A quick search of a popular jobs site this week yielded these help wanted ads:
+ Looking to create a new type of blogging experience on small business website…Non-pay position only (for interns OR writers looking for exposure).
+ Writers needed for design blog…Compensation: very part time basis, contributor status, no pay
+ I’m looking for someone to blog with me on personal finance topics… I will build readership and split the ad revenue with you.
Blogging for profit might be the newest chapter in the book of business models for writers, but phrases like “very part time basis”, “exposure”, and “split the ad revenue” tell the same old story. They are sugar-coated ways of saying “come work for free.”
In this article, I’m going to explain the following:
+ If a publication, regardless of its format, can’t pay you even a modest amount for your articles (blog posts), then it is probably not a viable business.
+ If you are the one supplying the content, and the site isn’t giving you anything tangible in return, you should ask yourself why you need them. Just do it yourself. Blogging for profit has never been easier.
+ If you don’t want to do it yourself, there are ways to validate a site’s potential for generating exposure or ad revenue, which helps you make an educated decision if you decide to get involved.
What Is A Blog?
So what is a blog? A blog as a running commentary on a subject, presented in “diary” format, made possible through special software that makes publishing the commentary on the Internet easy and quick.
The latest publishing business model is to create niche publications using the blog format and then combine it with Google Adsense – Google’s automated program that lets websites run ads in exchange for a piece of the ad sales.
The reason it is so appealing is cost. Blogging software automates the production and management of web content. Google Adsense automates the sales of advertising. All you need is the right content and you have the recipe for making money. Unfortunately, getting the content for free means the blog’s owner is the only one turning a profit.
Most Financially Successful Blogs To Date
Arguably the most financially successful blog publishing venture to date is that of Weblogs, Inc. – a network of blogs. Last Summer, Jason Calacanis, company co-founder, touted the fact that his company was making $1 million per year in revenue from Google Adsense.
Calacanis reported he had 103 bloggers and 9 staffers – for a total of 112 people he, at least in theory, needs to pay some sort of money.
The only good way to compare the efficiency of business models is to figure out how much each worker contributes on average to the overall revenue produced by the model.
112 divided into $1,000,000 is $8928.57. So, on average, each of his people contributes a little over $8900 annually towards the total revenue. That just isn’t very much. For those reading this who have access to your own company’s numbers, run them through the same formula for comparison (total revenue divided by number of workers). I bet the per person numbers will be several times that of Calacanis’ numbers.
Assume for a moment that he puts 100% of that $1,000,000 in revenue into paying those employees and bloggers – which no real business can afford to do. That mean, at best, he is can afford to pay everyone $8928.57 for a year’s work, or $4.29 an hour if everyone were real, full-time employees making the same amount of money. That is less than minimum wage.
The more likely scenario is Calacanis and his upper management are pocketing the bulk of the cash and his 103 bloggers are writing for little or nothing. Moreover, it is unlikely that all the reported $25 million AOL paid to purchase the company in October of 2005 was split evenly with the 103 bloggers. In fact, reports indicate that only one of the 103 bloggers got a piece of the AOL sale, Pete Rojas of the blog Engadget.
As one experienced blogger I talked to about Weblogs, Inc. put it, “I definitely think it’s some kind of combination of a sweatshop, midnight basketball with talent scouts, and the lottery.”
The Reality Of a Blog-Driven Paycheck
In a recent Wired News article, Harold Davis, successful blogger and author of the book Google Advertising Tools, talks about making a living from blogging. His advice is to shoot for ad revenue of about $10 per page per year. And that you shouldn’t even start a site without at least 100 pages of high-quality content.
With those kind of numbers, it is easy to see why some blog publishers want writers to write for free.
What Are They Providing That I Can’t Do Myself?
If a blog publisher can’t pay you, then you have to ask yourself: “What are they providing that I can’t do myself”? Generally, the answer falls into one of four categories:
+ They are doing all the site marketing.
If they are starting from scratch – having no high-traffic sites off which to piggy-back their efforts and/or are not investing heavily in advertising – chances are they aren’t going to do any better job of marketing than you could do on your own. And unfortunately, many sites expect their writers/bloggers to generate their own audience. So you will likely end up doing it yourself anyway.
+ They are handling the advertising sales, freeing me to concentrate on writing.
If they are taking a cue from Weblogs, Inc. and using Google’s Adsense program, they aren’t doing anything you couldn’t do yourself.
+ They promise me exposure.
This is the default promise of all sites that don’t pay. But exposure only has value if the site has a substantial audience and you can leverage it for some other purpose – such as helping to obtain a better paying job or selling a product.
+ They know all the “technical stuff” to make this work, I don’t.
The foundation of any successful web site is good, original content. Everything springs from that basic building block. In his book, Google Advertising Tools, Davis says successful content sites fall into at least one of these categories:
- The site is humorous and makes visitors laugh.
- The site provides a useful free service.
- The site is an online magazine or newspaper.
- The site provides opinions in the form of a blog or blogs.
- The site provides practical information.
- The site sells a popular product or service.
- The site services a community and provides communication tools for
What’s The Real Story?
If you aren’t up to the task of doing it all yourself, then you should go into the deal with some education on the subject.
People looking for free labor will tell you lots of things about their website. Those things may or may not be true. Here are some ways to help you figure out the truth.
+ Alexa Rankings
Alexa collects and ranks website traffic. The data comes from sites visited by those who install a special browser toolbar. Because of this, the results can be somewhat skewed. Also, the ranking only applies to the base domain, even if you enter a subdomain. (Example: groups.yahoo.com has the same ranking as yahoo.com). But despite these shortcomings, Alexa will give you an idea of how much traffic a certain site gets.
To see the ranking of a site, go here:
enter the URL of the site in question.
If the site has an Alexa ranking of 100,000 or less, then it probably gets decent traffic. If the site has a ranking of 10,000 or less, it likely gets a lot of traffic. If the site has a ranking higher than 100,000, it probably isn’t getting much traffic at all.
Another test of a site’s exposure online is to see how many backlinks it has in Yahoo. A backlink is simply a link to a particular web site from another web site. A site with lots of backlinks means online awareness and search engine coverage of that site is high.
To find backlinks in Yahoo, enter this:
Example: linkdomain:www.writersweekly.com -site:www.writersweekly.com
+ List Size
Ask about the size of their email list, if they have one. A few thousand subscribers isn’t very impressive. Several thousand subscribers, however, indicates a well-trafficked site. Also, confirm they aquired those addresses in a double opt-in fashion – meaning the owner of each email address confirmed they wanted to be added to the list.
+ RSS Feed Subscribers
And finally, ask for the number of subscribers to their RSS feed. An RSS feed is essentially a special URL that contains a list of the most recent posts of a blog. By monitoring that file with special software or through special web sites, a person can see when the blog adds new content without needing to visit it every day.
In the case of RSS feed subscribers, a few thousand or more is pretty good.
If they look at you funny when you ask about their RSS feed, you need to question the viability of the whole venture. Any serious blog publishing effort will make use of RSS.
The Bottom Line
In any online publishing venture, the content of the site is the most valuable piece. If you are the supplier of that piece, make sure you are getting compensated appropriately.
After years of making other people money in exchange for vague promises of Internet-based wealth, Richard Hoy struck out on his own in the Spring of 2000. Together with his wife, they formed BookLocker – a company that provides a low-cost, turn-key publishing and sales environment for independent authors. In addition, the company owns WritersWeekly.com, offering freelance job listings, new paying markets and more every Wednesday.
Feel free to direct any comments on this article to: richard-at-booklocker.com