Event Notes – Blogging for Cash: The New Age of Blog Monetisation

October 9, 2012

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Bloggers are a rare breed. To be so intensely passionate about something that you have to write about it (whether you’re getting paid for it or not) is not commonplace. This passion was on display at Social Media Club Sydney last night, with a real sense of excitement and buzz in the air from a packed audience waiting to hear how they can monetize their babies (otherwise known as their blogs).

On the panel were the following esteemed bloggers and personalities:

Patty Huntington, frockwriter. @pattyhuntington

Daniel Kjellsson, FELLT.com @danielkjellsson

Matthew Gain, Director Brand and Digital Marketing, Edelman, and MatthewGain.com @matthewgain

Karla Courtney, The {Tiny} Times @karlacourtney

Moderator: Hannah DeMilta, Rocketman Media, The Fetch Sydney, HannahDeMilta.com @HannahDeMilta

In a free-flowing discussion, the panel took questions from the audience, covering a broad range of issues concerning the monetisation of blogs, with inevitable detours into other timely debates which are impacting bloggers at this time.

Here is a snapshot of some of the topics that were discussed, along with brief summaries of key points that were emphasised on each topic:

Advertising: Seemingly the first port-of-call for monetising blogs. Although it was acknowledged that with a large enough audience, worthwhile revenue can be generated from advertising, most panellists seemed to agree that it was not the most prudent way to monetise your blog. Also covered the challenges related to selling advertising on your own blog vs finding a salesperson / agency to sell advertising on your behalf.

The Dreaded Paywall – Patty Huntington mentioned that ‘paywall’ is perceived as a dirty word amongst bloggers, and briefly described her experiences with implementing a paywall on her blog.

Blogging leads to other forms of paid work: There was discussion both from the panel and on twitter (#smcsyd) to view blogging as a way to establish your expertise in a particular field, which can lead to paid work such as speaking, consulting, design work, or even a job offer. Rather than trying to make money directly from your blog, view your blog as a hub for your content marketing strategy.

The dramatic changes in the Australian blogging landscape over the past five years: Including the courting of bloggers by brands, and the maturation of blogging business models.

“Self-publishing is the future of journalism.” A quote from panellist, Daniel Kjellsson, which ignited the debate below.

Journalists vs Bloggers. A ‘war’ that keeps on giving. Just when you think the debate has finished, it kicks off again.

Challenges facing content aggregators such as FELLT.com: People realise the value of their content, and then realise they can publish their own content independently. If they choose this route, they then need to acquire the skills to market their product, which is their writing, in not too dissimilar a fashion to today’s freelance journalists.

Disclosure: If you’re being paid or otherwise compensated by a brand / organisation for reviewing a product, place or the like, the overwhelming consensus is that you should disclose.

#BloggerProblems: free cardigans and champagne don’t pay the bills.

Full time bloggers: How many of them are actually out there? Is full-time blogging the goal? Will we see more full-time bloggers in Australia in the next 12 months?

Media using bloggers as expert sources: Bloggers being quoted in newspapers and magazines as subject matter experts.

Affiliate links: The consensus was that if you use them, you should disclose this. You’ll get found out otherwise, and this makes some people upset with you.

Strategy: Find a popular niche and blog about it: This was universally panned – “You can’t be the niche if you aren’t the niche!” -Karla Courtney.

ProBlogger: One of the most successful and prominent Australian blogs, covering the topic of monetising and optimising your blog. It was noted on twitter that there was a peculiar lack of references to ProBlogger before it got a mention from Matthew Gain. The book which was recommended was, ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income (not an affiliate link!). Darren Rowse is the man behind ProBlogger.

Highlight:

Australian bloggers are operating in fascinating times. On one hand, bloggers are receiving more attention than ever before from brands wanting to leverage their audience and following. On the other hand, they are grappling with the issues facing them as they seek to monetise their blogs without selling their soul, or perhaps even more painfully, losing their credibility and the respect of their audience.

The take-away for me is that real artists ship. Focus on increasing the quality of your writing. Educate yourself and learn new skill sets. This way you can continue to bring new insights to your audience, keep the people entertained, and maybe even make enough dough to keep you in the finest Topshop / Topman gear, Ray Bans and Havianas all summer long (sipping a beer from your sponsor, VB - yet another shout out to @servantofchaos).

A thought to leave you on is from Daniel Kjellsson, “If you try to build a blog on a topic you’re not passionate about, you’re an idiot.

