don’t really need it. But also I am 100% guilty of not wanting to pay for online content (which is semi-ridiculous) but I likely would for the right blogs because it really bums me out when I see bloggers do a partner or sponsor post that you know had to be a financial decision for them rather than something they really love. Can’t blame them for it at all and it doesn’t turn me away from the blogs but it actually makes me distrust those brands more.

    Your blog, and many others, bring me immense joy. The intersection of design, real life (both good and bad and beautiful) is a way in which the internet has been incredibly eye opening for me. Keep doing what you’re doing – you and Julia (THANK GOD FOR HER TURKEY MEATBALLS) are lovely and I am glad you share pieces of your life with the internet void. I will do better about commenting “I love it all!” #guilty so that we can continue to build community online and put thoughts and feelings to an otherwise empty space. Truly good blogs (this included) are absolutely emailed back and forth between my friends and I and it’s amazing to see online community build real life community.

  • I’m going to re-read your essay, but this is the reason I have you in my feedly: “We have always been a small, independent team with no venture capital funding. People have offered to buy our site but we’ve always passed and chosen to stay independent”

  • Thanks so much for sharing Grace! A lot of what you’ve said has resonated with me especially the bits about not planning too far ahead, self-funding projects you care about and running a business I can afford to run. As I carve out my own place in the fine art world (including the growing art online eco-system) I’ll keep these in mind. The best part about being at the beginning of my new business is that I can experiment and try new things. I just hope that what I am creating will stand up as strong, mighty and meaningfully as Design Sponge ten years from now. Keep creating and sharing content that stretches us (all of us). THANK YOU!

  • Wow, this is fascinating to read! You are so generous for sharing insight. I’m a long-time follower of DS and still come back, through thick and thin, because of the integrity you and your team has. Plus the fun homes and talk of pets (<33 seeing/hearing of anyone's dogs and kitties). Thank you, thank you. What really stuck with me was your post on becoming gentler and more graceful with age ("less snarky, precocious" – it made me realize that I was a little shit head hahahaha in my early 20's! I KNOW I left a smart ass comment on DS at least once in the last 10 yrs! Forgive me haha!!). I've grown up alongside DS :-) and I DO click out of my Feedly reader to read the post. I wish you lots of success in navigating more financial gain from the ad scene – sounds so fluid and even volatile that it must be stressful. Thanks for all of your work; DS is one of my favorite parts in the internet reading I do.

  • You are one of the few blogs I still read today, and I really appreciate this post. I love your posts on the blog – particularly the ones in the last year or two – you are really nailing it. I also enjoy following you and Julia on instagram – it adds even more meaning to the work that you are doing, and you both feel like good friends to me. (I’m @thirdstoryies, frequent commenter, lover of all food photos, and sharer of all flower photos with my mother!)

    Thank you for your continued honesty and bravery. Your “home” is a refuge to me these days – even if that’s the virtual home of your blog and social media. I hope you understand how much it’s needed and treasured by so many.

  • Yours was one of the first blog I stumbled upon in 2008, and this post perfectly illustrates why. I’ve watched you evolve over the years, and I feel the same amount of respect for you now as I did back then. In today’s fragmented media landscape, I think it’s been easy for some to lose sight of their original voice (and I can understand why) but through and through, yours has always felt authentic. Thanks for the ongoing adaptations, effort to connect to diverse audiences in a changing world, and the guts it takes to document it all.

  • Dear Grace
    thank you so much for sharing that with us. you probably think of it during these nights : good and bad side of blogging, even more when you have a team to held.
    pression comes from everywhere:
    business & marketing which want more and more despite paying less
    social media where you have to be, but often by dissolving the quality
    and sadly, also audience, who seems to not read posts but just look quickly at beautiful pictures (when it’s not “empty” videos), like and share, without any consideration with those who create the contents & the images.
    your sincere post make us looking through the hidden side of blogging (at least for those who take the time to come on the blog and read it), but maybe to the entire society.
    and I think this is the better part of blogging : Facebook or Instagram don’t allow that kind of highly valuable content.
    and I find interesting that another blogger that I follow regularly seems to have partially the same problems. she develops another activity so spend less time on her blog, but she tells her story on the blog, not elsewhere.
    anyway, I’m really grateful to know that you will continue (I fear to learn you quit when I began the reading of your post :)
    thank you for all these years, all these posts, hoping you continue for a long time with the same honesty and integrity, following your own way.

  • This is an excellent read. As someone who worked in online advertising for eight years (representing publishers), everything you said confirms what I’ve seen in the industry as well. It’s increasingly difficult for quality content publishers like yourself to maintain any kind of livable income, as advertisers continue to flock to “content farms” with no real value beyond scale (and even much of that “scale” is fabricated traffic numbers). I love your site’s focus on quality above clickbait, and I’ll continue to try to support you when and where I can.

  • Thank you for sharing your honest views. I used to have a little blog years ago and the readers left regular comments. Nowadays, it’s easier to “like” something or comment with an emoji at a push.

    I don’t know where the meaningful conversations happen now. But I have the feeling it’s happening offline.

  • I have only been a regular reader since a month ago. I would read your blog on and off during the point you offered scolerships and had a large team. Now I read it not because of the photos and pretty stuff (well, actually I do a little) but because you make it more than that. Here it’s like a whole way of thinking rather than just “Hey, isn’t this cute?!” Having my own blog of the tiniest readership, you are the standard of what it looks like to blog about art and design, because you add people.
    The blogging world is a bit scary. Thank you for being brave.

  • This is such a breath of fresh air and SO honest and insightful! Coming from the other end of the spectrum (I own an online store) I have seen firsthand the recent shift in the past 2-3 years and the erratic foundation it’s put us all on. Sounds like you’ve got your head/heart/biz in the right place. You should hold your head high in this reality-show-like-world!

  • Thank you, Grace, for such an honest and detailed look at what it is like to survive and thrive while keeping your integrity in what is such a huge industry nowadays.

    There is so much to digest in this article, but a few things really piqued my interest —

    — “…(Gen Z and younger Millennials). They often watch endless hours of how-to videos in all categories, but don’t follow through to make anything. The act of watching has replaced the act of making/doing for a lot of younger readers.” This is incredibly sad to me. To me it says the very nature of what is truly real is being threatened by what is labeled ‘reality’.

    –The second is the challenge of crediting for creative work that circulates around the blogosphere. I really appreciate D*S* for being a “credit where credit is due” organization and going out of your way to make sure that people that originate ideas, art and content are honored for their work.

    — And I really appreciate your honest talk about how D*S* must accept sponsorships and other types of payment in order to survive and pay your employees fairly. Having worked in non-profits for many years, I know that it is a delicate balancing act to make enough money to survive without compromising your mission.

    So much goes on behind the scenes at D*S* that many of your devoted viewers, myself included, may never have even thought about. But you do all of this with grace (pun intended) and it never interferes with the beauty of your site.

    Thank you!

  • grace! this is so informative and so interesting. thanks so much for being super transparent! i miss the days of tons of blog comments and commentary. i even find myself writing differently because it feels like the discourse won’t really even take place. but maybe people are reading and they find engaging to be easier on other platforms? i do find that so much conversation and engagement is happening via insta stories and instagram. it’s fascinating. i do find this super helpful so thank you so much for sharing all of this! xo

  • I’ve been reading D*S since 2008. It was the first bookmark I put on the first computer I bought as an adult ! In the following years, my interest for design grew, and so did the number of blogs I was reading – up to 30 at some point, and I had a very, very demanding job and no time to read them everyday, even though I did. DS was at the top of the bookmark folder, the first one I checked every day. Back then, I shared your love for pink and cute things, and you taught me pattern. I have five (yes, five) very, very bold patterned wallpapers in my small house, I love them and have you guys to thank for them !

    Then, around 2014, I felt bored, over-stuffed with the same, overedited, overbranded, overmerchandized content everywhere. One day, on a minimalist fit, I decided which I would keep, and which I would delete. I kept 8 of them, and DS was still at the very top (the others included blogs like Manhattan Nest, and bigger sites like Apartment Therapy). At that time, I felt that DS was shifting from a cutesy aesthetic to something way, way more edgy and mature, and I felt the same way. Bye bye cute overload, hello graphic patterns, black, elegance and thoughtfulness. I was totally onboard.

