Blog monetization perplexes me. Don’t misunderstand: I have no issue with bloggers trying to make money from their writing. NONE. Many of my favorite blogs are monetized. But for me the current landscape of blog monetization is up there with the plot of “Inception.”
According to my thoroughly unscientific study involving listening to e-scuttlebutt and reading a bunch of blogs, monetization seems to happen in five main forms: “launching pad,” ad space, affiliate links, “tipping,” and sponsorship. Combination or hybridization of these forms is common.
“Launching pad,” I’m pretty sure, is not a real blogging term but it’s the best I can come up with to describe the people who view their personal blogs as a kind of online home from which other endeavors are initiated. The blog itself may not be monetized but instead serves as a launching pad for related paid projects like freelance articles, syndication of popular posts on content aggregator sites, the eventual book deal that will make a gazillion bucks, or what have you. Alternatively a blog might showcases your passion for something other than writing like your photography business or Etsy-esque artisanal crafting.
Next there’s ad space. Banner and sidebar ads are still around but aren’t nearly as profitable as they once were. Unless you have mind blowing traffic you might make enough to buy a cup of coffee at McDonalds from the ads on your site.
Affiliate links work like this: You’re writing a hilarious anecdote involving widgets. Every time you mention a particular type of widget you provide a link to a place where your readers can purchase said widget. The widget vendor then gives you X percentage of the profit from every widget purchased from your link.
“Tipping” is exactly what it sounds like. The blogger straight out asks for money. “Hey: I gotta keep the lights on over here. Plus? This whole operation involves a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. So if you’ve got a few bucks to spare please click this PayPal button and send them my way.”
Those first four methods of monetization? I get how it works, at least on some level. BlogHer pays you $50 to get a gazillion clicks off your piece. WalMart pays a buck or two to get in front of more eyeballs. Amazon pays on commission for referrals. A few readers decide to make it financially easier for their favorite online writers to stick around. I can wrap my head around those mechanics. But for the most part none of these things seem to drum up much scratch.
Here’s where I start to get befuddled. The “big money” comes from sponsored content and brand partnerships. Sponsored content is all well and good especially if your blog is about some inherently commercial niche topic. You write about makeup and a lipstick company asks you to write 500 words extolling the virtues of their latest shade of red? As a reader, I’m cool with that provided I honestly believe you love the product. The whole reason I come over to your site is to inform my decisions about what makeup to try.
But if you’re a parenting blog and I’m showing up to commiserate about the trials and tribulations of spawning I’m going to get pretty irritated if all of a sudden you start trying to shill pacifiers and processed snacks. I might tolerate it if you’ve been singing the praises of Nuks and Go-gurt from the get-go and then made a deal with those companies because it’s a tailor made fit. Even then, though, your sponsored post is most likely something I’ll skip over unless it is *extremely* well written. The internet is a big place. I don’t want a sales pitch. A post about the gauntlet that is the elementary school drop off lane is just a click away and frankly I’d rather be reading that.
So I wonder about the sustainability of the sponsored post model for non-stuff based blogs. How do sponsors measure return on investment? How do blogs who rely on sponsored posts maintain the demographic of their initial readership? I get that some marketing teams are like, “We need to reach 30-something married females with children who enjoy humor, food, and parenting blogs.” Though I can’t speak for my entire demographic, the whole reason I enjoy said humor and parenting blogs is because they *aren’t* filled with sponsored content and once they are I find something else to read.
Is sponsored content somewhat parasitic? Good for brands, but potentially hazardous for the individual blogger “partnering” (how much do I hate that term?) with the brand because the “partnership” will likely result in the draining of the blogger’s readership unless handled with kid gloves. The brand can leave and throw money at another blog that resonates with the demographic they want to reach but the blogger is stuck, left without the audience she worked so hard to cultivate.
Running a site takes work. Writing, especially if you prioritize doing it well, takes A LOT of work. Well written blogs provide significant entertainment value for the reader. (In fact, this post was inspired by one of my favorite blog’s post about monetization. If you’re ever in need of valuable entertainment, you should check her out.) So what’s a blogger to do? Nothing on the Internet is permanent so presumably sponsored content isn’t going to be the only way to make a buck forever. And that raises a question: What’s next?