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It’s official: blogging doesn’t make money

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We — the wine blogosphere — seem to have reached a tipping point in 2009. The realization has finally sunk in: blogging doesn’t make money and never will. You hear it in off-the-cuff remarks such as one from Joe Roberts, AKA 1WineDude, who commented on WineDiverGirl’s blog the other day. WineDiverGirl was wondering if some kind of certification for bloggers might be a good thing, which led 1WineDude to disagree. Instead of a new blogging certification, he wrote, “it would be far better…to get a recognized cert., such as WSET or SWE. That way, when they realize that they can’t make any $$ from blogging, they might be able to get a job in the wine industry!”

Pity the poor bloggers. Just last October at the Wine Bloggers Conference, everybody was gaga over breakout sessions with titles like “Making Money from Your Blog.” Blogging had the look and feel of an Initial Public Offering: get in on it early, then ride the wave as the value soars and you get rich.

Some IPO! The last quarter of 2008 will be remembered as the Period of Brutality in which many dreams died a horrible death, and one of those dreams was the one about making money from your blog. We have learned — it’s official now — that it just can’t be done.

Why not? Because of the fundamental nature of the Internet. Its basic weltanschauung (one of my favorite words) is free. Nobody wants to pay money for online content. They get really angry when you try to force them to. The Internet was born as a subversive revolution against the for-profit system, and any time someone tries to launch a counter-revolution, they get their butts kicked. The perfect example of this was when the New York Times, which offers a free online daily edition, tried to get people to pay for special access to the columnists, like Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman and Tom Friedman. The public refused; the Times was embarrassed, and now, the columnists are once again free.

Blogs won’t make money because there’s no model for a revenue stream. If you charge readers for access, they’ll simply go elsewhere. (There are obvious exceptions, such as Ms. Robinson and Mr. Parker.) Advertising revenue, so far as I can tell (and my blog doesn’t take advertising), might give a blogger some chump change, but nowhere near enough to live on. Beyond subscriptions and advertising, there’s no other revenue stream. Or am I missing something?

deadblogger

Dead Blogger

  1. Steve,

    I think you’re right that bloggers are not likely as a group to become paid citizens for what they do but depending on how much someone needs to make to call it a “living” some are making money.

    As for the news biz, there was an interesting article in the aforementioned NY Times a few days ago about the possible future of paying for news pieces the same way iTunes was able to eventually take something people were grabbing for free and now buy in the billions.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/12/business/media/12carr.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=paying%20for%20news&st=cse

    Me, I’m still an ink on my fingers kind of soul so hopefully we’ll always havwe that option…

  2. Eric, my feeling is that some bloggers will become known in the wine industry through their blogs. Then they’ll use that fame as springboards for gigs that actually do pay money, such as public speaking, conducting tastings, etc. The blogs themselves won’t be profit centers. We’re already seeing this in the cases of people like Gary V. and Tyler Coleman, both of whom seem to be promoting themselves as wine personalities, rather than mere bloggers.

  3. How do you define paid blogger? I have Catavino, and without it I wouldn’t be consulting for wineries about social media, so I am a blogger who is paid for my knowledge. Granted they are not paying me for my wine knowledge, or at least not my ratings, but they are paying me for my wine blogging knowledge, and I”m making a living at it. They also pay me for my wine critiques and market knowledge. In the end take away my blog and I no longer do what I’m doing. So I am directly being paid for my participation in the wine blogging world.

    What about a winery who makes their sales through their blog? This hasn’e fully occured but we see the trend towards it, so blogging will one day be a wineries only marketing outlet. Will they then be paid bloggers? Or people using blogs to sell wine, thus they are not bloggers? I think the whole term blogger is misleading when you group all types of wine blogs together in one group.

    As for advertising you can make enough if we can get enough readers. Simply the more readers the more money, the problem is as of now is that wine online is STILL VERY NICHE. If and when the offliners go online more, at that point a few select wine blogs will make their living off advertising. Expect to see this by my esitmates in the year 2015 or so! :)

  4. Look at it this way. If you don’t get paid you cant get laid off. A big worry for a lot of my dead-tree journalist friends right now.

  5. I have a flawless model for reaping millions from blogging. Unfortunately no venture capitalists bit on my idea. Who knew that “fraud on a massive scale” would be one of their turn offs? Sheesh. =)

  6. In one way it seems to me that direct profits through blogging is quite a tall order, and that seeing some income that covers the expenses is pretty optimal. Considering that many (near every one I read anyway) wine bloggers have “day jobs”, most in some form of publishing, I think the success of their blogs would be measured in how it drips onto their primary income. I would never have bought Dr. Vino’s book had I not known of and read his blog. I am fairly confident Vaynerchuk’s book sales had been *substantially* smaller had he not become the “vlog star” he now is (well, there wouldn’t have been a book), nor can it hurt his wine business. For these the blog has been a means to customer access, but not the actual product.