    Now, it’s 2017 and you’ve added thoughtful essays like this one and many, many, many more. In a world where every blogger seems to share when he/she poops, this has become a place of restrained elegance and maturity, one of the few places left where I hear a human voice speaking. I don’t know where you went on vacation or what you had for dinner, yet I feel I know more important stuff about you, like how you feel about the world (of design or not). I’ve just had the same minimalist fit I’ve had years ago, and DS is now at the top of a list of 3 blogs. Manhattan Nest is still there, but AT has gone and Emily Henderson will probably go soon too (too much branding). DS stays.

    I guess my bottom line is just to say thank you, because I feel like I took you too much for granted and I’m ashamed of it. I don’t have an online business and I had no idea the internet was changing so much. Thank you for the delicious recipes (thank your wife too for her cookbook), for the thought-provoking essays, for the beautiful designs. Thank you for growing and evolving, and taking me along for the ride. Thank you for keeping your voice and your integrity !

  • Thank you! I started reading Design*Sponge around 2008 for the beautiful pictures–and I’ve stayed all these years because of your authenticity. I can get pretty pictures anywhere, but Design*Sponge has introduced me to a bigger world than I knew in small-town Georgia and helped me grow as a human being.

  • Thank you Grace for your honesty and sharing the financial reality of your business.

    I am based in Sydney, Australia. The current thinking here, in the online community, is that blogs are dead and that people want to engage authentically and passionately with their interests. To that end, the future in blogging may evolve into a subscription model for access to a community of people that share that passion. A place where people can share their thoughts and ideas, access quality content and generally ‘be’ in a community of support and respect. See Mighty Networks for further explanation.

    Your integrity is a testament to your longevity in the finicky online world. You have a loyal following and I know from reading some of the previous comments that people would be willing to pay for access to your content. You may lose many people moving to this business model, but the people that know and like you, after all these years, will no doubt stay with you and your team. Quite simply, you have an authentic voice in a world that has mostly ‘sold out’.

    Best wishes for the future.

    • Kathy

      Can you clarify more what, “people want to engage authentically and passionately with their interests” means in relation to blogs? Do you see blogs as less authentic communication than other?


  • Thank you, Grace, for spending the time to help us understand how very complex this world of blogging is.

    There are so many things in this post that I had NO idea about. I appreciate your blog even more now. I am also a long-time subscriber.


  • This was a fascinating read and the explanation in the comments about feedly etc is really helpful. I love the home tours so always have to click through – then hang around and read everything else – and now I’ll feel good about that! (Another blog I read regularly only shows the first couple of lines, I thought it was some kind of coding issue, now I figure it’s deliberate.) Anyway keep going, it’s a fascinating site and much loved, even by those of us like me who never comment, just sigh wistfully and make elaborate home improvement plans, we’ll possibly never realise.

  • Thanks so much for this update. It’s so useful to read such a concise article. I’m currently gathering information and findings from a 50 day creative personal discovery I’ve assigned myself. It seems overwhelming to choose the right platform to simply share this with the right people that will find it useful. I think I will be traditional and blog though :) it just feels like the right thing. Thanks again

  • Would like to replicate most of the comments above.
    Thank you for sharing this. Very interesting. Bravo for staying so optimistic when some evolutions you mention are rather bleak and scary !
    I’m 30 and D&S is one of the blogs i’ve been following for the longuest Time…i can’t remember when i started but probably about 8 years ago. I’m actually not that into design but that’s the whole point : your posts make design accessible to “normal people”. I loved the woman in business section.
    Completely prefer blogs which don’t post about everything lifestyle diy books food fashion etc etc but have a more precise editorial line…
    Would love to know what I can do to “support” D&S … Does commenting really help with the advertising revenue ?
    Long live Design Sponge and its creativity :)

  • Reading this article is my homework for today. I have to re-read this in a day or two to go deeper into it and understand more fully. I valued this article and your voice. Thank you for sharing.

  • Grace–this is a remarkable piece. My wife sent it to me. At 60, I find that keeping up is something I run from and run to. My work requires me to be in it but also to avoid it at all costs lest I contaminate what I seek for myself and want to say. Your thought process transcends the world of blogs. It is a set of critical considerations for existing in the related businesses we are in. Thanks for writing this. It’s a lovely expression of community….one that takes a rap (oftentimes very valid) these days particularly because it exists in the occasionally intangible ether world of the internet.

  • Thanks for your honesty and insight, Grace. Wow is that the perfect name for you! I’m 35 and have been getting your emails for over 10 years. Sometimes on my phone I found it challenging to get over the jump and figure out how to see the rest of the content, especially the lovely home tour photos. Now I finally figured it out. My work has nothing to do with design, I run a Harley-Davidson dealership on Cape Cod, but your posts bring art and design and colors and new ideas into my life. And I appreciate that greatly. Thank you for the year and year of creativity you have poured our way.

  • Grace, you are so appreciated! Thanks for being a sincere person in the online world, I love DS and will continue to read your great content.

  • I really enjoyed reading this honest and thoughtful post.
    I have really loved seeing how you’ve brought more intention to what you’re doing here–tackling bigger issues– and find it inspiring. The devaluing of content is something I struggle a lot with too. This has given me a lot to think about.

  • As with everything, the pendulum will swing back and forth a few times. What’s old will become new again in some way. I don’t read as many blogs as I used to unless there is a topic of specific interest, like this one. For visual skimming, I’ll use instagram. But I do find myself missing the old days of blog communities. You’re right about the “watch but don’t do” video culture among some age groups. Video is fine as part of an online diet, but I’m sick of the cliche and predictable “oh, hey lets do a video cuz that’s cool and the millenials like it.” Anyhow – thank you for your honest insights!

  • Grace,
    This is such an important piece. In a world where everyone is trying to fake it til they make it, I think it’s crucial to be honest about what the lives of bloggers and content creators looks like. It’s a lot of work and a lot of time spent feeling like you’re not worth it.
    What is most interesting to me is how things have shifted so drastically over the past decade or so.
    You do wonderful work. You have ambition and integrity and it is very appreciated!

  • Thank you for this insightful and honest post. You have put words to a lot of my gut feelings I’ve had toward changes in online content, and I am grateful. As a reader, I want to be conscious of my behavior and choices, just as you are demonstrating as a reponsible content creator. One of my favorite early DS discoveries were Nikki McClure’s calendars, which I’ve purchased every year for the last 11 years.

  • Thank you Grace! I happened upon this post by accident and I’m so glad I did. This is my first visit to your site and I am so impressed by your honest story. As a very new blogger, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the history of your blog, learning about all the ups and downs over the years. Your thoughts on advertising and blogs in general have given me a great insight into what I want to see from my own website. A solo blog sounds good too me right now😊 I’m not sure I could handle all the difficulties that arise from a larger site. I guess time will tell. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and I’m so happy to have found Design Sponge!

  • This read is fascinating – thank you so much. I do use feedly and it is annoying to have to click over to the site to view a full post, but knowing about this ad conundrum makes it feel a bit more worth it, esp for sites whose content I really want to support. (I also sometimes end up clicking over to the full site because saving images to pin boards etc from feedly on an iPad – where I typically read blogs – is a major PITA.) I imagine that casual readers might skip clicking over, and it seems like this is something that these blog readers will eventually need to address, no? Curious if you’re seeing any movement in that direction or are they stubborn to the need for this? As a long-time freelance writer and artist I’ve lately been considering the idea of starting a curated blog myself simply to stay inspired and to have some feeling of control over the feast or famine nature that comes with being a freelancer/self-employed. But I also know that the niche areas in which I would likely be most interested in would never earn tons of advertising revenue. I’ve been curious about these NPR-esque sponsorship models I’ve seen on some blogs where the content is all free but readers are asked to support the blog through donations if they have the means. I wonder how successful that is because I never see any data published on those sites. But as you publish more and more in-depth content around social issues and thought leadership pieces like this that are rare to find on a lot of sites (honestly if this were a white paper in a research journal I’d be paying for it) I find myself thinking that I would definitely have slipped some $ for this content into a virtual tip jar if one were available.