 

Footnote: The recollections above are subject to my own (questionable) memory. If I have quoted or attributed in error, or otherwise sinned, please let me know and I will stop watching NBA highlights on YouTube to correct said errors. A big thank you to the organisers of Social Media Club Sydney for a most enjoyable evening.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Darren Rowse October 9, 2012 at 2:44 am

great summary – was keen to hear what was covered. Thanks for the book mention too.

Was there any mention of bloggers growing an income through selling their own products or services?

I think this has been one of the big areas of growth in bloggers on a global level and is one way that many bloggers are able to monetize without having to have massive traffic.

For example eBook sales have become my blogs biggest form of income and I see many other bloggers similarly producing content products but also selling their own services as consultants, speakers etc.

This is now also happening increasingly here in Australia among our bloggers.

In terms of the numbers of Aussie bloggers who are full time – I can think of 20 or so off the top of my head an dam sure there are quite a few more. They have a range of models ranging from working with Brands (advertising), selling products (eBooks, courses, membership areas), using their blogs to sell their own services or to support an offline business and affiliate marketing (or some combination of all of the above).

Interestingly one of the myths that I think some people have is that you have to have massive traffic to make money blogging – this isn't the case. Traffic is one factor and it does help a lot but I know of quite a few bloggers around the world who have relatively small readership but who are full time bloggers because they've either got a smart model and/or a niche topic with specialized information and/or a highly sought after niche that advertisers are willing to pay well to reach.

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Gavin Heaton October 9, 2012 at 2:48 am

Mostly a discussion of advertising and in-kind sponsorship. Your approach would have added another dimension ;)

Great summary, Francis – glad I rated a mention!

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Francis McCarthy October 9, 2012 at 4:19 am

Thanks for the comments, Darren and Gavin. There was mention of generating paid work via your blog in the form of speaking, consulting, design work and the like, both from the panel and on the twitter hashtag. One speaker also mentioned that job offers can result from maintaining a blog which showcases your expertise.

No mention of eBooks. I think the audience that was there would be more suited to offering their services as consultants, speakers, etc off the back of their blog as a primary option. However, there's no reason why many of them couldn't offer information products if they were willing to invest the time.

On the twitter feed, Tim from http://www.mumbrella.com.au said, "We happen to use a blog based platform, Wordpress, but our commercial strategy is old skool publishing built on a brand."

The success of blogs / websites such as Mumbrella highlights the importance of a clear business model, defined audience, quality content, and a level of sophistication when it comes to editorial process.

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Karla Courtney October 10, 2012 at 7:52 am

Thanks Francis great summary!

The topic of merchandise did briefly come up – Matthew raised Eugene Tan. I also have started doing exhibitions and will be publishing a knitting book and selling prints, which briefly came up. We also talked about niche blogging/specialised information that can be attractive to certain advertisers and brands in areas that aren't already (as) saturated with content (that is kind of where I fit in with my baby knitting). I am obviously very familiar with Darren, we have spoken before (hi Darren!) I just don't feel qualified to talk about what he does. I can only speak from experience!

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Francis McCarthy October 11, 2012 at 11:05 am

Thanks for adding to the discussion, Karla! Knitting may not be as sexy as fashion, however from what you've said it seems there are many dedicated enthusiasts who together form a tidy niche market.

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Matthew Gain October 9, 2012 at 10:30 am

Great overview Francis – thanks for grouping it all together.

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Francis McCarthy October 9, 2012 at 11:59 am

Thanks Matthew. Really enjoyed your input in the panel discussion.

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Patty Huntington October 10, 2012 at 9:20 am

nice roundup. I really enjoyed the panel and am glad it has provoked further discussion. just for a bit more background on the paywall, I neglected to mention on monday that the primary reason I tried this approach is because I want to remain independent. as a journalist, I am bound by an ethics code that does not apply to most bloggers. I've had several ethics contracts with various MSM publishers – including one with US fashion newspaper WWD, even though I'm not on staff, just a correspondent. I don't accept gifts. although I do now accept sponsored travel to cover fashion industry events, strictly on behalf of the blog, and fully disclosed at the top of the posts. true, you can't live on cardigans and free champagne but not only do I not accept either as gifts, many other revenue options that are utilised by other bloggers are problematic for me. I don't do sponsored posts. I've been told I would sell a hell of a lot more advertising if I did. I even turned down one display ad which came with strings attached – the client wanted an interview with the model in the campaign to run as a separate post, with no mention of any commercial connection (this kind of arrangement is very typical of advertising in fashion magazines I should add). I don't do sponsored links. I don't run affiliate ads. and I don't want to do brand ambassadorships. certainly not in the fashion or fashion retail area, as it would be a major conflict for me as a fashion reporter. last year I knocked back what was shaping up to be a five figure offer to front an australian campaign for an international e-tailer. believe me, this money would have come in incredibly handy. I'd love to know precisely how many fashion bloggers would have said no to something like that. none, I'm guessing. my audience appears to appreciate the integrity of my content and their expectations seem to be fairly high. I do a mix of post types but people seem to really enjoy the long, investigative posts. these require a lot of time and effort. I also break a lot of stories which later get picked up by MSM outlets.

