Can bloggers make money?

Not a day goes by when I don’t think about how much the Internet has changed our lives. I think it’s the most amazing development I’ll see in my lifetime.

It’s why I left the newspaper business, and it’s why you’re reading me here instead of in the pages of the Star Tribune. The Internet has changed how we communicate, how we recreate, how we travel, how we learn — in short, it’s changed everything.

For marketers, the Internet is an exciting tool that’s still largely unexplored. Sure, everyone knows how to put up a Web site, but tapping the Internet’s vast potential is still very much an experiment in progress.

One of the key questions is monetization. That’s why the traditional media — newspapers, magazines, local TV — are hurting so badly. The Web brings in paltry sums compared to what print and broadcast used to (and still do) generate.

People are accustomed to getting information for free on the Internet, and they’re reluctant to pay for anything but the most premium content. The traditional media have learned this, and now some Web operators are getting the lesson.

Gannett blog
A former newspaper colleague of mine, Jim Hopkins, runs a very successful new blog. Hopkins spent 20 years as a reporter and editor for the Gannett Co., the nation’s largest newspaper chain. He took a buyout from USA Today last year and launched the Gannett Blog, devoted to news and commentary affecting Gannett’s more than 45,000 employees.

His blog has broken significant news; it offers frequently updated information, commentary and a lively community forum to a large audience that’s keenly interested in the topic. As its first year nears an end, the Gannett Blog is attracting more than 25,000 readers and 100,000 visits per month.

But Hopkins isn’t making a living off it. He recently began accepting advertising for the first time and launched a fund-raising drive among his readers. He’s been very open about his finances, saying he only needs to make $24,000 a year from the blog — $6,000 a quarter — in order to support himself.

So far, his first quarterly fund drive has netted a little more than $1,100: $265 in ad sales and $884 in reader pledges. If readers don’t pony up for the content, the blog might die.

‘Paid opportunities’
Other bloggers have taken a different approach to the money question. We recently contacted a blogger with whom we’d had dealings in the past.

He replied to us with an e-mail explaining that he’s getting too many PR pitches, and henceforth he’ll be working exclusively with “paid opportunities.” In other words, if you pay him, he’ll blog about your client. He enclosed a rate card listing rates of $25 to $100 for “sponsored posts.”

We’re not talking about buying an ad. We’re talking about paying him to write about a product. And the blog doesn’t say which posts are sponsored. There are a number of product reviews on the site, but no indication of whether they were paid for or whether they represent the blogger’s freely given opinion.

So why not just pay the $25 and get a product plug? Hell, that’s dirt-cheap! It will look like the unbiased word of an expert, and the readers will be none the wiser.

But we didn’t go that route. We really didn’t even think about it or discuss it much — just looked at each other, shrugged and said, “Nahhh.” It simply didn’t feel right. There are other bloggers who we believe will write about our client’s product on the merits.

But that was us. Other marketers might look on that $25 as a very cost-effective investment. So you should be aware as you surf the Web that the blogger praising a product might be getting paid to do it — and not sharing that information with you.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Mary Warner on 10/20/2008 - 12:30 pm.

    As the author of several blogs, I can tell you that I don’t do it for the money. Not one of the blogs I’ve been associated with has paid advertising on it and I don’t want them to. Instead, I use my blogs as marketing opportunities for myself, which, I guess, is a form of advertising. As a writer, I had to find a way for people to connect with me on a personal level so they will eventually (hopefully) buy my books. Blogging fits this criteria. It’s helping me to build an audience, as well as providing an interesting form of expression.

    Coincidentally, some of my blog posts could be considered product reviews by advertisers. I don’t get paid for them; I just write about products I like as the mood strikes. I recently wrote a post about Converse tennis shoes. The post was picked up by a splog, a nasty spam blog that contains nothing but advertising and stolen blog posts. It wouldn’t be so bad to have my content stolen by a splog if whoever’s behind it would at least use my blog name, rather than inserting a false name, like Jim or Tom.

  2. Submitted by John Reinan on 10/20/2008 - 01:56 pm.

    I think people who regularly read a blog get a sense over time of where the author is coming from, and whether the views are that author’s own or have been planted/paid for by outsiders.

    Still, we were kind of amazed to just have this guy come back at us with, “If you want coverage, you have to pay for it.”

  3. Submitted by Rick Ellis on 10/20/2008 - 05:02 pm.

    Well, I don’t really consider my site a “blog,” but as a small independent news organization, we’re making a reasonable amount of money. Enough to pay me a salary, and have enough left for expenses and some freelance contributors.

    In fact, I’m in the middle of a giant revamp of the site to make it easier to sell ads (as well as update the overall look).

    Now it’s not easy to make money, but how many small businesses “easily” make money?

    I don’t buy this arguement of “people are used to getting their news for free on the web.” People will support sites they find integral to their lives. But it requires some internet-savvy sales people an overall cost structure that reflects the revenue stream.

    I wish your piece would have reflected some of the experience of sites like ours, rather than focusing primarily on someone who’s selling out themselves one post at a time.

  4. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 10/21/2008 - 07:45 am.

    Wikipedia seems to have survived as one of the largest, longest running ‘blogs’ in the life of the internet. A recently popular and initial concept of ‘free’ internet publication has been that of community. Community in publishing expands and contracts according to the ability of the publisher to produce value. Search engines create audience by providing answers. So the pertinence of the answer in regard to the desire for information will determine the value of the system that is used. Newspapers served the desire of its community to know its community, usually the physical community in which the publisher sold the product and the reader lived and had interest. This was supported financially by free to the consumer, cost to the vendor, visual presentation of available, desireable products and services. The immediate source of communication was limited to the telephone and the Yellow Pages became the essential directory to answer the question, I need, I want, but where to get it. Trasferring the Yellow Pages to the internet solved part of the problem, but fails to permit the vendor from displaying his wares. Multiple models are in various stages of development and success and many have been attempted by the newspaper publishers, but none have replaced the printed, multicolored, slicks of the Sunday newspaper, it is still what keeps the presses rolling, as it should. But a new format is on the horizon, twenty years in development. A Canadian textbook publisher transplanted to Marin County California, home of a multiplicity of trends, has created the Telli Pages. An internet advertising system that has grown to 10,000 hits seeking local community sources for the things that Marin County Community wants now and is willing to purchase it if they can obtain and use it before it is out of fashion, damaged or spoiled in transit – that is the community of the now generation. Solve that nut a new product will be born by solving a need and want.

  5. Submitted by Christina Brown on 10/21/2008 - 08:01 am.

    I write a frugal living blog, and one of the biggest challenges I face is the amount and types of advertising on my blog. My mission is to help people save money and to teach them how to better manage their personal finances. Yet most online advertising requires readers to buy something. It puts me in a tough position.

    The key to being successful at blogging is to build your audience. The money will come eventually.

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