    • Nicole

      It’s tough, most people who do that sort of “donation” based funding are single-writer platforms where donations of that level (which are much smaller than most people think) DO cover their costs. Our costs (because we cover health insurance, etc.) are much much higher than that and donation models rarely cover those costs and then when sites do that AND ads, people seem to think the sites are being greedy.

      The thing I struggle with is the feeling you mentioned of it being a pain to have to click over to pin something, etc. I understand that frustration, but it’s also hard because the “cost” of that free content being available to do whatever you want with is simple: one click. But the number of people who write us to complain about that one click is pretty overwhelming. It’s hard not to respond and remind people that this is all provided free of cost, every day, so the very least we’re asking is for people to visit our website before they take the content (usually without credit). But from my experiences talking to people who complain about that click, there’s very little I could say to convince them they should care, because the feeling is that there’s always another site popping up to replace the one that might shut down bc of lack of funding.


      • Yeah, it sounds like a bit of a rock and a hard place. I’m a content creator myself, so even if I’m just pinning something it gets attributed, regardless. Lack of attribution is one of my biggest pet peeves about the internet right now. I hadn’t had coffee yet obviously when I wrote my first comment – ha! – and realize that I said blog readers when I meant the blog feeds. Like feedly etc. I’m surprised they haven’t addressed this issue yet somehow, and wonder what the pressure vacuum would need to be for them to do so. In any case, I’m glad you’re keepin on keepin on. And hope you don’t let the whiners get you down! ;)

  • FASCINATING read Grace! I’m a small blogger so I don’t have these issues – I just have the eternal, why do I blog in the first place mental gymnastics thing going on. I’ve often wondered what would happen if blogs began charging a subscription fee – would anyone pay it? I know people talk about the death of blogs all the time – I still LOVE my favorites. I’m an introvert. I’m a mom. I don’t get to meet/talk to people other than my kid and husband as much as I’d like. My online friends and the blogs I read are still a really important part of my life. I have nothing of major substance to offer to the discussion really, except to say that Design Sponge has been a favorite for years and years and I applaud all that you do.

  • I discovered Design Sponge by accident many years ago surfing the net. I truly love your content and would miss you terribly if you ever went away. I can’t say which segment is my favorite because they all are. Your latest book, In The Company of Women, sits on my coffee table. Not only is it a beautiful book cover, I relate to the women featured. Continued Success!

  • Grace — your are thoughtful, creative and intuitive. Thank-you for your look back… think modern post. I have followed your amazing journey from the very start, and continued to be inspired. You will emerge with from this moment energized, realizing incredible re-invention — because as a business owner since May 5th, 1995, at 5pm– in a historic house with an address of 505 — I too exploded with success, added a 1920’s art deco studio, grew and added a 1970’s Brady Bunch building with an amazingly creative team…. only to contract, contract and contract to the same office space in the original historic house and now one studio in an emerging neighborhood overlooking the beautiful bike trails. Like you, it takes enormous perseverance, trust, community, family and joy for what you do. I admire your work ethic and enthusiasm — thank-you so very much for writing this very personal post of the first and future chapters of your creative journey. Kindest regards!

  • Grace, thank you for taking the time to articulate what so many of us long-term bloggers have experienced in the past few years. The landscape has certainly changed. I continue to be motivated by my passion for design, desire to connect with an audience, and gratitude for all of the wonderful opportunities my blog has brought me over the past ten years. That said, it isn’t always easy, it can be exhausting at times, and I don’t always know what is coming next. Thank you for being so transparent. It’s comforting to know that we are all experiencing similar situations, even at your level!

  • Grace, thanks also for this honest look at what it means to run an online platform in 2017.

    I’m looking at getting offline more and reaching audiences, doing a handheld product (relaunched book+magazine), a
    weekly email newsletter and solid long form storytelling and blogging on my site.

    My community is my strength and they are 100% why I’m still here. Also, great to meet you and some of them in D.C. last fall!

  • Grace, this is such an insightful and thought provoking piece. I’m a long-time (silent) reader and I can honestly say everything you mentioned above about Design Sponge’s values and voice shows with every single post, especially this one! Thank you for sharing your candid point of view and thinking about us readers :) It is much appreciated. Sivan

  • Thanks for this Grace! I always love reading your state of the blog. I actually can’t quite believe the last one was 3 years ago. I used to blog and I’ve also worked for other, pretty sizable blogs. So I understand a lot of the struggles you mentioned, especially the devaluing of content. I also started my own online retail business 2 years ago and one of the things that I’ve noticed now being on the other side that has really changed in the new age of blogging and social media is the ability for small businesses to compete with larger advertisers for exposure. Years ago you could buy a sidebar ad on a small or mid-size blog for a fairly good price that was affordable for small businesses. But now the point of entry is often thousands of dollars. And as you mentioned social media makes it difficult to grow or be seen without spending the big bucks. This is sad to me not only as a business owner who is trying to thrive but also as someone who used to love discovering new brands and treasures made by small and independent makers. I appreciate blogs that try to make space for both the large companies that can help pay them to make quality content, but also the little guys who, frankly, can’t a lot of the time. This is such an important conversation and as always I appreciate you starting it.

  • I’ve been reading since almost the beginning (I think I may have discovered it through the nytimes article) and want to thank you for all the hard work you’ve put into the site. I wonder myself how sites like the nytimes make the move from free to partially paid. I wonder if that’s an avenue for you? Good luck!

  • Thanks for posting this Grace 💗 As a content producer (food blogger – homespuncapers.com), I am definitely feeling a lot of the points you made here. The lack of genuine comments on my blog and social media, and the general lack of value placed on content that takes hours to produce is depressing to say the least. Social media is not the fun and communal place it use to be, people can be entitled or consume without appreciation. I have actually been taking a break from posting on my blog to deal with the burn out caused by the above, and have since been attracted to more projects that exist offline first and foremost (and online only secondarily). Online content producing is so undervalued now, I’m not sure it’s sustainable long term (for me anyway). I really love reading DS so I hope you’ll continue to grow and be able to support your business while remaining true to yourself. Thanks again :) Liberty

  • Your post made me feel so heavy and hopeful at the same time. Heavy, because you put into words what I’ve been thinking about many things as of late – social media, commenters, values, perfection (though rarely is that anyone’s reality), etc. Hopeful, because you articulated the “culture” so well and you see that there’s a shift (and not necessarily for the good). You crave value and meaning and intention and I kept thinking about that proverb “what good is it to gain the whole world and lose your soul in the process {paraphrased}.” It’s refreshing to read how Design Sponge is taking a deep look inward and trying to balance that fine line of purpose and depth, but still trying to make a living. It ALL just resonated. So thanks for making this a place I WANT to come to each day, and for your realness. If I lived near you guys, I’d want to be best friends. :)

  • Grace, it is so interesting to read your perspective.
    I ran a popular personal project blog for many years. The blogging world has changed so much and I also miss the earlier boom. I’ve been on the internet/www since it was a bunch of connected school supercomputers and I still think of blogging as personal projects. I didn’t add advertising because I was never interested in turning mine into a business but you have done well in balancing your personal interests with gaining an income.
    I can’t see a difference between blogs and websites anymore, and it’s hard to find a good blog to read. I always use adblock, so if I’m turned away I’ll just keep looking elsewhere – there are still a few out there like me. I use the internet as inspiration and not as a shopping catalog. So please keep posting real people’s home decor and your personal essays because that is why I’ve been visiting your blog for nearly 10 years.
    (Also, thank you for pursuing proper photo credits. I still see my uncredited images used all over the internet, even by valid sites that should know better.) xoxo

  • Hi Grace,

    Just want to let you know how much I appreciate pieces like this and the work you have been doing. I have been reading your blog from the very beginning and have watched your blog grow and deal with theses challenges. Your honesty and transparency is so great and makes me want to keep reading and following your work. I do miss the early days when you had more of a focus on specific designers and artists and finds that you would showcase but I’m guessing that either changed because of funding or your interests. Would love to see more of that in the future if that could ever make sense. Regardless I’ll keep watching you manage the challenging environment and am grateful you’re still contributing your voice. Best, Lucy

  • I’ve followed your site on and off since you were on blogspot. And I’ve had my own blog on and off since around then (well, several blogs). And each time I get back into the game, I see how big the changes have been. Definitely what you mention in terms of how people feel about bloggers making money, comments, and social media.

