Is blogging a sustainable way to make a living?

Is blogging a sustainable way to make a living?

I’m going to preface this by saying that talking about this is actually my job, and I am actually qualified to have opinions about this that are founded in experience and knowledge both client and agency side. I have worked in digital marketing for 11 years, which is longer than most people in Australia have been on the internet (true fact). This post contains thoughts from underneath my digital marketing hat, not my personal bloggery hat.

I see no issue with people monetising their blogs (did you know that “monetise” is really an invented word, by the way? it might be my favourite one). In fact, I have a blog that I am occasionally paid money for, sometimes with two zeroes. So it would be hypocritical of me to think that monetising blogs was the debbil or that people who post sponsored content are in some way lesser humanoids than I, and so I don’t, because I am hypercritical. Is that the opposite? I think so.

No, my concern (it’s more of a concern than an ‘issue’) is with the sustainability of the monetised blog as a business model.

For example – you know how all those major media outlets made all those changes last week that put people out of work? That happened in part because it is really hard to generate an income from putting advertising widgets on websites. They have much bigger audiences than you or I (especially I) and even they can’t make a sustainable future out of monetising a digital asset in this way. So that’s the first problem.

The second problem is that there will always be someone who is willing to be less prudent than you in choosing what type of content an organisation can buy from them. And what happens when this occurs is very simple:

1. People undercut other people – “I will talk about it on my blog for $50 less than the other people.” This is basic (poor) business, and it happens in all industries.

2. Organisations choose cheaper bloggers / tweeters / other communicators because that is also basic business.

3. Bloggers can’t afford to invest heaps of time in the content they produce because they’re doing it so cheaply, so people stop reading it because it’s crap.

4. Companies stop investing in bloggers because the value they can provide is inefficient.

5. No one makes any money from it anymore.

This is all compounded by the fact that blogging of this kind is so new, and therefore a strange unknown to the organisations that want to invest in it. They don’t really understand the culture, and they don’t know the different communities (and you’d be naive to think that “mummy bloggers” are the only community of bloggers) intimately enough to understand where the greatest value is. So they will rely on the bloggers themselves give them the low down on how they should be spending their money, and this will result in – drum roll, dot com land – a bubble. An unsustainable, saturated market that can’t support itself.

I’m saying these things because the bloggers who come out the other side with an income intact are going to be the ones who understand the value of the periphery. Do you know what it’s like? It’s like, Paris Hilton was famous for being famous. But she knew that couldn’t provide her with an income forever, so she capitalised on her fame – she monetised her fame. She – or maybe it was Nicky? – started making bags and selling dogs or whatever and then when they weren’t famous for socialising anymore, they had secondary and tertiary and otherary income streams (and huge trust funds, but for the purposes of this analogy we can ignore them). Being a blogger who is famous for being a blogger is nice, but it won’t pay bills indefinitely. It needs to be supported by complementary external devices through which to earn money.

So about my other blog – it is a “business” blog. A business blog that doesn’t turn anything close to a profit. It is not personal or confessional and it doesn’t have a following of people who wait for me to have a nervous breakdown in ones and zeroes. I am happy to sell out on that blog (in ways that are relevant to my audience, because I believe in the power of consistent branding) because it is a business, and it has always positioned itself as a business, and the people who read it know that it’s a business. I will never post sponsored content on this website because it is the opposite of all of those things, and the idea of throwing in a washing powder advertorial feels like a betrayal of the kinds of things I write here. Like, sometimes I feel like a bad parent and my child is being assessed for autism spectrum disorders but GOD I LOVE OMO*.

That is not to say that I don’t think you should, and I don’t much worry about whether you do or you don’t. All I’m saying is that I doubt very much that this type of income is sustainable, and the period of time in which a decent salary can be earned from blogging alone is, in my opinion, going to be very short lived indeed.

* OMO didn’t sponsor this, it’s just the easiest one to type.

19 Comments
  • Kelly Exeter

    July 1, 2012 at 12:36 am Reply

    So I am doing it right then ;)

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      July 1, 2012 at 12:37 am Reply

      Yes, you are an excellent example of doing it right!

      • Kelly Exeter

        July 1, 2012 at 1:10 am Reply

        Woo fist pump!

        As you mention in your reply to Nikki below, diversification is crucial for any business and if you want your blog to be your business, then you need to diversify.

        Also people need to note, very few (if any?) Australian websites are paying all their costs with advertising revenue. So if anyone has a business model built on the back of advertising – well they need to go back to the drawing board.

        • Anna Spargo-Ryan

          July 2, 2012 at 4:55 pm Reply

          Absolutely. I know I’m a digital marketer so I’m biased, but I do think there are too many blog PR companies and not enough blog strategy companies, to help these bloggers create a solid foundation.

