Monday, 19 March 2012

Making money out of birds

You need only look at the back few pages of any birding magazine to realise that there is money in birding, and a lot of it. Heaps of kit, foreign trips to go on, books, and lately smartphone apps. I suspect however that very few people actually make it work - professional ecologists, bird news service providers, publishers, tour operators perhaps. For most of us, making the hobby pay is pure fantasy. And anyway, to succeed you probably need to approach it with a business-like attitude that for me at least would severely curtail the enjoyment. I've made almost no money out of birding, indeed most of what I contribute - and I'm not including this blog as a 'contribution', I would not be so bold! - has been entirely charitable and taken heaps of time I didn't really have. I'm talking about penning articles for local rags, local WeBS and wader counts, photographs for local reserve signage, writing sections of bird reports - that kind of thing. Yes I get a modest fee for magazine articles and sometimes photos, but overall I am down several hundred unpaid hours. I once thought about signing up for Google Ads, but determined that I was being greedy, and for the sake of a few quid here and there I would rather have complete control of what readers see. If there is going to be rubbish and nonsense, I want to be the one putting it there. So no, there will be no selling out here.

So it always leaves a slightly sour taste when I see a website that, at least on the face of it, seems to be set up purely to make money. A few have popped up recently, and in common with other things I'm not vastly keen on, I'm going to refrain from donating a free link. I'm not really into naming and shaming anyway, or at least, not unless the BBC has done it first....

The websites I have particularly in mind purport to offer local bird news. Actually they probably do, but I wouldn't know as I'm not signed up. Now I may be doing them a disservice, and the administrators of any site who feel they may have been maligned are welcome to comment unanonymously below, but in my opinion local birding websites and local bird news should be free. Indeed, here in London it is free, and many people put a lot of time into making it free. For instance I tweeted about a Sparrowhawk over Columbia Wharf today - free bird news. Better even than that though, there is a wiki site where lots of local London birders spend their free time, for free, dutifully typing in all their local sightings, including their names IN FULL, so that other birders may get a feel for what is going on in the capital. When not abused by disgruntled and bitchy anonymous commentators, it is a brilliant resource, and indeed I may go back to posting info there again one day; in the meantime other Wanstead birders have it covered. Then there is the BirdingEtc twitter feed, again entirely free. Various people text Dom with news, or he picks it up from their Twitter feeds, and anyone who is interested can get it as a text message on their mobile phone. For free. OK so Dom is not a full time operator, but then he's not trying to compete with Rare Bird Alert. It's a great resource, and if you're into London listing (I'm not, obviously), I suggest you follow it and work out how to do the phone bit.

So I seriously question the need for, and motivation of, members only sites that purport to offer local bird news as a primary reason for their existence, and to charge a fee for it. They're having a laugh, surely? Especially when a fair amount of news is just lifted straight off the wiki site. So without wishing to destroy someone's carefully thought-out business model, don't get sucked in and pay for something you don't have to. All you really need to pay for is a pair of bins and you're all set. Or you could just mug me in Bush Wood and get a nice set of Leicas.

Here, have a Rat photo. It's free.

Any reader wishing to procure a free Rat may come and select their very own specimen from the borders of Alexandra Lake, where they are extremely plentiful, free, ridiculously tame, and free. Act now to avoid missing out!


  1. @corkbirdnews is free! And its been running for almost 2 years! Shameless plug! Groundbreaking & innovative too! And free! As is @ecoastbirdnews, @wexfordbirdnews, @kerrybirdnews & @galwaybirdnews! And is free too! Isn't Ireland great altogether? (don't mention rugby). Recession me arse!

  2. Assuming you're on about the same site/sites, I think they're some kid's over-ambitious - and, in terms of donations and memberships, misguided - bedroom projects. The news is out of date and inaccurate, it's hardly ever updated, has an unreliable inconsistent twitter feed... And while we're on the twitter feed, he seems to have bought followers - suddenly gained a large, suspiciously round number of followers, none of whom look like the types who would be interested in London birding. Additionally, his BF posts are mostly rubbish and exactly what you'd expect of a kid. On the photo comp page I clicked "donate", just to see, and it's a broken link anyway... Best ignored, I reckon.