    One of the big things I’ve noticed, too, is that so many bloggers are now creating online classes. As a source of income, is this something you’ve considered or tried in the past? Does it feel less authentic?

  • I read this post with avid interest, as per usual. As a working artisan, I have been poised to launch a blog that can function as on online portfolio and contact point for a year. But I haven’t, because I don’t really want an online contact point and portfolio, if it turns into a troll party! I do not want to do all the things I am told you should do…. don’t want to be on facebook, I am okay letting that ship sail! I do not want to tweet! I am on the fence about instagram. I am also concerned about posting enough, having the energy to keep up with it, but I guess the test for that is to try, and just find a rhythm.
    The reason I still even THINK about it, about having a blog, and want to try (besides wanting to create a way for word of mouth clients to “see” me and decide if they would like to work with me or not) is because of voices like yours. I appreciate your honesty, your individuality, your ownership of what you are about. Just because you are who you are, and this is what you are interested in. The exploration, contemplation, and sharing of things, with information, with credits! The context is compelling, because after years, I do feel more like I know you and I get what you are about, and I want to support it however I can. Like with a friend.
    Just sayin’. XO

  • Grace,
    I am not a blogger . I am a reader who came to your site many years ago while fiddling around on the internet. Throughout the years I have always come to D*S for tranquility , beauty, fun, creative thinking, intelligence and honesty. Lately it seems the entire universe is consumed with money and power. I understand the need for advertising to get a product out there, but packaging and promises are more the reality than actual integrity of product/service. ( Does anyone really believe that the soda companies made smaller cans because they cared about our health and the amount of sugar consumers take in???)
    I see your challenges and appreciate you for showing me the inner workings of how you face them.
    Today, I just wanted to see something beautiful and take my mind off of the stressors of life, so I opened to your site. I love the colors, the logo, the design of the visuals , the content and information. I know I am reading and ” communicating” with people with whom I could share dinner .
    Thank- you for the beauty and honesty and rising to the challenge of change ( which we know is the only constant).
    Success always

  • This column provided a lot of context for what I see in Instagram. Really grateful for this site. It provides inspiration, beauty, and a place to hear from people I would never meet in real life. It’s also challenged me to examine my buying patterns, accept my own eccentric style choices, and get glimpses into the lives/homes of people all over the world. Great work!

  • Thank you Grace for an illuminating analysis of the blog world. I am a former journalist, now full-time ceramicist, and find I have mixed feelings about all the social media that I feel I need to consume in order to stay in touch, and create/ raise my profile. I totally understand your comments that content is never really free and making it so has unforeseen impacts. For me, ‘staying in touch’ can have both positive and negative impacts – positive in forging connections with people I would otherwise not meet, ,and negative, in that it can leave me feeling drained and with a lot of information that I really didn’t need to know. So personally, I want curated content and thoughtful editorial. I want advertising to be clear, not hidden. I follow Design Sponge because I feel there are real people creating the content. I realise this may be because of my background as a journalist and also my age.but I am hoping I am not in the minority.

    • I totally agree Janetta – those reasons are some the reasons I love Design Sponge too! And you put your feelings about social media so well – I feel the same way so often, that mix of positive and negative. Also, your ceramics are beautiful!

      • Elizabeth,, I often find social media is inspiring and expanding, but sometimes scrolling through FB or instagram can leave me with the feeling of ‘homework’….and thankyou for visiting my website and your kind words!

  • Thanks for this post and all the helpful information. I own a small diy/craft blog, and I am trying to learn as much about the blogging industry as possible.

  • This us such an interesting and invaluable insight into the blogging world. As a full-time ‘one-person’ blogger I am learning that it’s vital to be fluid, flexible and above all else, show a willingness to adjust to whichever way the wind blows. As a result, working in the online world makes for a very exhilarating ride, but it’s not for the faint-hearted! Your work and Design Sponge is a whole is truly inspiring. Thank you!

  • An honest post and well researched. What is also changing hugely is the way people are consuming content. Long form content is almost dying thanks to too much content available and no time to consume it. Quality content is also hard to come by these days. We rarely sit and read an entire piece of content – instead we skim…and that’s where social platforms like Insta and Facebook play a role in readers lives. Its fast and easy consumption of content on the go. I am glad you shared your thoughts on the entire community of bloggers, and your own and while the world is changing, I feel we are also all yearning to go back to basics – a way to simple life instead of simplifying life at all costs. I love your blog and honestly do not always read every post but its a habit that I enjoy coming to every day!
    Keep your honest voice and keep doing what you do! Hopefully the ‘Millennials’ will not rule the entire world of change or hopefully they will change the world for better.

  • I am a long-time reader and do not do anything remotely close to blogging. I like reading and seeing blogs. I don’t necessarily want to follow people on facebook, instagram podcasts, etc. Your thoughtful posts and website have made me a loyal follower. Thank you for your honesty and good writing!

  • Thank you, Grace and et al. for this blog! I just had friends over for dinner and we talked about this same issue of the expectation in the music business to create “content”, with all the upfront costs that writing & playing music entails, for the corporate honchos and internet users. It’s tough way to make a living! And thank you for your insights about the negative comments we see.

  • I appreciate how this blog has grown and changed to cover more content I am interested in (highlighting makers that are not cis-gendered white people, in particular). I know you and your team work hard on your original, free content that is relevant and interesting, and I love it! In a perfect world, I do wish that when a DS writer leaves for another adventure, that person is able to somehow say good bye to the DS community. Your team really has done such a good job of making things personal but staying professional – and you, yourself are a true example of strength and power in change and/or adversity. Thank you.

  • What a fascinating post! Thank you for taking the time to share with us and staying true to yourself all of these years. I love Design*Sponge, and I love that you and your team’s authentic voice always shines through. For Facebook, I have been getting into more private groups which seem to be growing exponentially. For example, a lot of independent pattern designers have private/closed groups that you can join and share your work, ask questions, etc. (examples: Patterns for Pirates, Made for Mermaids, Oliver & S – I’m sure there are a million more that I don’t know about yet!). They are insanely active, and I much prefer to comment in them because all of my friends, family, and random acquaintances don’t see every comment that I make (because the groups are private). Perhaps there is a way for Design*Sponge to foster a Facebook community in a private group? I would certainly join!

  • I’ve been looking forward to this post since the teaser last week and it didn’t disappoint!

    As a reader (circa 2007ish), and lately I’ve been increasingly interested in viewing content that features diversity. I’m a new mom (white), and my partner is from Madagascar, and we’re a socioeconomically diverse family, a bit non-traditional, living in a big city and have some immigration issues to boot. As I read blogs (thru feedly) and scroll through instagram, I’m having a hard time finding content (generally) that I find inspiring – both images and writing – and that reflect us as a family. Particularly in light of our immigration issues, as a white person, I feel really alone when viewing social media/content. How do other families deal with these things? What do their home lives look like? I could not be looking in the right places, but sometimes online media feels so whitewashed, like everyone is happy and life is all roses and rainbows. And with the world’s state of affairs lately, it would probably do us all some good to have exposure to different ethnicities and cultures and classes. With DS featuring peoples homes, I think there’s a really beautiful opportunity to showcase intimacy. I don’t want to always look at perfectly manicured homes, but lived-in homes with their own stories and histories that aren’t necessarily from bloggers or creatives.

    (I hope my italics work here, I’m feeling very Salinger-y today! :)

  • You have a way of taking the seemingly doom-and-gloom and putting a fruitfully realistic spin on it that gives me much to process. Thank you for your transparency.

  • Obviously Grace, when you write from your heart readers respond and comment ! I read only 3 blogs, all for the houses/architecture initially but with DS it is SO much more. Many thanks.
    Keep writing and Stay Stubborn !

