02 Apr, 2011
Blogging for dollars
Recent talk about money and income has had my brain aflame. And even as I’m sitting down I feel like this post is going to be all over the place.
I need to step back for a moment.
Ann’s column was about websites that publish “top blogger” lists. Babble publishes one, and ones like it are all over the Internet. I do read the lists, but I also have a problem with them. Like Annie was quoted as saying in the column, there is a lack of methodology when it comes to building those lists. The finished product amounts to little more than a popularity contest. Readers have mixed feelings about them too. It’s an understandable ambivalence. Some feel bad about not making the list while others don’t give a whip about whether they’re on it or not.
Same goes for the vast majority of so-called blog awards out there. They’re almost always non-juried, meaning that bloggers can go vote for themselves every day and harass their readers to do the same. Winning one of these, well, let’s just say I don’t think it’s a big deal.
After Ann’s post was published, Katie Granju published this post, which inspired a storm of comments about bloggers and income. Catherine (Her Bad Mother) posted a response to that here. After reading through all of it today, I’m not sure if we’re much farther ahead.
I’ve watched this unfold with interest because as some of you know, I tried ranking Ottawa bloggers according to blog revenue recently, and it didn’t work. Maybe it would have worked if I took it offline, but it didn’t unfold the way I had planned. As Katie wrote: “… smart, savvy bloggers are hesitant to be ranked against others within our own online community.” And I get that, but I still believe there’s a benefit of a ranking based on factual information such as income.
As an aside, have you read the Technorati 2010 State of the Blogosphere report? There’s an interesting section about blog income, which may be of interest to some of you.
Here’s what Catherine Connors wrote about talking about money, and I can’t say I disagree:
“I was, and remain, reluctant to publicly discuss the hard numbers of what I make, because I don’t really think that it’s necessary, and also because – all of my brave talk notwithstanding – I still feel kind of prissy about it and the whole larger discussion. And – cue dramatic sigh – because I’m afraid of being snarked at – that whole ‘mom bloggers don’t deserve success’ horseshit that, regardless of how horseshitty it is, one still wants to avoid having flung in one’s face –”
Ah yes, the haters. I try to ignore those people, but I know they’re out there, seething and judging. (Why? Because they’re envious I guess. Do what I do and pity the haters.)
But but but (and Catherine goes on to say this too), knowing what bloggers can earn is important information for other bloggers. We need to talk dollars- at least ballpark dollars - because women everywhere have been undervaluing themselves forever, and it’s time to change that.
I’ve said it before, and I need to say it again because it’s very important to recognize that blogging has incredible value in and of itself.
- It is a family scrapbook
- Writing is a cathartic act. It is good for the heart and soul and our mental health.
- You can use a blog to build a portfolio of writing… which can lead to paid work in traditional media, online media, marketing or consulting, speaking engagements, book deals etc
- It can lead to free stuff, if you’re into that kind of thing (more about that in a sec)
- Let’s not forget, that a blog can result in very rich and rewarding personal and business relationships, and truly, there is no greater value than this.
Not every blogger should be looking for dollars. It is not always a good fit, BUT it’s certainly okay if someone wants to turn their blogging hobby into a business, even if it’s just about covering the costs of operating it, right?
Another reason to talk dollars is because at the same time as all of this is happening, parenting bloggers are getting more and more pitches from big companies who are looking to connect with their consumers in a new and different way. Parenting stuff is BIG business, and I mean billions of dollars big. I think that some companies and agencies are exploiting bloggers (there, I said it) and if bloggers knew what they’re worth, they are less likely to get taken advantage of.
Many of you know how it goes down, because it’s common practice in the PR industry right now. Big Company X sends an email asking you, the blogger, to mention their product on your blog. Often it’s just a press release. Sometimes, but not always, they will send you product. Sometimes Big Company X will offer to link your blog from a microsite. Sometimes they will ask you to be a product tester. Sometimes there is a “badge” involved, and you’re asked to post it on your blog. There is rarely remuneration involved. There might be a contest you might qualify for, but most likely, the blogger is given (low-value) products in return for participating.
Please, dear blogger friend, if you receive one of these pitches, pause for a moment and consider what Big Company X is getting in return for your (very public) testimony. They are harnessing your voice, your blog in order to reach your loyal and hard-earned readership. Their outreach is ultimately about creating word-of-mouth advertising and awareness via trusted and influential bloggers. Do you have any idea how much this is worth in the advertising industry? It’s gold. It is NOT bad, or rude, to say to that PR agency (in a polite way of course): What’s in it for me? Why should I help you?
