TCS Daily


Blogging: for Love or Money?

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds - February 16, 2006 12:00 AM

People are making a living, or a decent chunk of one, by blogging. Some are warbloggers in the Middle East, like Michael Totten, who blogs from Beirut, with occasional sidetrips to Egypt, Turkey, and Iraq, or Michael Yon, who served as a war correspondent via blog, or Bill Roggio, who embedded himself for a while with a U.S. combat unit in Iraq.

Back here in the States, there are plenty of people making money the older-fashioned way, without being shot at. Andrew Sullivan has moved in-house at Time for a presumably pretty penny, Josh Marshall is running a blog-collective, and lots of bloggers are running ads via Google, Blogads, or Pajamas Media. Some are making a living; more are making a second income, or beer money, or, well, not very much, but a little. There's a new enterprise targeting would-be professional bloggers. (Slogan: "You think 'Full-Time Blogger' has a nice ring to it? So do we.")

There's even a cover story in New York Magazine on "Blogs to Riches" that looks at how some people are making it big in blogging while others aren't, leading Andrew Sullivan to observe, almost despairingly:

"I should confess to some sadness. I miss the days when it was just one dude writing his thoughts to whoever wanted to read it. I hope bloggers don't get too entranced with traffic and ad revenues, although they are addictive in a way. It should still be fun -- and a blog with a hundred readers can be just as effective in what it does as one with a million. If your goal is chasing readers and revenue, rather than just venting to whomever, you risk losing what makes blogging so fresh. Perhaps, alas, we already have."

In a way, this isn't new. Way back in 2002, people were already complaining that money was taking over the blogosphere. And ironically, Andrew Sullivan himself led to these comments:

"Ever since Andrew Sullivan conducted his Pledge Week and made damned near $80,000, bloggers everywhere have become panhandlers and squeegie-guys, telling their heart-rending stories of brokeness while pointing to their Pay Pal buttons and tip jars. When hookers do that on the street, they get arrested for the crime of solicitation. And the hookers usually offer a more valuable commodity than most blogs do."

No argument there. But although worries about blog-commercialization aren't new, there seem to be more of them lately. Still, I don't think there's much danger of the blogosphere losing its fundamentally amateur character. In fact, I think it's pretty much certain to stay an overwhelmingly amateur activity, even if a lot more people make money off of it than are doing so now.

Making money off a blog requires a lot of traffic, and no matter how much the blogosphere grows, most blogs won't have a lot of traffic, as Clay Shirky persuasively demonstrated a while back. Shirky observed that blogs, like many other things, follow a power-law distribution in terms of links and traffic, with a small number getting most of the links and traffic, and a much larger number getting much less of either. This was, he argued, essentially a function of attention economics. (I've written on that subject here).

As with many things, you can argue about whether this is a bug or a feature. As a "bug," it seems to demonstrate that most bloggers won't ever get rich -- they just won't have enough traffic. (Niche bloggers can make up for this to a degree, by finding an area where low traffic is still valuable, but that only goes so far). As a "feature," it seems to guarantee that most blogging will always be amateur.

After all, there's no surer way to maintain your amateur status than to have no one who's willing to pay you! And it's silly to think that people won't do things, or enjoy them, just because they aren't being paid.

I'm proof: I make some money with my blog, and I make money with other kinds of writing. So what am I excited about? Something that doesn't pay. With my wife, I've been doing podcasts on a variety of topics, even though nobody's paying us to do so. Why? It's fun! I used to do radio, and liked it, and now I'm enjoying doing this sort of thing again. I wouldn't say no to money, but that's not why I'm doing it -- and, in fact, I doubt that many podcasters are making much money, as podcasting is about where blogging was in the summer of 2001. So why are so many people doing it? Because it's fun! And fun is good.

That's a good reason to do all sorts of things. Press accounts tend to focus on making money (perhaps because many journalists dream of walking away from their day jobs, and editors?) but money is only one reason we do things, and usually not the most important. As people get richer, and technology gets more capable, I think we'll see a lot more people doing for fun things that previously were done only for money. And I think that's a good thing.

Glenn Reynolds is a TCS contributing editor and founder of InstaPundit.com. Order his new book, an Army of Davids, here.

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3 Comments

Another one for the circular file
Another gem of oracular wisdom from the shamelessly self-promoting law professor.

Blogging is not fun also,
Iam boging form some time, Iam not doing this for money, I wat to start conversation ,discussion on intersting subject with anyone who are intersted on thatsubject, my expercinces are not good Iam not getting feedback, if you did not get any feedback ,all interst is vanish, iam completly dissappointed without feedback. and I stop tovisit my bloge home page

No Subject
money for blogging - and the chicks are free

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