  • wow! Honestly, I haven’t been a regular reader in years but I happened across your site again through a Facebook recommendation. I actually wrote your Orange County city guide back in the day! Many years have passed and I live in LA now. So much has changed but you are still around and are adapting with the times. I am happy you are still here and are providing unique content. It is comforting. And, I appreciate that you have remained true to your voice over the years even with format changes, it still rings true. I, myself, have been thrown unwittingly into home decor for licensed consumer products after many years in fashion. It’s a breath of fresh air and actually a cool reason to circle back to you, like a rediscovered old friend.

  • What a thoughtful, helpful and thorough post about the state of blogging! I have been wanting to blog more for my business, but have felt unsure a out where things are now and what it would be like to start now in 2017 versus in 2008. I really appreciate your honesty and sharing your insights on this ever-changing industry and profession you know so well. Thank you!

  • Really great post Grace…I’ve been reading D*S since the beginning (and you once interviewed me for Craft…I still have the copy) and it’s interesting to see how this timeline is so similar to the timeline of the highs and lows of my own business (I started in late 2007, still going, but have switched from clothing/jewelry into mainly homewares with a tiny bit of clothing/jewelry) Honestly…it’s exhausting. I feel your pain, and I went through the whole downsizing thing too, and as you mentioned it was a humbling/slap tht ego in the face moment. I love that you wrote this post, it gives me a lot to ponder, even though I’m more in the business of products rather than content

  • Thank you so much for all the work you put into this post. There’s tons of great information here, and your transparency is incredibly refreshing.

  • Posts like this, are the reason why DS is still one of my fav blogs to read and visit. Grace, I admire your integrity and openness. As a small business owner myself, I know of the struggles to keep going and be loyal to your core values and passion. I am not going to go into how I feel about a lot of the changes you have mentioned, but would say that I share the same point of view and hopes for a change on how people value and perceive content and creativity. I will continue to produce handmade sustainable products that a niche market will appreciate, for me its not about quantity but quality. Love and thanks from sunny London!

  • Read this from the first word to the last…and it so resonates. I’ve been publishing a hyperlocal blog in CT for 9 years, with plenty of ups and downs. Right now I’m lucky to have a strong advertiser base and loyal readership, but I rethink strategy and revenue streams constantly. It’s exhausting and a 24/7 endeavor just to stay on top of an ever-changing landscape. You nailed the state of the industry. Thanks for this post.

  • Thank you for sharing your journey and lessons learned.

    This is a small thing, but may make a difference: I rarely visit the blog because I get your posts via email subscription. I can read the whole post in my inbox, so I have no reason to click through.

    You might consider putting “teaser” short segments of posts in the email instead of the full post. It would actually make it easier for me as a reader to find the posts I want to read, and I would likely visit the blog more often.

  • Thank you Grace for the inspiring open words!!!
    I hope to be able to lighten my days in the future with Design Sponge as you have done the past 5 years.

  • Thank you for your honesty Grace. I have to say that I’ve been feeling a little disillusioned with the blog world of late. I feel like Social Media took the honesty away from it all… It is interesting times and I wonder where it will go, there is certainly a future though and a place I will not give up on.

  • Thank you, for this interesting and thoughtful post on blogging
    Your blog has been a pleasure to read, and see develop. Forgive me if I’m wrong (got the wrong blog), but the ribbon motif, when it changed, I felt sort of lost. I still miss it even though I like the changes.

  • I can totally relate to so much of this post and I appreciate you sharing so openly and honestly. It’s refreshing to know that no matter what size your business or blog is, everyone is riding these waves of change. <3

  • Interesting, I started six years ago and was just thinking about how much things have changed. You described it much better and in deeper detail. I’m finally at the point of bringing in some of those other revenue streams (affiliate links) that I resisted for so long. It’s great to hear a fresh perspective on this.

  • This is such an insightful post. I loved all the points you brought up and how it’s the perfect mix of personal and professional voices. More power to the team!

  • First time in years I read an entire post!
    Ii’s a fascinating one! Thank you grace to put in worls this complicated online world!
    I have a blog (a personal food blog), and sometimes I get frustrated over the little but agresive comments I get, and to see many others like me, but have more audience or so…
    I first discover your bolg when I started back in 2009, and I always look it at such an ispiration.
    This post is amaizing! Thanks!

  • Such a great and informative read, so glad you shared this! I am always a supporter of more transparency and you tackled it so well. Thank you, Grace.

  • Grace, it took me a few days to read this amazing piece, thank you, it explained a lot that I was curious about. I am trying to remember to click through a lot more. Before Instagram, etc. I used to look forward to the Design*Sponge website, trying to set work goals every day before I was allowed to log in as my reward. I am essentially a design-moron with limited taste so Design*Sponge has let me explore so many areas in a way that was approachable and achievable. Too many other websites have content that is too perfect and hard, and has no political content if that makes sense. I frequently search back through the site to look for advice on gray paint colors, wallpaper, how to hang a painting, to spray paint in a box, etc., so I was wondering about reposting, there are so many great entries, I know I would be happy to see some of them again. What other website explains to you how to repaint and fix thrift store paintings? In terms of paid content, I would be happy to see what you would pick at Nordstrom’s or Crate and Barrel, etc., you have such great taste and I am always completely overwhelmed by shopping choices. I have bought many things over the years from the Best of the Web, my favorite being some hand-blocked fabric from England and I wish I could purchase more yardage. I also like to see the projects you and Julia do on your house, again, they are not so perfect that I click away as something that would be impossible for us. I kind of forgot that website traffic was important, I feel badly about it actually, and I am not so into the houses although I always take a quick look. So any way I don’t know if this is at all helpful to you, I hope you and Julia have had a lovely vacation, and thank you for all that you have added to my design life, it is huge.

  • Thanks for this post- it’s very insightful. I am among the few who thinks the commodification of everything in the blogosphere is selling out. I didn’t realize that few other readers felt that way. I appreciate the D*S focus on diversity and inclusion. Keeping that focus maintains the authentic character of the blog, even if there is more sponsored content. With many of my other favorite design blogs that I have been reading for years, it is apparent that *everything* is now an advertisement, which goes too far. Best of luck and thanks for what you do.

  • What a length, but great post. I am currently also thinking a lot about the state of blogging and where things are heading – also for my quite old, but still very small blog – so this was definitely very helpful!

    Thank you, also for keeping up the great work with Design Sponge.

    A faithful follower.

  • This was an incredibly interesting read. I try not to focus on page views, because I don’t market my blog very aggressively. I use Instagram and Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest. But I am not dogged about promoting my blog the way I should be, probably. I paired down to writing only essays, wiped out everything else I had as far as content, and have given way to the reality that the only thing I really care enough about to sustain a blog is long-form writing. At the moment, I consider myself to be a personal essayist. I don’t really know what to do with that on Facebook because I just don’t have the following or the funds to make the algorithms play in my favor. And Instagram is getting to be just as a bad. I don’t use Twitter nearly as avidly as I used to, and Pinterest even less so. Right now, I think it will be smarter to just focus on getting essays written and then formulate a game plan for social media marketing when I have enough content to peak people’s interest. As of now, I only have three essays. Anyway, your essays always make me think more deeply about the state of my own blog, so then I feel compelled to hash out my thoughts in a comment. Thanks for inspiring me to do that! <3

  • Really fantastic post, Grace. Thank you for your honesty in sharing some of your struggles dealing with running a business in today’s digital world. While not a blog, we can sympathize with many of the struggles you are going through as we embark on our own online journey. I hope your strength in your values and what you deem is important wins out over time. That’s what we’re focusing on, with the knowledge that even if it doesn’t work out 100% to plan, we’ve done the best we could 😉

  • Phew! What a fantastic, thorough, and thought-provoking reflection. Thank you for this, Grace. And thank you for working so hard on D*S over the past 12 years. I’ve been following from the very beginning!