    Like you, Mr. Steve, steady journalist and published author of several works. Do you not see the fruits of your extracurricular blogging in light of a bigger picture?

  7. Tobias: “Do you not see the fruits of your extracurricular blogging in light of a bigger picture?” Answer: not really. I don’t see a bigger picture to blogging.

  8. Louis, do you know if Bernie Madoff blogged? ; >

  9. The only thing Bernie Madoff did was made off with everyone’s money.

    He’s wasn’t blogging, trying to figure out how to get money.

    He was bilking, not blogging.

  10. Bernie got money from people who salivated at the idea of unrealistic returns.

    The key to revenue is to offer a real/tangible product at a fair value.

    I paid attention to Philip James at the NAWBC and I do believe that it is very possible to monetize online content.

  11. One way of looking at it is that blogging is not a new phenomenon, but simply a new channel for an existing practice: sharing of opinion. It is a conversation in which nearly anyone with access to the internet can participate, and which can become word-of-mouth depending (upon other things) on the originating person’s perceived credibility, the intrinsic attractiveness of the subject matter, the content added by subsequent commenters. The internet channel greatly accellerates a process that already exists. Why should this have monetary value?

  12. The discussion regarding “Can bloggers make money?” has been had in other industries already. The first distinction is making money from your blog (i.e. advertising or affiliate programs) vs. making money *because* of your blog (Both Steve and Ryan Opaz made this point in the 2nd and 3rd above). Doc Searles calls this the “Because Effect”:
    http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/doc/2007/11/28/adventures-with-because-effects/

    Clearly, money can be made by bloggers directly *from* their blogs as well (see http://www.problogger.net ), but it requires a pretty relentless focus, and some savvy. The basic mechanisms are advertising (e.g. AdSense) and affiliate programs (e.g. Amazon).

    Wine bloggers are already free to place advertising on their blog, and, just as in a magazine a wine reviewer may be across from an advertisement for a wine they review, this doesn’t seem problematic, particularly when using AdSense, where one has only general control over what ads appear.

    Suppose individual wineries had affiliate programs. So, if I write a comment about Wine X, and link to it from my comment via an affiliate link, and someone follows that link to buy Wine X from the winery, the winery pays me 5-10% of the price of the wine. Then those who aren’t above making a buck from this sort of activity would have a way of monetizing their blogs. Good copywriters (not necessarily wine reviewers) could probably do OK, as this model works in other areas (travel, books, gadgets, etc).

    In fact, Wine.com does have an affiliate program, so you (as a blogger) could do this today, as long as the wine is available through wine.com.

    Inertia has hooks in their software to support affiliate programs as well, I believe (Can someone confirm this? I heard it from someone who uses Inertia, but it would be nice to hear it from the horses mouth), although I don’t know of any winery actually doing an affiliate program.

    Of course, this begs the question of journalistic integrity (notice I used the word copywriter, not journalist, above). I don’t think bloggers who think of themselves as journalists would be open to affiliate linking.

  13. You’re so right. Gotta love your blog…but just try and charge us for a change. It’d be a ‘so long, for ever’.

    C

  14. Speaking of the NYT, Rob Walker, one of my favorite bloggers writes the NYT Magazine Consumed Column and blogs at murketing.com.

    Maybe Rob Walker blogs because he is evil, narcissistic, and afraid of being bored/alone; but, maybe he blogs at murketing.com because it helps him sell his book BuyingIn and it helps him remain ahead of the pack in today’s uber-competitive world.

  15. Hey, check out my cult wine study if you have a chance (you don’t have to approve this comment, but I guess you already know that since you’re the moderator).

    http://drhorowitz.biz/index.php/2009/01/09/cult-wine/

  16. Depends how you view blogging. I see it as a means to communicate ideas, relationship build and career boost. It is part of an organic whole and therefore, my blog is monetized every day.

  17. Besides thinking your characterization of the Wine Bloggers Conference is complete hyperbole, Alder at Vinography indicated he made about $25K off his blog in 2008 at the same confernece.

    Not enough to live on, but not a bad place to build from, either. Maybe you could check in with him and balance your post out a little.

    All the best,

    Jeff

  18. Fantastic discussion going on here.

    I would caution reading too much into my comment quoted by Steve in this post. There is, of course, some truth to it as the majority of bloggers aren’t making a living from their blogs.