I am finding this trend – overall - to be somewhat troubling and I’m not sure what the solution is. But the fact remains that the things that bloggers have earned – loyalty, expertise, an influential voice with a very wide segment of a much-desired target market - has great value, and that value isn’t being compensated very fairly with these kinds of pitches.
Anyway, this is a very long way of saying that we bloggers need to know that what we have created is valuable. Big Company X knows this, why don’t we?
My blog is different from many others out there. At one point I decided that it was going to be geocentric, and quite specific to the city (and also the neighbourhood) in which we live. I love Ottawa and what this city has to offer for families … so that topic makes up the bulk of what I write about. One might think this limits me in terms of readership and advertising, but it’s something I’ve been able to turn into an advantage. I am happy about my size and scope, and my little niche has worked for me because all of my advertisers are local Ottawa businesses.
So, do you want to read a bit about how I do it? It took me a long time to figure this out, but this is what has worked for me.
1) My ads are display ads that I sell myself. I chose not to go through an ad network (such as Google or BlogHer ads) because I wanted total control over the content. Selling your own ad space is more work, but I feel really strongly that it results in better-quality advertising.
2) I recognize the fact that the display of ads on a personal blog like mine appears to be an endorsement, so I accept it on those terms. I only promote businesses and organizations that I can feel good about supporting. That’s why you won’t ever see an ad for WalMart or McDonald’s here on the Fishbowl.
3) I don’t actively sell ad space anymore. Advertisers come to me. I have a rate sheet, or rate card, that I’ve done up all pretty for when an advertiser comes calling. The rate sheet answers questions the advertiser might have if they’re thinking of coming on board, such as the number of hits etc. It goes without saying that your rate sheet should look totally professional. I’m a fan of having a similar style throughout all marketing materials; business cards, blog, Twitter background etc. If you can’t do it, hire someone who can because it makes all the difference in the world. First impressions count.
4) I don’t consider my advertisers to be “advertisers,” they are patrons. It might seem like mere semantics to some, but I don’t see it that way. My patrons are individuals who have stepped forward and are helping keep this boat afloat. It’s a different kind of relationship. They support me, so I support them whenever I can, whether it’s online or offline when and where it fits. Basically, they are in the back of my mind wherever conversations occur. And because I’m so selective about who comes on board I feel good doing it this way.
If this conversation is going to have any value at all we need to talk about rates. This was the most difficult to figure out. I had to think long and hard about it. I want to state for the record that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with starting out really low at first. I know it’s something a lot of people do because getting that first ad is the hardest. There is also nothing wrong with trading ad space for product or services if it’s something you can honestly say you’ll use.
My original goal was to cover the costs of running this website. I thought would it make sense if I set my rate at $50/month to begin with. I have to be honest. I totally pulled that number of out a hat because I couldn’t find any useful information about “momblogging” ad rates anywhere. And I looked.
I didn’t want to give the space away – I knew I had something good here – so I figured fifty bucks wouldn’t be a lot of money for a certain size of business. Given what I knew about who’s reading (many of whom are parents like me) I was betting that $50/month would be seen as money well spent. The advertiser wouldn’t think they’re breaking the bank but it would add up nicely for me.
I thought that if I could persuade one business person to agree that rate (a) I’d know I gotten it right and (b) that the market could bear it. And you know what, I did find someone. From that point onward I increased the cost of the ad space.
I have thought about whether or not I would reveal my rates here but I don’t think I will. It’s not a secret (obviously, there are a lot of people out there who already know), but I think I’ll keep it private for now. I don’t post rates because I prefer potential advertisers to contact me directly for the information.
Suffice it to say, the income I earn from ad sales is not paying for my reno, but it is helping. I am earning the equivalent of a part-time job, which is fair given the number of hours that I put into this little space of mine. It has become part of my job - which is mostly writing and web content management. My job helps feed and clothe my children and put food on the table. The blog has lead to paid writing opportunities, speaking engagements, opportunities to travel and meet cool people, and free stuff for me (and for you!). I am so lucky to be making money from something I love doing every day.
Anyway, this has turned out to be a helluva long post, hasn’t it? I hope I’ve shed some light on this topic. I have more to say about blog monetization but I think I’m going to save that for another day.
Are you selling ads now? How is it working for you? Thinking about doing it? I’m happy to answer questions you might have.
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