blogging for dollars?
This page asks whether individual authors can make a living
It covers -
It highlights broader questions about 'blogging for dollars'
in the 'gift economy' and print embodiments of the blog.
A discussion of syndication and salaried blogging - for
example hacks employed by the Gawker group - appears later
in this profile.
Can individuals make a living as bloggers?
As an earlier page noted, visions of 'blogging for dollars'
- whether through donations from kind-hearted readers,
some form of subscription by readers, patronage by a maecenas,
subvention by a corporate sponsor or sale of advertising
space - have provoked disagreement among the blogerati.
They have also provoked hype from some commercial services,
with one for example shrilling
Publish, be read, and get paid.
Begin writing instantly!
quoting a satisfied customer who proclaimed
was happy living with writer's block. Now I am constantly
reading other blogs, and looking for new things to write
about. Life hasn't been the same since!
Michael Malone gushed that -
years from now, the blogosphere will have developed
into a powerful economic engine that has all but driven
newspapers into oblivion, has morphed (thanks to cell
phone cameras) into a video medium that challenges television
news and has created a whole new group of major media
companies and media superstars. Billions of dollars
will be made by those prescient enough to either get
on board or invest in these companies.
in the 2002 Weblogs & the Mass Amateurization of
Publishing that -
mark a radical break. They are such an efficient tool
for distributing the written word that they make publishing
a financially worthless activity. It's intuitively appealing
to believe that by making the connection between writer
and reader more direct, weblogs will improve the environment
for direct payments as
well, but the opposite is true. By removing the barriers
to publishing, weblogs ensure that the few people who
earn anything from their weblogs will make their money
evangelist Meg Hourihan was characteristically more upbeat,
of what some of the best bloggers could do if they
were financially able to do focused, full-time blogging?
Pick a topic you're interested in, now imagine someone
had 40 hours per week to cover everything related
to that topic, and you get the idea.
notion of corporate support through sponsorship or advertising
has been attacked as "selling out to the System",
provoking Tony Perkins of Always-On
(the 'super blog' badged as "the insiders network")
to sniff that he had heard such "religiously libertarian
anarchists with ponytails screaming and yelling before"
- one of those comments that secured attention from all
the 'insiders' in the echoing blogosphere.
Mark Dery offered a dose of realism, questioning -
exactly, is making a living shoveling prose online?
Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds? Jason Kottke?
Josh Marshall? To the best of my knowledge, only a vanishingly
tiny number of bloggers are able to eke out an existence
through their blogging, much less turn a healthy profit.
For now, visions of getting rich through self-publishing
look a lot like envelope-stuffing for the cognitive
elite — or at least for insomniacs with enough
time and bandwidth to run their legs to stumps in their
electronic hamster wheels, posting and answering comments
24/7. As a venerable hack toiling in the fields of academe,
I love the idea of being King of All Media without even
wearing pants, which is why I hope that some new-media
wonk like Jason Calacanis or Jeff Jarvis finds the Holy
Grail of self-winding journalism — i.e., figuring
out how to make online writing self-supporting.
The notion of using blogs as platforms for advertising
has attracted attention because of perceptions that the
readership is loyal and is associated with desirable demographics.
Those perceptions are largely untested. Few bloggers have
disclosed detailed information about their audiences.
Most accounts of traffic are anecdotal and many don't
extend beyond the comment that another blog has linked
to the particular site or that the author has received
Few bloggers have had much success in calling for money
from readers. It is unclear whether initial enthusiasm
for paying Andrew Sullivan,
often characterised as the prototypical commercial blogger
(with claims that revenue is around US$6,000 per week),
has been sustained. Claims
in the July 2006 Pew Internet & American Life Project
report that "8% of bloggers earn money on their blog"
In questioning some of the hype about performance and
the 'busker economy' we have suggested that some people
could make a living reading from a telephone directory
... but that those people are exceptional: enthusiasm
and a keyboard, irrespective of an online tip-jar, is
unlikely to provide a living for most bloggers.
One blogger somewhat sourly commented
since Andrew Sullivan conducted his "Pledge Week"
and made damned near $80,000, bloggers everywhere have
become panhandlers and squeegie-guys, telling their
heart-rending stories of brokeness while pointing to
their Pay Pal buttons and tip jars. When hookers do
that on the street, they get arrested for the crime
of "solicitation." And the hookers usually
offer a more valuable commodity than most blogs do.
going on to comment -
work a 10-or-more hour a day job five days every week
and every 7th weekend. I have a 30-mile commute back
and forth. I blog because I enjoy doing it, but I make
my living from that job, so I BLOG ONLY WHEN I'M NOT
WORKING. If I had to make a choice between blogging
and work, guess what it would be? Hint: one pays the
bills and the other COSTS money.
I crave attention, adoration, lots of traffic and a
loyal following, but I don't want a dime of your money.
If I can't afford to do this, I SHOULDN'T BE DOING IT.
I should be doing something that pays me money.
practice those bloggers who gain tangible revenue are
those whose online writing has attracted sufficient attention
for them to secure gigs on the lecture circuit (such as
Mr Shirky), deals from commercial publishers or appointments
to academic faculties and institutional boards or other
posts. Busking, rather than
blogging, is the way to go.
Entrepreneurs such as Nick Denton of the Gawker group,
echoing 'old media', have sought to market blogs as a
commodity - employing
teams of writers on advertising-supported sites.
walled garden or blogging ghetto
US start-up BloggingNetwork
(BN) - "write and get paid!" - more daringly
promotes a walled garden approach, with readers paying
a monthly fee to access a collection of blogs.