  • I think social media is killing it for me, but maybe I’m going about it wrong? If I post something on Instagram and Facebook, it will only reach a small amount of people compared to the number of followers I have, then the “promote” button pops up. Is it necessary for Facebook and Instagram to squeeze every dime they can out of everyone? Now they have new policies for working with/tagging brands. It’s too much for me- someone with a small blog, anyway. I can’t find the number of Pins on a post in Pinterest anymore. Why won’t Pinterest show how many times I’ve had one of my projects pinned? Ever since I’ve noticed these recent changes, my traffic has dropped. I feel like being a blogger on a limited budget just won’t cut it anymore, and digging through the garbage is becoming harder, too. Blogs seem like a dime a dozen now, but finding ones with good content that are beneficial is becoming difficult because others are using it as a popularity contest, posting link parties just for fast content (I have seen some with good content, but not often), and writing stuff that isn’t interesting. That’s hard to pull through on the internet, which is why it can take good-quality bloggers YEARS before they really get anywhere. I love what you wrote here and THANK YOU for reminding others that sites like Pinterest are not valid sources for photo credits. It may not seem like a big deal to most people, but I have had it happen to me many times and it’s so frustrating that someone would use all the hard work I put into one project or photo, for their benefit only.

  • I have read your blog for years. I think I got into design blogs about the time you started this, so you were one of my gateway drugs. I have never ever commented on anything but reading this post is such a breath of fresh internet air that you deserve a big high five. Speaking honestly connects us!

  • Hi Grace,
    Thank you so much for sharing all the little details…I used to write a furniture and lifestyle blog called Pink Pianos that I started back in 2007 (maybe 2006)…I remember contacting you once with a submission and I fully expected to hear back from a member of your huge team, back then, you wrote me personally and said, it’s just me! I still remember that:) It was amazing to me. Fast forward, 10 years, and I still enjoy reading DS.
    I launched a new artists blog and site, where I am trying to learn from everything that came before. I sell products that I design and offer Los Angeles based textiles workshops. I too am attempting to grow and evolve with the times online. I find myself teaching more, which is awesome (hopefully not for lower rates!) and I have embraced affiliate marketing, from what I can see, it is essential to the survival of most blogs. As a product designer and part-time art teacher, the new model seems like it could be better suited to my strengths. That is as a far as I have processed at the moment. I am bookmarking this article, b/c I really appreciate your wisdom, insight and advice.

  • I am a long-time hobby blogger who has watched the shift in blogging and social media with fascination. Even as someone who isn’t looking to make a living from my blog, I still have felt quite pressured to fit into these new models of blogging — which really just isn’t me. While my readership is down, I’ve come to value what blogging is for me — a fun hobby without all the strings attached and without all the pressure.

    Thank you for this post and your reflection on some very important topics in the world of blogging!

  • For what it’s worth, from a decade-long on-again off-again reader: if you offered a pay option, either for some sort of premium content or even just because, I have a feeling you’d get some takers. I’ve seen both – Put This On (a men’s fashion blog) does a weekly email roundup of sales and ebay finds and I’m happy to pay for it, and Andrew Sullivan for a period just had a ‘pay what you want’ model and I think put together a pretty decent revenue stream out of it. Food for thought. I don’t like that the internet content ecosystem has so devalued writers and producers such that they feel it’s improper to ask their readers for money.

  • I really enjoyed reading this, and I learned a lot. I have been a D*S reader for years, and yours is one of the few blogs that I have not abandoned. I like your taste…I think that’s the short answer. The longer explanation…I’m not sure I can articulate. Your blog has introduced me to many artists, homes, movements that I wouldn’t have discovered without you. I purchased a painting after seeing an artist (Nikki Cade) on D*S; it brings me a lot of pleasure. I think the main reason I stay with D*S, though, is your open and generous spirit. Politically we are very different. I have ditched several blogs in the last couple of years because of their strident political posts. While you and I have different views, I have the feeling that I could sit with you and be heard. And I could hear you. It would be a civil discussion. We could still like each other. Does that make sense? I know your stance, but there is a gentleness about it. It makes me feel that I would be accepted. That’s a pretty big thing to accomplish in a blog. I’m glad you’re continuing to make it work; weblife wouldn’t be the same without D*S.

  • An amazing article. Really well-thought out and well-said piece. I have been following your work since college (when I used to browse “pretty” blogs during boring classes). As an attorney who helps creatives and influencers navigate the business logistics of their businesses, this bird-eye-view is incredibly helpful. I love what you said: “The final bit of community behavior that connects to all of this is the idea that all content is something that belongs to everyone, for free, whenever they want. That concept is a tough one for me to stomach.” YES! This is so important in the digital age. We have so much information — it is our burden to be good stewards and analysts — which includes being smart about copyright, content, plagiarizing, attribution, “sharing is caring” and all of the good, bad and ugly in between. I am bookmarking this for all of my clients. Good luck with all of your waxing and waning adventures — and for being real and graceful with the seasons of change that come to all of us both personally and professionally.

  • Wow, this was eye opening and so real and raw. Thank you for writing this. We have loved Design*Sponge for years and look forward to its future!

  • Very interesting read. While I love seeing pretty pictures on instagram (and spend countless hours scrolling through them), I still much prefer content like your home tours that have a story to go along with it. Those home tours and your voice keep me coming back year after year. It seems like your are doing more family related home tours and that is so nice as I age into that phase of my life too. Keep up the good work!

  • Dear Grace,
    I remember the day I came across a flyer in 2004 (maybe 2005), while visiting Park Slope, at a bakery. It had an interview with you in it, I packed it in my suit case, read it when I got home, and have checked in nearly every day since. You, my dear, have by far, been the biggest influencer of my career. Hands down. From ’05 when I was remodeling my first home as a young 20 something in Florida, until 2017, when I now own and run a Interior Design firm in Santa Fe. I poured through your Biz Lady posts, listened to After The Jump while I was filing fabrics when I finally jumped myself, and took my first interior design job, after having a baby… but, your honesty, reliability, and groundedness, through your interviews, kept me steady and believing I was on the right path. In a world where things change so fast, I’m so relieved to hear that you are doing what’s right for you. In the long run, you will be better off for it. People will stick with you for your consistency, and loyalty. It’s why I’ve been here all these years. So much love to you, Grace. And thank you for all the heart you put into your work. It is so appreciated, and literally changed the direction of my life. So thank you!!!

  • I am always so appreciative of your honesty and keeping it real on both the good and the bad. I think I will come back and read this piece again and again. You are an inspiration!

  • Is there a way to see all of the comments on this post? I think I’m only seeing “page 2”, with comments starting on August 30th and I can’t find a link to see previous comments. When I visited earlier, there were more comments posted in the immediate days after the post. Thanks!

    • Hi Annie

      Can you tell me what system (browser and version, phone vs. laptop vs. deskstop and what type) you’re using to view this post? Do you not see the comments if you scroll all the way down?


      • Hi Grace, on a laptop and I tried with both Google Crome and IE. I can see comments posted between August 30-Sept 5, but I thought there were comments posted before August 30th and I don’t see any place to click “see more comments” or “previous page” or anything like that to see the full comment section. Maybe there were no comments before Aug. 30th? Or I’m just missing something!

        • Annie

          Oh no! We’ll get to the bottom of this. Can you tell me which versions of each browser you’re using? I’m testing on Chrome 60.0.3 and can’t replicate the error. I’ll have our tech contact test on IE for me to see if we can figure this out. Thanks for your patience :)


  • Yours is the only design blog I’m still reading on a regular basis. I love that the homes you share are beautiful but accessible. Just ordered your second book (I bought copies of your first book for myself and my mom – love it). Hope you’ll be writing more books as well! Wishing you much continued success in the future.

  • Thank you for sharing not only a powerfully honest piece, but your heart with us every single day Grace! Your courage and candor are a blessing and just as inspiring as your design picks. I have been a reader since 2006 (did I just date myself?!) and have been inspired so much by both the lofty and DIY design ideas you shared from the beginning, whose influence we see today in retail stores and design trends, even a decade plus later! An eye for real style never goes out of style :) I firmly believe that if we do the right thing, every thing will turn out right…and I know the perfect next plan will unfold into place for you and the entire d*s team. Props to the pioneers!

