There are two questions I’m inevitably asked once someone learns that I have a blog. Once they’ve fully controlled the urge to smirk and/or giggle and have reigned in the bug eyes of disbelief, that is. What do you write about and do you make money from it?
The first question is straight-forward enough but typically exposes my surprising insecurity in even admitting I do this. I find myself mumbling something along the lines of “oh, just stuff” which diminishes their interest quite effectively. This might hint as to why I’m not an exceptionally successful blogger.
Yes I do make money from my blog, but…
The second question, while understandable, typically stems from a misunderstood, vague urban myth purporting that blogging is a simple, easy way to create modest fortunes. Like most myths, there is a small nugget of truth to this for an infinitesimal number of bloggers. Except for the easy part; even the successful ones work remarkably hard at it. The remaining millions are but wingless flies flailing around the pile of social media shit upon which those few king and queen dung beetles feast.
This simplest answer is, yes, I do make money from my blog. In fact, as you can see in the above image, I have earned a grand total of $9.03 since June 30, 2014. Impressive, huh? Take into account web hosting fees and my time for creating content and managing the blog and that works out to a lofty hourly income of … I sure as hell hope my wife doesn’t read this post.
Now, allow me to put some context into the above figure. First, I haven’t actually received that money yet since Google doesn’t pay out less than $100. This is the internet version of emasculation. Secondly, the only current source of blog monetization I employ is Google Adsense which is an app that puts those goofy, often annoying, ads on my webpage in and around posts. I am not especially aggressive with positioning these ads knowing all too well how annoying I find them myself. Thus, they mostly reside at the bottom of posts or to the side of the page below important information I wish to share.
I could get far more in-your-face with these ads and regrettably many bloggers do. With views and clicks driving income dollars, or more accurately cents, from Google they undoubtedly make more money than I. But without an exponentially large leap in readers, even more prominent placement would have minimal change in my income from these ads.
I refuse to exploit…
I also do not sell advertising space on my website for directly purchased ads. This is because I have a strongly held belief that I refuse to exploit my loyal legions of readers for personal gain. Ha, I’m just kidding. I don’t do it because nobody would buy such advertising space due to my anemic viewing numbers. Audience is king in advertising which is why Super Bowl ads cost millions of dollars each and a 24 hour chicken mating channel does not exist. I hope.
This is also why you’ll find hundreds of bloggers on the web accumulating tens of thousands of “followers” on their Twitter and Facebook pages for the sole purpose of hawking products. They wrap it all up in finery calling themselves mommy bloggers or lifestyle bloggers, usually employing some sort of cute pun in their blog name identifying their target audience. They write about a fairly narrow range of topics all related to their niche. Many are competent, even interesting, writers but more importantly they are extremely skilled socialites and build vast online networks of like-minded bloggers and readers. The ultimate goal is to translate this impressive audience into branded blogging opportunities. They are basically home-based advertising firms that, for a small fee based on their proven viewership numbers, will write about Unclog the high fibre breakfast cereal, Yum Mum Cosmetics for the mom that still likes to get nasty, and Ballocks the anti-pedophilia designer diaper for the parents who feel you can never be safe enough.
Personally, I have no desire to be a marketing machine for corporations. Many do, are quite successful at it, and are rewarded with an income far greater than the $9.03 I make, but still significantly less than what you’d consider a fortune. Certainly there are some who make substantial money from it, like “real job” money but most have other jobs or a spouse who is the primary income earner for the household. I’m not here to judge them, but rather to expose the reality of it to those who wonder if I make money. If something seems easy it mostly likely isn’t or it isn’t actually what you thought it was.
Big time or small time, when it comes to making money from a blog it’s all a matter of readers and that is where I fall painfully shy. I’d like to share some statistics from a particularly poignant example that highlights just how difficult it is to garner the kind of large audience needed to drive meaningful blog traffic which could turn into advertising revenue.
The magic of celebrity retweets…
Amanda Palmer is a musician and author and kind of an internet sensation in the sense that she’s at the forefront of modern arts commerce in the form of Kickstarter and Patreon and the like. She’s definitely a unique personality and the only reason I even know of her is because she’s married to Neil Gaiman, one of the most famous living authors in the world.
I wrote a review of Amanda’s book “The Art of Asking” almost a year ago and posted it on my blog. I tweeted a link to it and put that link on my Facebook. Not much happened. On October 20th, Amanda was on Twitter promoting the upcoming paperback release of her book and in trying to capitalize on this attention she was generating, I again tweeted about the book, included her Twitter identity to hopefully catch her attention, and a link to my review. Then the magic happened.
She saw the tweet and retweeted it to her audience of 1.11 million followers. Then, to add to my growing excitement, her husband, the famous Neil Gaiman, retweeted that tweet to his 2.33 million followers. To put this into perspective, my Twitter audience is not big enough to even be included as a decimal place in either of theirs. While there is undoubtedly overlap between their two fanbases, at the very least the 2.33 million followers of Neil Gaiman are all unique individuals, so well over two million (possibly even three million) people had an opportunity to see a tweet of mine with a link to my book review on my blog.
This is an incredible break for me and it shows the power of social media for bringing people together who would otherwise never know of each other, let alone share a word. Fantastic. But what kind of traffic did it actually drive to my blog. I mean, this was a relevant subject, Amanda’s book, and was shared by two prominent celebrities with fiercely loyal fandoms. Presumably this Twitter audience is interested in what I wrote.
The above stats tell another story entirely. Of all Amanda and Neil’s followers, only 57,415 saw the tweet. It’s called an impression which means (I think) at the very least it might have only blinked before their eyes as they scrolled through all their Twitter feed. It doesn’t mean they necessarily read it. Of those fifty-seven thousand only 363 did something with my tweet; liked it, clicked it, shared it etc. Of those 363, only 153 actually clicked the link to my blog post! According to my actual blog statistics (the above are all from Twitter) I only got 127 people out of two million or more to open and presumably read my book review.
That is why I don’t make much money blogging. If 2,000,000 potential viewers results in only 127 verified readers, imagine the embarrassingly low readership for stuff I write that has only me to promote it. I have 353 followers on Twitter, 300 or so who honestly couldn’t give two plops in the toilet bowl about my writing.
The fact is, in almost two years of blogging I have had a grand total of 7,562 readers who’ve read a total of 16,391 pages of material on my blog. Sure it’s kind of cool in an historical context. You can see how the connected world is giving a voice to millions of humans the world over but it also shows that there is a lot of talking going on but far less listening. And if you think you can make a living by just sharing a few goofy stories online, well, unless you’re shameless with absolutely zero self-respect in what you will write about, there’s little chance of it happening. Blogging is just television without the moving pictures and audience usurps all else.
Unless you can get a book deal…