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April 26 2009

Money For Bloggin’, How The Wall Street Journal Got It Really Wrong

blogging for moneyIsn’t it amazing what a year, and an economic crisis, can do to change the perception of an industry?

It was just last April that I wrote up a post about how some news sources were talking about how professional bloggers work under harsh conditions, and now I get to tell you how we’re America’s newest profession, and some of us are rolling in money!  Well, that is at least what one reporter at the Wall Street Journal is telling the world.

According to Mark Penn, there are now over 20 million people in the United States who are blogging, of those numbers, 1.7 million are profiting from it, and another 452.000 are using it as their primary source of income.  He got those numbers from a poll on Technorati, and he’s sticking to them.

He then went to a post on ReadWriteWeb where they talked about 20 of the top-tier bloggers who shared that they are earning between $45,000 to $90,000 a year.  This is also his source of information that sites that generate around 100,000 unique visitors a month can expect to earn around $75,000 a year.

While I certainly don’t know every blogger out there, I have been in the professional tech blogging field now for close to 22-months, and I can assure you I am not earning $45,000 a year.  I can also say, with a fair degree of certainty, that I only know of one of my fellow bloggers in that pay range, and right now there are rumblings of him receiving a pay cut.

Sure it is nice to a see more positive piece about one my current professions, but I also think that Mr. Penn is painting a far rosier picture about the industry than it deserves.  Revenue from blogging is almost 100% dependent on advertising, and companies are currently cutting their advertising budgets to the bone.  I have already seen bloggers receiving tremendous pay cuts due to the downturn in ad dollars, and I have seen others completely lose their jobs.  Right now is not the time for anyone with even an inkling of how this business works to be saying, “wow, look at how much bloggers are making!”, because, quite frankly, we’re not.

My biggest concern out of a piece like this is that it is going to give false hope to people who have recently lost their jobs that they may be able to replace some of that income with trying their hand in the field, or even launching their own blogs.  Mr. Penn writes in fairly cheery tones how the barrier to entry is so low to start your own blog, saying that it is around $80, which is actually high, and how you can work your way up to earning a few hundred dollars a month.  Again, speaking as someone who has run this blog for 49 months, I can assure you it is not making a few hundred dollars a month.  If I manage to cover my hosting fees each month, I call it a good month.

uncle scroogeSo, how far off is Mr. Penn from reality?

Professional Blogging

He waxes on poetically about how much the top bloggers earn, and how you can expect some single pieces to pay you $200 a pop and so on.  Course he doesn’t tell you about how to find these jobs, how long those people have been in the field, how some blogs find sneaky ways to not pay you and so on, but hey, you can say in theory you were supposed to earn $200!

The field is currently choked with seasoned writers, and it is a buyer’s market out there.  We, the writers, are all scrambling to find work to make up for jobs we’ve lost, or ones where we have had our pay cut.  We are all competing for the same handful of positions, and we don’t need a publication like the Wall Street Journal working off of pre-economic crisis blog posts to tell a whole new group of people, “Hey, come over here, there’s ‘easy money’ over here!”

Running Your Own Blog

I speak to this from the perspective of running several blogs.  While my mother and I started StarterTech.com over a year ago, its numbers are still low.  As for ad revenue, it doesn’t even cover its portion of the hosting fees, but we’re fine with that, we see it as a long term project, and we’re dedicated to it, but it is also not expected to be our primary source of income like some of the neophytes reading that original article might look upon any blog they start.

As for this blog, it has taken me years to get it up to decent traffic.  2008 was my best year ever, doubling the traffic of 2007.  This year is shaping up even better with me having surpassed the traffic for all 12 months of 2008 on April 19th.  It has taken a lot of time and effort this year to get my numbers up like that, and I am still not near those magical numbers Mr. Penn mentions.

He really makes it sound so easy to do, but he doesn’t go into things like how these bloggers would have to learn about SEO (search engine optimization), meta tags, setting up site maps for search engine crawls, submitting to the engines and on and on and on.  Nope, just throw $80 at someone and you have a blog that will be making you money!  Running a site is as hard as any other desk job, and in some ways even harder if you have no clue some of the technical aspects even exist.  There are millions of blogs out there, and you have to jump through hoops to make sure you even get noticed.

Is This The Next eBay Gold Rush?

This article reminds me so much of the ones you saw around the time everyone was discovering eBay for the first time.  “Did you know there’s money to be made out there?!?”, and people who had no clue what they were doing, all ran out to their garages, took pictures of their junk, and tried selling it via auctions.  Sure, some good sellers came out of that, and I am sure we could gain some good bloggers, but it’s the initial onslaught of everyone with a keyboard trying to be a blogger that worries me.  More people fighting for the limited jobs, more blogs to help muddy up the search engines and just more drivel in general making it onto the Interwebs.

I don’t think this will happen unless more articles like this begin to appear, and seeing as how journalists are already fearing they may lose their jobs to bloggers, something Mr. Penn oddly does address, we won’t see an onslaught of new people in the blogosphere.  I do think his article does point out, one again, that unless you understand all the facets of a subject, perhaps you shouldn’t be writing an opinion piece on it.



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