on the panel, I mentioned a large international blog called fashion gone rogue which claims to have 1million UBs/month, which took itself completely off the air a couple of months ago and pointed readers to an indiegogo kick-starter campaign. said that if they couldn't raise $25,000 they wouldn't be able to afford to keep the blog going in its current form. within a week they had raised $11,000, I'm not sure what the figure is up to now. if you want to talk about paywalls, that was a hardcore 'paywall': saying, I'm downing tools until you cough up. I've seen one independent magazine try to crowdsource the production of its second edition via indiegogo as well. I do think we are going to see more of this. at the end of the day it is capital-raising, as occurs with many businesses. I think the problem with most bloggers – myself included – is that they don't start out with a business plan, they just start out. because it's so easy. at the point it starts to become more of a full-time job than a hobby – and you're not living at home with the folks (as was the case with many now high profile names, including mashable's pete cashmere, who originally built their blogs on extremely low overheads) – you start eating into savings, going into debt and in my specific case, because I'm a freelance journo, cannibalising time and also content that could be generating income. you become a slave to your own blog.

i'm fairly sure frockwriter was the first fashion blog to install an actual paywall. it was certainly the first blog to implement journalism online's press+ version. I guess the good news is that this is now contributing a small monthly income and growth seems to be very much dependent on activity. the more I blog, the faster the subs grow. but that's the catch 22 at the moment: if I could afford to blog multiple times/day, traffic would very quickly grow into the mid to high hundreds of thousands. advertising would be easier to secure. and subscriptions would also grow dramatically. but I can't because I need to keep doing other work to pay the bills. the bad news is the paywall itself. it's a purely technical problem – it's too porous. while the metered paywall idea that's used by the NYT and journalism online's hundreds of newspaper clients is fine for big players who can afford to turn a blind eye to those who tweak preferences to get around it, it's a problem for a small blogger, because every visitor counts. readers cut themselves off from disqus comments in so doing however, as that requires cookies. I have many more than 5000 UBs per month but the first-time and infrequent visitors who always make up the bulk of the visitor stats every month are not the ones I was targeting. because it's a 'metered' paywall, those casual visitors shouldn't even be aware that the paywall is there. that was the original idea anyway. but there are some 5000 or so people who currently come to the blog dozens-hundreds of times, dedicated fans in other words, who love the blog but refuse to support it just because it's easy to get around the meter. needless to say, that revenue would also come in very handy. I would ideally like to build a site which had both free and premium content. at the moment, the content over X free posts/month (originally 8, then 5) is supposedly "premium". what I'd really like to know is, if the paywall-jumpers had no choice but to either subscribe or go elsewhere – so, if the content was server-protected, à la crikey, WWD, rag trader, the australian financial review – what percentage would actually convert to paid subscribers? that's the big question. I find it hard to believe that people visit the blog hundreds of times a month anyway as I don't blog hundreds of times/month. I find it even harder to believe that if they're that addicted to the content, if the content was suddenly cut off – à la fashiongonerogue – that they would cast it aside. but who the hell knows. I am about to trial a few different 'subscriber exclusive' options which people will not be able to game. obviously even e-books get pirated, it's impossible to stop people from stealing content. but I'm six months into this experiment and prepared to see it out for at least a full 12 months.

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Francis McCarthy October 11, 2012 at 12:48 am

Hi Patty, thank you for the comments. It's great to hear such an in-depth account of the challenges surrounding paywalls for bloggers.

If you haven't seen it yet, you might want to check out Asymmetrical – a community ran by Colin Wright and others – which aims to help writers reach audiences using new technologies and innovations in self-publishing business models. http://asymmetrical.co/about/

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Patty Huntington October 11, 2012 at 1:46 am

oh brilliant, many thanks for the headsup, will definitely check out.

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