Make blogging profitable
by Shai Sachs, Sat Jun 02, 2007 at 11:07:14 AM EDT
One of the key problems limiting the progressive movement is the difficulty of making blogging profitable and sustainable. The progressive blogosphere is a key component of the movement, but its health relies on the time availability and financial stability of individual bloggers.
There are now some fledgling efforts to make blogging pay: grants from Blogpac, fellowships for investigative blogs like Colorado Confidential and Minnesota Monitor, and the Blue America Speakers Bureau. But these are just the tip of the iceberg, and I'd like to hear what other thoughts are floating around for make blogging more lucrative. I have some thoughts of my own, and I've included them in the extended entry. I'd love your own ideas, or comments on my thoughts.
If you're interested in really sinking your weekend into reading up on this, check out Cursor, Inc's funding library, which is remarkably comprehensive.
I should note that I have a financial stake in this issue. Most obviously, I'm a blogger and would like to earn money for my efforts. More than that, I am also working on a side project to provide banking products to progressive bloggers, and this project will clearly be more successful if bloggers are more profitable.
The following is a short description of the kinds of things bloggers can do to make money. Most of these are not really new, just tweaks on existing methods already in circulation. But hopefully they will be a helpful jumping-off point.
- Cost per action ads. For a blogger, Google ads and Blogads are easy to implement, but they don't pay very well, except for top-tier blogs. Even state-level blogs occasionally don't make much this way. There are a couple of ways to get better rates. One is to implement "cost per action" ads, where the blogger gets paid a fairly high amount (measured in dollars) for each action the blog's readers take as a result of an ad. Note that cost per action is different from cost per click - in the case of cost per action, the blogger gets paid when the blog reader completes some action (e.g., completes a purchase transaction), whereas in the case of cost per click, the blogger gets paid when the reader clicks on an ad (and possibly does not complete an action.)
Cost per action is the basis for bookseller programs from places like Powells, but books aren't sufficiently profitable to justify a very high rate for each action. However, done right, cost per action could apply to many different kinds of products which are relevant to a progressive blog's audience, and could be very lucrative, for the proper combination of blogger and product.
- Expand the advertising base. Until recently, most progressive blog ads were sponsored by organizations with a distinct progressive slant, like candidates and advocacy organizations. That is starting to change, and as blogging becomes more mainstream, more and more nationwide corporations (like Marriott) are beginning to purchase ads on blogs. But really, this is just the beginning. Local retailers should be advertising on local blogs. The problem is that most local retailers are slow to adopt new technology. Even when they are gung-ho about advertising on the Internet, lack of local blogs can be an impediment.
Theoretically, Google ads at least makes it possible for local retailers to advertise on local blogs, if there are blogs in the area on which the retailer can post. The real problem is that there's a large disconnect between local retailers and retail bloggers, and they should be tied together. I've previously had some thoughts about using local newspapers to bring these two communities together (and to help replace lost newspaper advertising revenues), but may be other ways to achieve this goal.
- Premium content. I know, I know - content wants to be free. But I think in certain targeted cases, premium content could really work. With premium content, the blogger occasionally produces some very high-quality work, such as the results of a survey, report on some public policy topic, polling results, or something else of value. The content is available on a pay-only basis (with the cost determined by the blogger). Right now blogging software doesn't do a good job of supporting premium content, but adding this kind of capability in to a blog platform is a fairly minor software task. Goodies like teasers and user ratings can be appended to premium content to make selling premium content easier.
An interesting twek on this idea is reader-generated premium content. In this case, readers can publish premium content on the blog, along with the blogger. The reader gets paid for each download, and the blogger takes a small cut. This idea really values the creation of a community of expertise, since bloggers get credit for creating the kind of community where experts who are capable of producing (and willing to consume) premium content gather.
- Solicitations for free content. This idea has certainly been tried before, to great success - the two examples that come to mind are Matt Stoller's reporting on the Connecticut Democratic primary last year, and Josh Marshall's reporting on the New Hampshire primary in 2003. The idea could be expanded; in general, any conference or extended political event is an opportunity for this kind of reader-supported content.
- Pay-to-post. This idea is, in a way, an extended advertising opportunity. And I can only imagine it'll be somewhat controversial, so I hesitate to throw it out there. But in brief, the idea is to allow a candidate (or company, or organization, or whatever) to have restricted front-page posting privileges on the blog for a short while. Such pay-to-post opportunities could be used in a variety of ways. For example, a candidate could release a public policy plan on the blog's front page, in order to garner feedback on the plan. Clearly, pay-to-post opportunities should be fairly limited, perhaps happening no more than a few times a year.
- Paid reader memberships. With this idea, a blogger would charge readers some annual fee for a membership, with certain defined privileges. Dailykos already does this - you can pay to view the site without ads. That's a good first cut at this idea, but there should be many other privileges which could be used to sweeten the pot and charge higher membership rates. A local blogger, for example, could team up with a local newspaper to offer discounted subscriptions with each membership (or other kinds of memberships in community organizations, like the YMCA.) Alternatively, if a blogger tends to get lots of "sneak peek" invitations, (to movie previews, and things like that), those invitations could be turned over to the membership from time to time.
- Consulting opportunities. Consulting is the "gold mine" of blogger profitability - bloggers use their high profile to garner potentially lucrative consulting gigs. This works reasonably well for bloggers with very marketable skills, which are closely related to the subject of the blog. In fact, blogging is a reasonably good way for an independent consultant to generate new business, so this idea works in reverse. What I'd like to see is a bit better support for bloggers to garner these kinds of opportunities: advertising to generate demand for blogger/consultants, tips for bloggers on how to be effective at garnering consulting engagements, etc.
In a way, I'm a rather odd person to be discussing these ideas, since I've never really used my blogging to earn money, at least not directly. I've never used an ad program, bookselling program, merchandising program, or Paypal donation link. So it's possible that some of these ideas have already been tried and failed, or that they're otherwise brainless. So take them with a grain of salt.
What I'd ultimately like to see, somewhere, is a "Blogger's guide to profitability", which really studies various profitability mechanisms and provides solid research on which ones are most effective, which blogs tend to profit the most from each mechanism, and how to modify your blog to be more profitable. If anyone knows of a resource like that, send it along!