Authors receive a share of that revenue and can also gain
referral fees by securing other bloggers for the BN Community.
Apparently around 50% of revenue goes to "support
the web site, marketing, customer service, and payment
The ongoing success of the venture for the BN operators
and the bloggers within the garden is uncertain.
It is unclear whether the operators will secure sufficient
readers and authors for sustainability and whether provision
of data to third parties will be commercially attractive.
One observer commented
long as people insist that web content, and especially
independently created web content like blogs, isn't
worth paying for, the Web will never reach its full
potential. After all, a free web (or an ad-sponsored
web) ends up favoring traditional, corporate media:
they're the ones who can afford to subsidize consistent
content creation over long periods of time; they're
the ones with the scale to make advertising at least
potentially viable; they're the ones who can buy up
the best talent that emerges.
have argued that BN is damned - if not doomed - because
it has established a blogging ghetto. Placing content
behind a firewall (whether a whole blog or premium content)
will deter some readers. As with free versus pay access
to online journals and other sites, some readers will
simply refuse to pay and will instead seek free content,
which is readily available. Others may be willing to pay
for access but ask whether the BN content is more attractive
than that on other subscription sites.
Those authors who secure sufficient revenue through BN
to make blogging commercially worthwhile are presumably
those who would make as much, if not more, money writing
for commercial journals or through appearances.
regulating blog ads
2004 saw allegations
that Fark.com - "one of the most popular blogs on
the Net" - has been selling preferential placement
of links. By late 2006 it was clear that individuals and
blog networks were busily
touting particular products, services and individuals
on a commercial basis, often with no disclosure that payment
was involved. That is reminiscent of the 'cash for comment'
scandal involving Australian radio shockjocks.
In December 2006 the US Federal Trade Commission reminded
companies of the need to disclose relationships in which
people are compensated to promote products to their peers,
including blogs and other 'word-of-mouth marketing'.
Such marketing is covered under regulations that govern
commercial endorsements; the FTC the FTC opinion was to
formally note that it could be deceptive if consumers
were more likely to trust the product's endorser "based
on their assumed independence from the marketer".
Ethics and legal requirements aside, critics have suggested
that covert promotion through blogs and other media may
simply be bad business practice, given adverse responses
if consumers discover that the 'recommendation' has been
A 2005 survey in the US by Intelliseek for example reported
that 29% of participants in the 20 to 34 cohort and 41%
of those in the 35 to 49 cohort indicated that they would
be unlikely to trust recommendations from a friend whom
they later learned was paid for making a recommendation.
Other bloggers might instead use discovery (or suspicion)
of payment as an opportunity for the denunciation that
fuels much of the blogosphere.
One of the first major efforts to embody a blog in offline
print is the UK Guardian's opportunistic Salam
Pax: The Baghdad Blog (London: Guardian Books 2003)
Pax - aka the Baghdad Blogger - who as noted earlier
in this profile has been promoted as "the Anne Frank
of the War ... and its Elvis". It is perhaps just
as well that low teledensity
in Rwanda spared us the horrors of a blog during that
nation's ethnic massacres.
We can, however, expect to see print and filmed versions
of real and faux blogs, building on works such as Klein's
Primary Colours, The Secret Diaries of Adrian
Mole, Bridget Jones' Diaries and Nicholson
Baker's Vox that are highlighted later
in this profile.
They in turn trace their lineage to epistolary novels
and redacted reportage such as Pierre Choderlos de Laclos's
Les liaisons dangereuses (1782) and Goethe's
aus der Schweiz (1779).
Up & Dirty (London: Ebury Press 2006) by Stephanie
Blog of War: Front-Line Dispatches from Soldiers in
Iraq and Afghanistan (New York: Simon & Schuster
2006) by Matthew Burden ... "All the officers in
the book are competent; all the enlisted men and women
are brave; and all the husbands love their wives and
Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq (New York: The Feminist
Press 2005) by Riverbend
Threaten to Eat Your Co-Workers: Best of Blogs (Berkeley:
Apress 2006) edited by Bonnie Burton & Alan Graham
Are Iran: The Persian Blogs (Brooklyn: Soft Skull
Press 2005) by Nasrin Alavi
Mammoth Book of Sex Diaries: Online Confessions and
Call-Girl Adventures - The Best of the Sex Blogs
(New York: Carroll & Graf 2005) edited by Maxim
Belle de Jour: Diary of an Unlikely Call Girl
(New York: Warner 2006) by Anonymous
Lawyer: A Novel (New York: Holt 2006) by Jeremy
Blogs: Masterworks from the Wild Web (New York:
Vintage 2008) edited by Sarah Boxer
Journalists are increasingly peddling hardcopy of their
blogs. One example is Margo Kingston's Not Happy,
John! (Ringwood: Penguin 2004), based on her Fairfax
blog and criticised by the great Max Suich as having
the weaknesses of a lot of material on the web - little
or no editing, overblown language and personal rage
or frustration masquerading as moral criticism. It's
therapy rather than thought for a lot of the webbies.
The genre has inevitably been colonised by those in search
of something that is hip or merely amusing.
God's Blogs: Life from God's Perspective (Sisters:
Multnomah 2005) by Lanny Donoho asks "How would you
feel if you thought God wrote a personal note to you ...
on His website" (presumably as nonplussed as if She
sent us an SMS). We were somewhat more engaged by Paul
Davidson's The Lost Blogs: From Jesus to Jim Morrison
- The Historically Inaccurate and Totally Fictitious Cyber
Diaries of Everyone Worth Knowing (New York: Warner
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