  • Grace, what an amazing post. Thanks for that. I’ll share it with some travel bloggers (I’m one of them…) as I think this applies to us too!

  • I really appreciated this piece!

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading D*S and a (now shrinking) list of other blogs. I have always been fascinated on how exactly it was monetized on a large scale or how or why people put forth the effort for little to no money sharing their ideas or selling their homemade products, or just telling their private relationship/family business, generally.

    Interestingly, I rarely comment on any blog because I don’t see conversation happening, but I didn’t really think bloggers or other readers really cared much what I thought. I presume that they would still do their own projects/recipes/design/trips/family in whatever way worked for them and my commenting wasn’t going to make a difference to them or the blogger did not engage with the audience in the comments section. (I can only think of two blogs I follow where this isn’t true.)

    I can’t remember a time when comments – just as you wrote – weren’t in the two camps – “I love it” (it = what you wrote, what you DIY’d, what you cooked, your travel destination, your child-rearing opinions) or the opposite “I don’t like/hate it and you.” (I cringe even typing this.) I imagine many reading my comment now would agree that typically a negative response warrants a barrage of commenters coming to the defense of blogger and criticizing a contrary opinion telling them to go away, stop reading, etc. While I absolutely subscribe to the idea if you can’t say something nice then don’t say anything, bloggers are really only left with a polarized community of people who only love what they do.

    It does seem as though blogs are caught between a choice of (occasionally relentless) ads/promos (sometimes I can’t even see the content on some blogs, particularly on a mobile device, because of ads) or a quasi subscription model. From what I hear/listen to lately podcasts are up against the same trick now.

    Regarding attributing credit – Establishing boundaries is so hard but worthwhile work to help save creative efforts/endeavors that are out there. I don’t think most people realize that there is an unprecedented level of stealing on the internet by not correctly sourcing, but most people perceive it as harmless…argh! How to stop it?!

    Anyway, thanks for many years of reading enjoyment!

  • I have been following design sponge since the beginning. I have always admired your transparency and your willingness to listen, learn, and adapt. I am very grateful for this insight – it explains so much about what I have felt but have been unable to put my finger on in the digital world. Regardless, there are many ways that you and design sponge have actually change my life – the way I create, the way I DIY, the way I create my home. I, for one, am very grateful.

  • I’ve always appreciated your honest and thoughtful critique and commentary on all things especially the online world. Thank you for this article! I am not a blogger but I am fascinated by the industry and the shifts in it as well as how it all connects us as well – so I find reads like this particularly enlightening.

  • Thank you Grace for this thoughtful post! You observations are spot on. I started my food blog, http://www.bijoux.com, in the good old days, 2010. I garnered a large following. My photography, cookbooks, and recipes are ‘little jewels”. I tried ads but I wanted my blog space, quiet and elegant, I am a designer by training.
    Fast forward today. Creating quality curated original content is not of value and to keep your blog noticed, it’s crazy the steps you must take. I guess I can take heart that a blog like DS is facing all the same challenges.
    Thank you for taking the time to share you thoughts and experience.
    Best, Lynn

  • This was such an interesting and insightful read – thank you for it. It’s given me a few things to reflect on when it comes to my own blog and the idea that readers are used to seeing ads/a mix of content is reassuring.

  • Thank you for posting this. I respect your assessment and I thought it was really honest look at what the blogging industry was and has become. As someone that is new to the social media scene and interested in starting a blog of my own, this is an eye opener. I do think a lot of blogs get carried away with trying to monetize every bit of content and it takes away from experience and authenticity of the content being shared. I always thought this was just something I was noticing because I’m a bit “old fashioned”, but It helps to understand the mechanics and pressure that bloggers feel to produce.

    Thank you again for the post.

  • I’ve been saving this post until I had enough time to read the whole thing at once, and I’m so glad I did.
    I love reading your essays, they are always so well thought out and full of intention. Like many of your readers, I love beautiful pictures of homes/design, but my favourite part is the meaningful content that you put out along with it.
    Thank you for doing what you do and for sticking with what’s true to you, I believe that is what makes your website one that I will continually look forward to reading and coming back to.

  • This post has opened my eyes. Like most people, I started blogging because it allowed me to express my creativity and have some accountability towards being a maker. I think I had a feeling that blogging was turning but I just haven’t been in the game long enough. Social media, especially Instagram, is starting to become a big of a monster and time-waster.
    Videos seem to be the next big change (I have noticed this more and more on social media). At the same time, your point about Generation Z watching rather than making is actually quite distressing as a society.
    Thank you for such an honest post.

  • Thank you so much for writing this beautiful piece. A lot of what was said on how the blogging industry resonated really hard with me. As someone who just stepped away from style blogging after 7 years of doing it, I felt every piece of devaluation of creative work towards the end of my tenure. It is absolutely heart wrenching to know that REAL people with REAL values and creative skills are being seen as a commodity that can be wooed without a price tag. At some point, I started to feel pressures of “well if I say no to this free stuff in exchange for 8 hours of unpaid work, [this company] will just move on to the next blogger who will work for free and I’ll get left in the dust.” Reflecting on this very sentence made me realize that the current state of blogging and my blogging focus were no longer bringing me the joy that it once did. Pivoting never felt better and I now write only for myself… if it resonates for someone else, that’s awesome! No more FOMO and having other make me feel like my work is not enough.

    Thank you for your honesty and rallying the blogging community.

  • Hi, Grace:

    Your name suits your honesty and beautiful site. I’m a long time reader and lover of DS. I had to comment on your State of the Blog Union piece. It has to be the most complete, authentic and open piece on blogging in 2017 that I have ever read. In fact, I don’t think I’ve read anything, anywhere as comprehensive and insightful as this article. I’m a compulsive reader and saver to Pocket so I have a pretty good grasp of what’s out there. I also read all the “teach you to blog better” sites since I am planning on launching a blog sometime over the next year (the URL below points to a coming soon page only0> Recently, I’ve been combing the net looking for articles on the future of blogging and new trends. This post sums it up! It comes at the perfect time for me – it will help me “get my mind right” about what’s out there in the big unknown for another small blogger. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Grace.

  • Happy to support you in the long haul. Your insight and honest, inclusive presence makes me glad and teary at the same time! thank you, thank you.

  • I’m not a regular reader of d*s, I just landed here a few days ago after looking up how to clean some stubborn stains on a cast-iron bath, then looking around the site to see if I liked it better than Apartment Therapy (I do! *Tons* better)

    I’ve kept this post up on a tab for a few days, re-reading bits, because it is a lot of food for thought! In some ways it’s super validating because a lot of these are things I’ve noticed or even just suspected, ~sensed~ if I may use a slightly woo-y term, but couldn’t quite put into words myself, for a few years now. Certainly not in such a cohesive, contextualised manner as you did here!

    It occurs to me, reading your post, that the devaluing of content creation that you describe in your post is sort of an amazing bait-and-switch on creatives, that exploits one of the core traits they have in common whatever the medium or type of activity they work in, from artsy photographers to personal essayists and architects to event planners: the need for an audience, for someone to enjoy the product of their work. I think that comes even before the being paid for it. I reckon for a lot of creative people, especially starting out, if you offered them a choice between having their work seen/experienced by 100 people and paid $10, or paid $100 but be seen by 10, they would choose the former unless they already have an audience.

    I guess that describes a bit of an ideal setup for anyone looking to get something for nothing, right?

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this rapidly evolving topic. I really appreciate your honesty, insight and authenticity. I enjoy the quality of your content and agree that everyone wants something for free. People are curating their own lives through Pinterest boards and other sources (often poorly credited), acquiring their expert advice through You Tube Videos and other Facebook live and blog content–to most all are viewed as free sources of information. Purchase decisions are often made on the basis of lowest online price for same product or knock-off or imported reproductions of lesser quality. Everything seems to be turning into a commodity. People don’t see value-added through blogs, are not willing to pay for content such as magazines or books because they say they can get that “all for free” on the Internet. What a difference it would make if your blog had (fully disclosed) underwriters similar to NPR –where you had less ad pressure over content and where folks who enjoy and identify with your voice could support you in a visible way consistent with their strategy. Definitely tough waters to navigate….

