Guardian: The value of this blog

For my Guardian column this week, I put a price on my blog:

* * *

Some people think I’m nuts for blogging when I could be doing real work (as if writing newspaper columns were the only real work). They ask me how much money I make directly from my blog and the answer is: not much. But to me, the blog is worth a million dollars – or more – for it brings me value in many other ways. So I thought I’d give you an accounting of that worth.

Last year, Buzzmachine.com, which has been in business, loosely speaking, since 2001, made $9,315 (£4,655) from two blog ad networks, $1,866 from ads on my RSS feeds, and $2,674 from Google ads, for a total of $13,855. Though I’ve written many a blog post and column lamenting that there aren’t better, richer ad networks to support grassroots media, when I add that up, I’d say it’s not too shabby. Nonetheless, you’d still be forgiven for thinking I shouldn’t have quit my day job.

When I did quit that day job – as president of an online division of Condé Nast’s parent company, which I left in 2005 – I got my next job thanks to the blog. If I hadn’t been pontificating about the state of the news in the internet era, I wouldn’t have come to the attention of the City University of New York, which appointed me to the faculty of its journalism school – a job I love. But I must confess that my teaching post pays a fraction of my prior salary. So you may still think me a fool.

To make the money I don’t make teaching, I consult and speak for various media companies and brands. The only reason I get those gigs is because companies read the ideas I discuss at Buzzmachine and ask me to come and repeat them in PowerPoint form and explore them with their staff. I’ve also been asked to teach executives how to blog (a class that should, by rights, take about two minutes). That work and the teaching get me to a nice income in six figures. So I’m not looking quite as idiotic now, I hope.

It was also because of the blog that I got this column. The MediaGuardian editors asked me to take some of the topics I write about online and turn them into columns; the newspaper is an aftermarket for the blog. It pays a bit, a few hundred dollars a column, but that’s not why I do it. I enjoy the discipline of taking the lumpy clay of a blog post and moulding it into a column. I like discussing column ideas with my community before I write them. And I quite like having you readers as an audience. So please don’t tell my editors that I like doing this so much I would do it for free.

I just got a book contract because of a notion that began in the blog and that I kneaded over and over for about a year. As I write What Would Google Do?, I continue to explore ideas on my blog, helping me to think them through. The US contract roughly doubled my consulting income last year; international contracts may add more.

If I add all that up over the past five years and the five to come, to me the blog is worth a few million (dollars, not pounds, sadly). But it’s worth even more than that. Buzzmachine has taught me about the new architecture of media; I wouldn’t have learned that without jumping into the new world myself. The blog has stoked my ego, getting me on TV and on conference stages to blather to audiences far and wide.

It has also checked my ego, as my readers never hesitate to challenge and correct me. It has forced me to be more open to new ideas. It has given me a second career playing with new toys; professionally, it keeps me young. Personally, it has made me countless new friends and reconnected me with old ones, owing to a blog’s ability to give a person a strong identity in Google searches.

People ask how I have the time to blog on top of everything else. But the real question is, how could I not blog when it leads to so much more? Finally, for a proper accounting, I should also give you the other side of the ledger: the blog costs me $327 a year for hosting. So this is one web 2.0 venture that is profitable.

  • Dean

    “the blog costs me $327 a year for hosting. So this is one web 2.0 venture that is profitable.”

    So you plan to IPO when ? :-)

  • http://www.timworstall.com Tim Worstall

    The Press Gazette asked me similarly about the value of a blog a year or more ago. This needs refining, made more pithy, but I think it contains a great truth.

    “I make very little money out of blogging but I make a good living out of having blogged.”

    Like you, the blog brings in directly something like beer/holiday money. But the work that is offered from having the advertisement of a blog makes a decent UK middle class income. (Which, given that I live in Portugal goes really rather a long way.)

  • http://www.theidandi.blogspot.com Chris McVetta

    This is a great post! Even for us “little guys” just starting out – but, seriously, the “value” of a blog goes beyond monetary value, sometimes.

    About 2 years ago, I blogged about bringing a Superman museum to my hometown of Cleveland (where Superman was originally created in 1937 by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel) and it got picked up by someone in the city of Cleveland who later contacted me about it.

    Hopefully, plans are now in place to bring an authentic Superman museum to Cleveland (and I certainly hope to be included in the process) thanks to me constantly blogging about it…

    Great post, Jeff!

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Yes, yes, this is clear – for people who are professional consultants, there is a reasonable argument for running a trade newsletter. Especially if you are “connected” and have the personality for the constant stream of punditing it requires.

    However, this is an extremely small percentage of the population. Almost all of us are not in the sort of jobs where running a personal trade newsletter makes economic sense. And done wrong, it can be quite destructive to one’s life.