    Steve, your assessment “The last quarter of 2008 will be remembered as the Period of Brutality in which many dreams died a horrible death, and one of those dreams was the one about making money from your blog. We have learned — it’s official now — that it just can’t be done” seems a bit too premature to me. No one knows where this medium is going, we don’t know if 2008 Q4 was a death knell for wine blogging revenue, or just a trial run in the blogosphere in terms of money-making.

    The above reactions about wine blogging being a niche & current blog revenue-generators being linked to traffic are spot on, I think – big $$ in blogging comes from big traffic – for now, it remains a numbers game.

    The Catavino example above shows that blogging can indeed be used as part of a holistic approach to making a living in the wine industry – that, to me, is a great start.

  19. Jeff, I have assumed that Alder, Tyler, Mr. Wark and perhaps a couple others are making some bucks off their blogs. But $25K isn’t all that much in the scheme of things, and I can’t see very many bloggers coming even close to that for a long time. In my day job at Wine Enthusiast I talk to all kinds of people every day: winemakers, PR people, marketing and sales managers, billionaires, and one of the questions I always ask them is, Do you think a wine blog can make money? I ask them if they’d pay to have their wines reviewed, or pay for a subscription, and the answer is no. So except for a couple ads here and there, on a few peoples’ blogs, I just can’t see a revenue stream. I wish it was different.

  20. Joe, I’m hoping you’re right and I’m wrong. You have a really cool blog and you deserve to make a good living from it.

  21. Kind words, Steve – and I appreciate them!

    Your post was thought-provoking and it had me contemplating the topic quite a bit this weekend.

    I am in total agreement with you that pay-for-access content is not going to work for bloggers, or only for those bloggers with serious cred and significant value-add. An example (sort of), is Jancis Robinson’s pay-for-access Purple Pages, which includes on on-line version of the Oxford Companion and a forum that is frequented by significant wine experts (MWs, etc.) – even Jancis’ writing is not enough.

    What we don’t yet know is what kind of new revenue streams may develop for on-line websites like blogs, even outside of just being associated with blog writing or video content, which could result in the possibility of larger revenue-making for bloggers – that’s the part that will ensure that ride ahead is interesting and probably wildly unpredictable.

  22. Steve,

    As indicated above I did share with folks how much I made on my blog, and in the same breath told them that if they got into blogging hoping to make some money on it, they were going to be sorely disappointed. My day job is running a company that does high-end internet strategy and design for Fortune 500 companies, so I know a thing or two about the Web, and the only viable revenue model for 99.999999% of blogs is a combination of advertising and affiliate fees. Those very few folks in the wine world that can charge money for access to their blogs or web sites can only do that because BEFORE they had those sites, they built up tens of thousands of readers and were already “market makers” with their scores.

    At the moment, there is incredible downward pressure on online advertising rates, known as CPMs which are the basic unit of currency in online advertising. CPM stands for Cost Per “Mega” or Cost Per Thousand impressions. It’s what any advertiser will pay for having their ad seen 1000 times on any site. At the moment, only a very few properties on the internet get rates above $25. The average, especially in this economy is rapidly dropping to around $10. A little math will tell you that at a $10 CPM rate if the average web viewer looks at 2 pages on a site, in order to make, say $75k a year, a blogger would have to have 312,500 unique visits per month, or north of 10k visits per day. The most popular wine blogs on the internet are below half that at the moment (perhaps with the exception of Eric Asimov’s blog which benefits from the NYT readership), and the competition for eyeballs is getting even more fierce.

    If that 10k readers per day seems even somewhat attainable, let me pour a little more rain on the parade. Getting $10 CPMs for a wine web site is near impossible because the audience is not highly valued by the market, and the main people who want to advertise to readers (big beverage companies) don’t know jack about the internet and internet advertising for the most part.

    Wine bloggers have few options for getting ads on their sites unless they are extremely savvy technically, and so generally must relie on ad networks to serve ads. The average CPM that these networks offer those bloggers: $0.75 – $1.50.

    There may be some alternative revenue streams appearing in the near future for wine blogs but they will concentrate on the top blogs that have both street cred and high readership, and even they will probably not be enough to allow a wine blogger to support themselves just on wine blogging alone.

    Keep those day jobs folks.

  23. Thanks, Alder, for putting things into perspective.

  24. We know that the great majority of blogs are digital logs or diaries. Or they can be considered glorified emails. But as they move toward hard information that industry personnel need/want to know to do their jobs they may be able to charge a subscription fee. In this sense blogs become ~newsletters~ which professionals will pay real money for, as they do in the financial sector. I’m thinking of the~Wine Business Insider~ and Rich Cartiere’s ~Wine Market Report~ (which may be replaced by Lou Perdue’s fledgling blog). WBI charges $295. A blog by any other name.

    Of course you need extreme cred and significant access to industry decision makers, a very tall order (but Lou, knowing Lou, may pull it off)

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