  • This is such a well written post – your experience mirrors my own in so many ways. I’ve been blogging since 2009, my blog was monetised in 2010 and back then, wow, CTR was unbelievable and people were literally throwing money at you! These days, the online advertising world is unrecognisable from the space it was back then and we have to work so much harder to secure long term relationships.

    I’m really proud of how my team and I have adapted to the changes (I am constantly referring to the social media environment as the ‘shifting sands’ ). We have waxed and waned just like you have, lost some big clients (when their own market share has diminished, thanks to the phenomenal success of apps like Instagram) and gained back some more. We too are seeing a return of interest in the banner advert and are working on creative ways we can make this work for new clients. We have recently taken on a huge international bridal fashion brand who has never worked with bloggers before and their CTR is looking amazing thanks to the creative advert placement, but we’re providing a lot of wrap around support too.

    In terms of diversifying – we’re actually setting up another blog! A lifestyle blog to serve the incredible, loyal community of 95% females that visit our blog and love its warm, honest and inviting vibe. For us, prioritising this community has been absolutely KEY this past 12 – 18 months. We have established private groups in Facebook and made a lot of time for our readers. We now have a whole community of ambassadors raring to shout about our new blog when it launches next month. And I have a newfound sense of meaning and reward as a ‘blogger’. I’m finally connecting with our audience in a deeply meaningful way. The Facebook groups really have changed everything.

    Our new blog is also going to focus more on long form storytelling because I truly think there’s a space for that – and allowing every day readers to write about and contribute their own life experiences.

    What I can say, with all sincerity is that I’ve felt a much more positive shift this year. Throughout 2015/16, I found myself asking myself many times, what is the future of blogging? I’m not sure I ever had an answer back then but now, I feel much more positive and hopeful. I’ve really felt a shift this year in attitudes and perceptions. It’s difficult to articulate, but it’s almost as though advertisers are going back to basics – like you say, a return to the banner advert. It’s as though the penny is finally dropping and they realise how important that ‘word of mouth’ recommendation via a blog that you refer to, actually means. We’re really buoyed on by this shift – and, the incredible feedback we’ve had from our community ahead of launching a whole new blog. Sometimes I think I must be insane but I’m also incredibly excited to have the opportunity of monetising a blog from scratch again. It’s sure going to be a very different experience from the one I had back in 2010!

    Thank you as always for creating a feature that so eloquently provides a talking point for those of us earning a living from blogging. For information by the way, just to contextualise – I support my entire family (of 4) on my blog earnings, employ 2 administrators (amounting to around 40 – 50 hours a week) and hire 5 freelance writers. I also pay a site developer monthly and am about to hire a strategist to help us launch our new blog. I adore my job and am thankful every day for the amazing opportunities it has brought me (which like you have included having a book published, only not near as successful as yours!). I adore your In The Company of Women Book and recommend it all of the time – as you will see here! >> https://www.instagram.com/p/BRDMEYsA-1s/?taken-by=annabelbeeforth

    Today, I am very hopeful for the future of blogging.

  • Great insights! Thanks for sharing.

    Watchers vs. Doers extends to the creators out there too. Often, I’d spend a full day creating a well-crafted post. Lots of thought put in to my words, images, etc. Then someone other person who considers themselves an online curator would tweet or share or whatever, and essentially get the same amount of credit as I did for doing all the work. It got to be where I just don’t care enough to produce :(

    I think the game is building and giving to your audience, then making a big ask once a year or so (in your case, a book), and any advertising money, paid speaking, etc. coming in is gravy.

  • How about podcasts? That seems to be an area where online publishers are receiving solid advertising revenue. It also seems an able to roughly compete with the very large media organizations.

    • KatyP

      Which podcasts are receiving livable podcast revenue? Most indie pods (ie: not part of a huge network) don’t make enough $$ to support the team needed to create them.

      We had between 250k- 1 million listeners per episode of our old podcast and struggled to find a single advertiser…especially any willing to spend over $2k (unless we made THEM the only guest). Which, after taxes, is barely enough to support the cost of production and equipment. :(


  • It is always a pleasure to read your streams of consciousness. I am late to the party here, but everything you have said above about earnings, advertising, sponsorships, is confirming of my own thoughts here at my desk by myself. I am in awe of the clarity you offer here on this shifting and always capricious landscape of for creating online success, communities, and revenue. Shiny object syndrome abounds every aspect of the interweb, so your clarity is refreshing and a good check to focus on what works today. Feeling the rewards for being part of your community. Thanks for sharing

  • Thank you so much, Grace, for this open and honest look at the current state of blogging. I started my blog, http://www.shessobright.com, about a year and a half ago as a place to write, express myself creatively, and improve my photography. While it’s already had its ups and downs (most recently an up with a very popular Wonder Woman post!), I am truly loving this work! I find blogging so fulfilling in a way my previous stationery company was not.

    As someone who has been in the industry for, what I consider a long time, do you think that the realistic goal should be diversifying financially? More and more often I hear bloggers and YouTubers having a wide variety of income streams – from Patreon accounts to affiliate links, to sponsored posts and books, to wish lists, and classes – that I feel like you have to be flexible AND a little all over the place. I get concerned about losing focus on the main goal of growing a readership. How do you manage these changes without committing to too many things?

    Also, do you feel sometimes that there’s just too much stuff online, and too many blogs? How do you keep perspective when you’re feeling tired or overwhelmed. Thank you, Grace! <3

    • Eva

      I wish I had a concise answer but it’s such a complex issue with so many different factors. If blogging is your only source of income, diversifying is absolutely essential. It’s VERY hard to make a living (ie: an income that allows you to live independently of another partner’s income and pays for rent and living expenses and allows for health insurance) these days. The competition is stiff and ad rates are plummeting every day. There are a few exceptions obviously (fashion and beauty industries still spend a lot on ads), but in our design/lifestyle community, it’s hard to start new and make much now. And to be honest, it’s hard to be “old” like us and make a living anymore, so it’s an uphill battle.

      That said, it doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing or trying and finding a way to enjoy it and possibly make a profit. I think diversifying means everything you mentioned, as well as considering using your voice on other platforms (ie: paid guest writing on other larger platforms to expand your audience and reach). You could teach, do in person events, host events for other companies, etc. Nothing is really off the table these days.

      I am totally in awe of how the blog world has changed and these days I’ve learned to stop guessing at where it’s going next. I think in general single-person brands seem to be easier to launch right now, so you’re in a good position. It’s tough to find funding for team-based sites.

      Best of luck and I’m off to check out your post about glitter glasses :)


  • Your section on people’s behaviors with commenting online resonated so strongly with me!! I’m a photographer, and I obviously run all of my marketing on social media platforms, and it truly is amazing how differently people behave and how unbelievably vicious they can be! But aside from that, I love the online community, and I really quite appreciated this article and your perspectives on the changing dynamics of blogging.

    Thank you for sharing,

    Xx Alyssa

    • Thanks, Alyssa.

      I hear you. So much has even changed SINCE this article. I think the negativity we’re all seeing in politics is seeping into lifestyle and other niches of the web, which is really hard. I totally understand why it’s happening, but it’s sad to see it all affecting areas of the world that used to be respites from those more heated and divided conversations.


  • Hi Grace.

    Just stumbled over this, so sorry to say, I’m not a long-term contributor. BUT, I enjoyed reading this post. Or perhaps that’s a wrong way to describe it, ’cause as you say yourself, things look kind of bleak.
    I think the general pattern here is; you have something you love and become good at and figure out to make money from. Then when the money comes, it suddenly becomes interesting to those, who do not have the love and commitment, and just want in on the money flow. Which screws it up for those who have dedicated themselves to master something. And what happens then, is that the mastery gets washed away, gets diluted. And I think social media have made it accelerate.
    It’s refreshing to see, that you insist on your vision and fight the fight to keep it.

    And I hope that in some years people will start demanding genuine content more and more, as a reaction to the easy calorie content, they get so much of now.

    Anyways, you just made me think, hope it makes a little sense. Keep up the good work.

    Regards Kim