Blogging for Cash?

The Internet used to be a place where people did academic research, wrote a few personal emails, and had a few websites to pick from that were idiosyncratic to say the least. There were newsgroups with binary images that had to be decoded to be viewed. It was mostly text, and website information content was high. That, according to David Boles, was the Golden Age of the Web. Now, it’s a world of e-commerce and media company fodder. Are blogs a return to the source – where virtual communities were founded based around a common interest?

In previous posts on her blog, Pia once drew (in a post I can no longer locate) a parallel between blog communities and towns, where people group together at the town hall or village bars. Back in 1993 when I got my first email address, the villages were full of geeks. Now, they’re totally cosmopolitan.

Perhaps, in some ways, blogs are reclaiming the territory that alt.sex, alt.drugs and alt.rock-n-roll once held. Media companies don’t always get it though. In this post over at Bring it On!, Pia rants about how recent media articles try to place a value on blogs, hinting that we’re not all here to make money from writing – or indeed to achieve any kind of financial reward. The media still gets very excited about blogging and how it’s the thing to do, even without any concrete revenue streams predictable except for advertising revenue (that holy grail that was going to make us all website owners millionaires online at one time).

How can a form that’s so young have a hierarchy based solely on incoming links and advertising revenues? No two blogs are exactly alike; people have different purposes and goals.

Blogging costs me money. With domain, hosting and update charges it’s a small hobby budget. That doesn’t even factor the amount of time required for me to keep things up to date, or that it took for me to design the original look to this site. It doesn’t make many people heaps of cash either, and certainly not enough to be interesting to a major corporation. As Roland Piquepaille says in his article :

… the blogging phenomenon is just marginal economically speaking. But bloggers themselves are different because they’re writers, they have a voice and they’re real customers of real products.

Blogging is a phenomenon because it is so hard to qualify. Before, we had personal web pages but the learning curve to get a page out there and keep it sensibly formatted and up to date was hard. Blogging is just an extension of that – a simple way to get your thoughts on the web in a structured format. Blogging software has done for the personal home page what Tim Berners Lee did for the Internet in the first place : make content creation easy, available, and compatible with any type of computer you have as long as it can connect to a TCP/IP link somewhere. Tim created the standard by which documents would be created : HTML. Blogging platforms made HTML knowledge unnecessary, and instead created the automatic journal for all those frustrated writers out there, and people like me who want to keep family and friends up to date from time to time. I know how to write HTML and design sites, but a blogging platform makes it easy – and saves me a lot of time – for my little online journal.

I’ll leave the final word to a comment in the Bring it On! post mentioned above, paraphrased by Windspike from someone else somewhere who was inspired by Warhol :

Bloggers may not get their 15 minutes, but may be famous to 15 people.

12 Responses to “Blogging for Cash?”

  1. David Says:

    I see blogging as content just as a film, reality tv, or sitcom would be. This is the value. As time progresses traditional business model in the media will change. 24 hour news broadcast will start losing ground as will newspapers.

    By its nature the blogospere is in direct contrast with big business. It doesn’t play by the rules, you can’t force the author to write what he does not want to and you cannot edit his piece to make things appear differently and the barriers to entry are non existant.

    It is a part of transition that comes with the advancement of technology.

  2. Simon Says:

    Hi David,

    I think the news channels and newspapers have already lost ground to the Internet, but not necessarily to blogs. The main problem with blog content – my blog included – is that it is not structured or updated regularly in most cases. This is perhaps as important as the quality of the content. Great writing that doesn’t get seen is no more valued by the world at large than the dross that does. The mass media provide structured and regular news content. Internet sites that manage to provide content in a similar way, like some of the uber-popular blog sites, are indeed in a position to call into question the media websites which do not address the immediacy of the realtime Internet medium.

    Big business is interested in blogging because it thinks there are profit margins involved. My take is that most bloggers are losing money, and even blog hosters aren’t making huge amounts. The advancement of technology means that people are self publishing on a grander scale. Blogging is adding some structure to that, and Technorati, Google Blog search and others may become real reference points. Sadly they’re affected by spam posts a lot at the moment. Someone needs to figure out how to index quality postings in order to rise about the crud.

    I enjoyed your post on Fried Pastry for Carnival by the way. Really made my mouth water.

    Thanks for your insightful response.

    -Fruey

  3. David Says:

    The problem of “lack of professionality” you describe is one of the greatest problems but as you also point out the number of bloggers is increasing thus the good ones will, over time, become reference points.

    I also agree that bloggers are, on whole, losing money. I think this is a question of supply-demand on both the publishing and advertising agency side. On the publishing side there are many, many sites and most of them “non professional” increasing the available number of sites to advertise on driving down prices. On the advertising procurement side there are a limited number of agents giving them greater control over commissions, type of advertising etc. that a site receives. For the blogger this is a double whammy thus most bloggers lose money.

