For two years I was obsessed with trying to turn a blog into a business. I posted 10 or 20 items a day to my site, The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, rarely taking a break. I blogged from cabs, using my BlackBerry. I blogged in the middle of the night, having awakened with an idea. I rationalized this insane behavior by telling myself that at the end of this rainbow I would find a huge pot of gold. But reality kept interfering with this fantasy. My first epiphany occurred in August 2007, when The New York Times ran a story revealing my identity, which until then I’d kept secret. On that day more than 500,000 people hit my site—by far the biggest day I’d ever had—and through Google’s AdSense program I earned about a hundred bucks. Over the course of that entire month, in which my site was visited by 1.5 million people, I earned a whopping total of $1,039.81. Soon after this I struck an advertising deal that paid better wages. But I never made enough to quit my day job. Eventually I shut down—not for financial reasons, but because Steve Jobs appeared to be in poor health. I walked away feeling burned out and weighing 20 pounds more than when I started. I also came away with a sneaking suspicion that while blogs can do many wonderful things, generating huge amounts of money isn’t one of them.
Now others seem to be riding the same downward curve, with euphoria giving way to exhaustion. Michael Arrington, whose TechCrunch blog empire attracts 6 million readers each month, has gone on a monthlong hiatus after three years of nonstop blogging. His break was prompted, he says, by burnout and by the craziness of the blogosphere (he says he’s been stalked, threatened and spat on) and not by the fact that he’s been trying to sell his company for a year and hasn’t been able to find a buyer who’ll pay his price, which is rumored to be $100 million. Gawker Media, a leading network of blogs, recently laid off all but one of its writers for Valleywag, its tech blog, which has struggled for three years. In January Pajamas Media, a collective of right-wing political bloggers, shut down its ad network, which CEO Roger Simon says "was a money loser for three years."
In late 2005 a columnist who writes for the ABC News Web site predicted that by 2010 the blogosphere would create "a whole new group of major corporations and media stars" and that "billions of dollars will be made by those prescient enough to either get onboard or invest in these companies." (He was responding to an article I’d done that criticized some elements of the blogosphere.) This guy was right on the first part, sort of. But as for those billions? Last year the total spent on blog advertising in the United States was a mere $411 million, according to researcher eMarketer. That represents only a sliver of the $23.7 billion spent on U.S. Internet ads last year, which is itself only a fraction of the $276.8 billion spent on all forms of advertising in the U.S. By 2012 blog ad spending will reach $746 million, while overall online ad spending will hit $32 billion, eMarketer says. More money was spent on e-mail advertising last year than was spent on blog advertising—yet you don’t see anyone touting e-mail as the next big billion-dollar media business. Technorati, a blog researcher, estimates that bloggers who run ads earn an average of $5,060 per year. Don’t call the Ferrari dealer just yet.
I have some thoughts:
* If Lyons had done his Adsense right, and used the right affiliate programs, he would’ve multiplied his blogging earnings by 20-fold.
* If you have a prominent blog like he had and I have, you develop a lot of opportunities for yourself. I’ve gotten a lot of writing jobs for businessmen for $40 an hour based on my blog. I’ve gotten work doing video promotion for people for the same amount of money and more.
* If I needed a loan, I could make an announcement on my blog and find that loan. If I wanted to do a fundraiser so I could cover something, I could pull that off too.
* A successful blog is a wonderful way of developing new relationships and if you have anything on the ball at all, the more and stronger the relationships you have, the more money you make.