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  • Michael Katcher

    @Seth – The question is which end of things is the catalyst? Your comment implies that Jeff was a successful professional consultant who blogs to increase his success. His column implies that Jeff had a successful blog which enabled him to become a professional consultant. Granted, Jeff had experience as a successful media executive, which enabled the success of both the blog and the consultantcy. But given that he was already an executive, it seems that his blogging acted as a catalyst to become a consultant and not the other way around.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    @Michael – it’s more that there are only a relatively few jobs where a blog is likely to be a big asset, and Jeff both has one of those jobs now, and had prior jobs which would be useful in maximizing that success. That is, his personal experience does not generalize well beyond that narrow segment. It’s a little like a former Wall Street executive recounting how being an online options day-trader has worked wonderfully well for him. It may have, but this doesn’t mean that online options day-trading is a good idea in general for most people.

    Note also there’s an extreme survivorship-bias effect. People who try, and find it all a waste of time or worse, don’t often publicize that (or might even find themselves attacked for saying it didn’t work!).

  • Michael Katcher

    @Seth – I certainly fall into that category. Ironically, I had the opposite problem: because of my job I couldn’t blog. As a student/intern I blogged frequently about economic and geopolitical topics. Many of my opinions were based on research I read that my company subscribed too. Once I graduated and accepted a full-time position at the company, I didn’t find it appropriate to quote from or discuss themes related to research (Stratfor, for instance) that my company was paying for.

    I am surprised though that you’ve twice implied that blogging can be destructive. While I can certainly imagine pitfalls await the poor executive who quits his job first, starts his blog second, and finds it a failure third. I can’t imagine how the Om model – blogging while working and switching to full-time blogging only if it’s successful- could cause damage.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    @Michael – Isn’t it obvious? A post written in a moment of frustration, which alienates an important client. Revealing too much of one’s personal life (sexuality? politics? personality quirks?) that gets used against one in a job search or departmental infighting – and you might never find out. Crossing over lines of confidentiality or professional duty. Fights with BigHeads in the field. And so on and so forth.

    It’s really little comfort to be told, after the damage is done, that one shouldn’t have made the mistake. It might even be adding insult to injury. And again, looking only at the winners, the people who have had big successes, gives a very distorted view of the risk/benefit ratio.

  • Michael Katcher

    @Seth – Good point.

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  • http://www.thedailynovel.com Bob Jones

    @seth – All those things might get you in trouble in doing journalism the old fashioned way, by writing articles, even by talking too loudly at parties. I once got fired for talking frankly about my boss at a party. That was no problem with the person I was talking to, but it was to the person who overheard, who did not even reveal who he was. The difference about blogs is that lots more people can listen in. But that is a difference in scale, not a difference of kind.

  • http://www.backtoart.blogspot.com Lynne Cameron

    I read your Guardian column and wondered about how you built up your audience? I started a blog and I love doing it but only a few people read it, and they are my friends who I sent the address to! I don’t necessarily want to earn a living from my blog but I do want communication and ideas sharing.

    What makes some blogs take off and others (hundreds or thousands, I suspect) just wither on the electronic vine?

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  • http://www.wonkosworld.co.uk/wordpress wonkotsane

    Lynne,

    If you’re writing about something that people are interested in then they’ll read it. Essentially that’s all you need but to get those people through the door as it were you need to entice them. If you look at some of the big names in UK blogging, they have different styles that they’re “famous” for. Devils Kitchen has a potty mouth but he really, really knows his stuff. Guido Fawkes writes in the third person and gets some really good gosip. Iain Dale very subtly takes side-swipes at people and has a lot of audience participation.

    If all else fails, whore your blog around the internet! Put links to it in forum signatures. And, of course, the best way of getting new people to your site is through Google – read up on how Google rankings work and you’d be surprised at how easy it is to manipulate (for want of a better word) search results.

    No point me writing a book about blogging now is there? I’ve just given most of it away for free!

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    @Bob – The point is risk-benefit analysis, and it’s not all benefit with no risk. Moreover, that shouldn’t be dismissed with (glossing your point) an idea that everything has risks, so let’s not care about risks. It’s quite possible to do things which have a lot of risk yet little benefit.

    Note blogs have a particular failure-mode that it’s easy to fall into a trap of thinking it’s private when it’s really public.

    @Lynne – it has a lot to do with you who know. Don’t believe the hype. The bloggers who get many readers tend to be connected self-promoters, right-place-right-time, or very, very, rare talents. If you don’t fall into the favored few, you will blog forever and not get heard (and have people telling you to try harder and it’ll happen someday, though it won’t).

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  • http://boycottamazon.blogspot.com/ Terry Finley

    Funny how a joy/hobby can in turn bring
    in money.

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  • http://day-trading-for-beginners.com Day Trading for Beginners

    I like your style of writing. Thanks for your valuable contribution to this industry. There is so much junk being written that it is refreshing to see something positive being said – for a change.
    Kind regards,
    Barry

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  • http://www.medlawplus.com jjray

    “a job I love. But I must confess that my teaching post pays a fraction of my prior salary. So you may still think me a fool.”
    And what is the price of happiness? It cannot be bought at any price. You made a wise career choice.

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  • http://b1sn1sku.blogspot.com mybisnis

    I just say wooooo

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