    Spam is another problem but I think this will go the road of the spam that we receive everyday in the mailbox, most often, immediately discarded.

    I think there will be, in the future, profit margins in blogging. Currently my readership is 10% that of Dallas Morning News. Most of my readers are in a very specific market segment which makes them very valuable to the proper advertiser. The problem is that I could never ask 1K$ for an advertisement as the paper could even though on a per reader basis my site is most likely more effective.

    Over time these things will work out. I do not think that business can ever really afford to get involved in the content side except for what already happens in the Pump and Dump message boards for stocks.

    Good site!

  4. Simon Says:

    David

    The current boom in AdWords – both on Google and on blogs – makes me nervous. I see blogs claiming they come up with tactics to get $9 clicks and stuff like that, but really that’s just piggybacking on what I think is a temporary phenomenon. If you track advertising properly, you’ll notice that buying a click that’s not even a sales lead won’t be worth $9 to anyone soon.

    The extra space on non professional blogs is probably what keeps the whole market for pay per click inflated. Clever keyword targetting and SEO tactics are the scourge of Google, so expect them to try to stop it.

    As far as your readership vs. Dallas Morning News, I expect they package most online campaigns with print advertising or whatever. Being a pure online player and selling advertising, even well targetted, is a tough way to earn a living.

    In any case, I think your conclusion is right: over time these things will work out. Right now, I’m not bothering with any advertising. I’m not in it for the money, and if I were I can think of a lot of other stuff more lucrative than blogging in order to pull in an online income. But just maybe, a blog about what that other stuff is would be a good focus to drive traffic.

    -Fruey

  5. David Says:

    Fruey – I have been in the Internet since before the browser (uucp and talk) and have built 2 successful telco networks one for Internet only and the other converged. I have never believed in the pay per click model and probably would have made more money had I followed the trend but I cannot embark on an adventure that I do not believe to be in the best interest of the client.

    I also cannot see a future in the keyword payment structure and I agree it will stop. I am also in agreement about bulk package purchasing and have been both supplier and client. I think the ad agencies will become “smarter” and choose better over time and a good blog will draw higher revenues than the mass.

    I started writing my blog because people were continuously sending me emails about how to visit Italy and why things were different. I have since decided to promote Italian products (tourism, wine, foods) and work with Italian companies that desire to penetrate the US market.

    The ads for me are more of a learning experience and I try to get them to contribute content for things my readers might like. I am not sure it is actually doing what I desire but seems to be doing ok.

    David

  6. Simon Says:

    David,

    The niche that your blog is in (tourism, geography, Europe) is a good place for targetted advertising to work quite well. I’m not against it per se.

    One interesting thing is how few articles I’ve seen by companies who have really tracked their online advertising and made all their ROI decisions that way. I know there are companies that do it, but very few reveal much about themselves.

    -Fruey

  7. David Says:

    I think that would be very interesting. My experience, although a couple of years have passed for the client side, is that when the ad is placed in the correct site and position it can return as high as 8 x 1K while a poorly placed (content wise) ad can be as bad as 1 x 10k.

    My most successful have been when using sponsoring/sponsored links. Considering client acquisition costs this method worked out significantly better than Newspaper, radio and television. I will be experimenting over the next months with a sponsor program and I will let you know how it turns out.

    This method takes time and something needs to be thinking about the business and its objectives. I think this attitude is not very prevelent in today’s companies.

  8. Simon Says:

    David

    It’s been an enlightening debate. Good to see you here, hope to hear back on your online ad performance soon.

    -Fruey

  9. Marinade Dave Says:

    I know I’ll never be a Hemingway, but I do enjoy writing. It keeps my creativity alive and it’s an extension of what I’ve been doing for many years now, as a graphic artist. Plus, I’ve met some pretty neat people like you.

  10. Simon Says:

    Hi Dave,

    Bloggers are often storytellers: your little nuggets of nostalgia shared amongst online aquantainces can be enlightening or fun to read.

    I was listening to the radio yesterday when Marguerite Duras was quoted as saying something roughly translated as “It’s a lie to say that writers write for them. I write for the collective you”. If nobody reads your writing, you don’t write. If you’re on a desert island, you don’t write.

    Most storytellers aren’t running adverts all over their sites; are bloggers who do make money advertising working harder on the moneymaking or the storytelling?

    -Fruey

  11. Marinade Dave Says:

    I think advertising cheapens a blog. Same thing with those ‘Make a Donation’ buttons. Why would I want to send a total stranger my money?

  12. Simon Says:

    Dave,

    I’m with you – blogs that are trying to make cash are generally (with some exceptions, perhaps) spending too much time looking at ad stats and not enough time writing content.

    -Fruey