  • Nikki @ Styling You

    July 1, 2012 at 12:49 am Reply

    Interesting thoughts Anna – and interesting on Facebook tonight. My blog has been a business from day 1 – 4 years ago today. The income streams because of and off the blog have been diverse from Day 1. I’ve been open to opportunities and changes through my blog and will continue to do so – in my opinion that’s a sustainable business model regardless of what your business is.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      July 1, 2012 at 12:52 am Reply

      That’s just smart business Nikki. There are many more bloggers (again, not specifically “mummy bloggers”) who either don’t have the business nous to diversify, or are too short sighted to do so. My interest here is in wholly blogging as a sustainable business (not blogging + writing + speaking appointments + sitting on boards etc.), and my suspicion, obviously, is that it’s not workable.

      I also think we’ll probably find out fairly quickly!

  • Sandi

    July 1, 2012 at 8:13 am Reply

    A-FRICKEN’-MEN!

  • Bec

    July 1, 2012 at 11:50 am Reply

    It’s starting to happen already. Marketers are already talking about how advertorials and sidebar ads are only good for brand recognition–think those M&M ads–they don’t result in increased sales. Influence doesn’t automatically equally sales.

    On a personal level, the year before last I earn a significant amount ON my blog, but it didn’t last. What did last was how competitive it made me which resulted in my having a nervy and walking away from personal blogging. To me, the cost of making money on my blog was too high, especially because it wasn’t a business.

    • Anna Spargo-Ryan

      July 2, 2012 at 4:54 pm Reply

      Yes, exactly. And again, you can’t use digital influence to MAKE people like something, you can only use it to raise awareness of that brand/product. I feel the same way about using a personal blog to make money – for ME (not necessarily others, and this isn’t me judging them or anyone) using my blog in that way would feel contrived and a little ugly.

  • Carli

    July 1, 2012 at 1:24 pm Reply

    It’s taken me nine months to work out an inch of this stuff so thanks for sharing your digital marketing hat ;)

  • Life In A Pink Fibro

    July 4, 2012 at 10:44 am Reply

    Great post Anna. Just… great.

  • Johanna

    July 6, 2012 at 11:44 am Reply

    Some interesting thoughts and I think you’re right that a sustainable income cannot be made from reaching the stage of being a ‘famous blogger’ and advertising alone. Diversification is the key, being adaptable, willing to learn and taking on new things that present themselves as opportunities due to blogging, as Nikki alludes, those things are key. I suppose many people start blogging because it offers a dream – the opportunity to express themselves and connect with a tribe, the possibility of a dream life, a dream way of potentially earning a living. But like most dream jobs, eventually you realise that they are connected to businesses, and business-like stuff is expected of you – which is where the hard yards begin. As you say, the savvy bloggers will build other income streams around their blogs and use their blogs to entice customers to their business – but omigosh, it’s such a lot of work! Only the strong will survive, that’s for sure!
    Thanks for a thought provoking post.

    • Nikki @ Styling You

      July 6, 2012 at 12:12 pm Reply

      Johanna, you’ve nailed it. It is A LOT of work. Any business is. I’ve never worked longer hours in my life but I’ve never been more energised by what I’m doing either. I’ve been blogging 4 years – the last 2 years I would say seriously. And the last 6 months full time. That’s a whole lot of posts, more than 2 million page views and a willingness to be open to opportunities that has got me to this point. I don’t now get to rest on any laurels … I get to keep on going. Something I can only do because I love doing it!

      • Johanna

        July 6, 2012 at 12:38 pm Reply

        Yep, and how well you’re doing it! Keep up the great work :)

        • Anna Spargo-Ryan

          July 6, 2012 at 1:24 pm Reply

          Absolutely, very hard work is requisite to make a proper go of it (and there’s no question that all who have commented here work bloody hard).

          My question is about whether that’s going to be enough long term – it doesn’t matter how hard you work at something if it’s not profitable, and it may be that the business model as it currently stands is just not viable, regardless of how hard you work, if you aren’t prepared to compromise the way you do business. I’m not saying this is what is happening now, I’m hypothesising that this may be what happens in the future (and so should be planned for now by diversifying).

          • Nikki @ Styling You

            July 6, 2012 at 2:05 pm

            Totally get what you’re saying Anna … if you treat it like a business then it stands to reason that the business model will not be set in stone. My business model of four years ago looks nothing like today. You change with circumstance (good and bad!) if you want your business to survive.

  • Johanna

    July 6, 2012 at 4:02 pm Reply

    I agree with both of you (Anna and Nikki). I think Nikki is a point in case of how to adapt or die, and think that Styling You will change gear and direction as and when needed because of the real world skills Nikkie brings to an on-line business. I’d like to think we can, but I don’t think we can run blogs that are profitable just due to writing and blogging engaging content, interesting photography and lively new media. Somehow I suspect the business model that we’re ‘sold’ is flawed. I would LOVE to be proved wrong though! (Maybe Mama Mia is the closest to online success that I can think of – but that’s gone beyond blogging, hasn’t it?)

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