Bloggercon: The business of blogs

Bloggercon: The business of blogs

: I’m delighted that Dave Winer has asked me to handle a session at Bloggercon (I had a ball playing Oprah — complete with bad words — at the last BCon).

The topic: Making blogs a business.

Please start the discussion here and now. In Dave’s wise view of these sessions, there are no panels — hell, in this area, there are no experts (yet) — and so everybody is on the panel, everybody is an expert, it’s all your show. Shape it now. Ask questions. Push the discussion. Let’s get to Cambridge ready to rock ‘n’ roll.

Let’s make clear from the very start: Many people don’t want their blogs to be a business. Dandy.

But for those who do, I want to see everyone in the room answer two questions (or you tell me what the questions are) in a giant white-board business brainstorming session. My starting list:

1. What is the business potential of blogs? What is their value? Can they sell products? Can they sell subscriptions (to themselves or to other media)? Can they provide consumer opinion and buzz? What about sponsorship and underwriting? How many tip jars can the world support? What about blogging for The Man? Is Google enough to support this medium? Let’s sell blogs to ourselves and find all the ways they can be supported financially.

2. What’s required to make that happen — from a business and a technical perspective? Do we need reliable ways to count traffic, demographics, behavior, authority, and so on? Do we need technology for standard ad calls and reporting? Do we need our own PR to sell the value of blogs to marketers?

And we should also ask: What are the booby traps? How should bloggers handle conflict of interest? Do we need to guard against our readers being ripped off by bad advertisers? Do bloggers need to worry about being ripped off? Does it ruin this personal medium to become a business medium?

That’s just a start. So keep the discussion going now — here and on the Bloggercon site.

Hope to see you and hear you in Cambridge!

: Here’s the run-up to Jay Rosen’s session on journalism at Bloggercon (I’ll be there).

: And here’s the start of the power law discussion (based on Clay Shirky‘s writing), to be led by Nick Denton.

: Henry Copeland of Blogads is properly reminding us all that weblogs already make money — thanks to Blogads (plus Google AdSense). Sorry. I assumed that. No need to sell the sold. Blogads is growing like mad. But I’m also talking about how to get the most out of that — for example, how do we get more blogs involved and convince more advertisers to use them — and how to imagine new value and new revenue; let’s dream!

  • annie

    ok, i’ll start. the last thing i want from a blog is the writer trying to sell me something. get all the advertisers you can, apply all the technical counting and measuring wizardry available, but don’t mess up honest commentary with barking for bucks. do friends charge for a conversation over coffee? do adversaries charge for a confrontation? the point of blogs for me is an exchange of ideas, not dollar bills.

  • Well said, Annie: It’s the separation of “church and state” that will keep a blog(ger) credible. But there are challenges when one person is church and state, eh? So perhaps having an ad middleman is part of what’s needed for those who want ad support….

  • I’ve been blogging up a storm on some potential business models related to RSS technology. Not blogging per se … but perhaps something just as interesting:

  • Jeff: I can’t access the “BloggerCon” site. When will you have the session? Jeff said: “But there are challenges when one person is church and state, eh?” I am not the church, nor the state. I am an individual, separated from both entities! ;)
    I agree with Annie that you don’t charge a friend for a conversation over a cup of coffee, but maybe your readers are willing to pay something / hit the tip jar / place an ad on your blog, if they value the material on your blog? Couldn’t it be the case that your daily reading of a blog could be worth the amount of a cup of coffee? Isn’t the acronym “TANSTAAFL” by Robert A. Heinlein valid?
    On February 16, I wrote the following:
    “On this day, I take the opportunity to “rattle” my tip jar. If you have a selfish interest in keeping this blog going, take some time and think about how much value this site is for you. You have several options to pick if you want to support my blogging. If you have a product or service you want to promote, place an ad through Blogads. If you want to give cash, use the PayPal button. If you want to buy me stuff, check out my wish lists at Amazon. Scroll down the page and look under the category titled “Support” for more ways to support this blog. Please explore the ways you could support my efforts, by clicking on the links and banners. I want to end this PR message by thanking all my readers for visiting my blog, subscribing to email updates, commenting on my posts, and for you who have purchased EGO products and books from Amazon (via affiliated links and wish lists).”
    If you are interested in my views on advertising and marketing, please read my post, THE KEY(WORDS) TO ADVERTISING.
    All the Best,
    Martin Lindeskog – American in Spirit.
    Gothenburg, Sweden (a.k.a. the socialist “paradise”).

  • miguel

    at first blogs have to overcome the echo chamber in order to gain relevance beyond that sphere. you like jason calcanis and others have reported recently that 80% do not yet know what a blog actually is!

  • Very cool. You did a great job as last year’s Bloggercon Jeff.
    “Potential business”… why the future tense? Blogs need PR? What better PR than having 200 going on 200,000 of America’s smartest writers mentioning blog advertising to their friends, neighbors and co-workers?
    A rising tide of advertisers is placing ads on a network of the best and brightest — bloggers like Tim Blair, Markos Moulitsas, Atrios, Josh Marshall, Glenn Reynolds, Daniel Drezner, Kevin Drum, Daniel Drezner and hundreds of others — through
    Who wouldn’t want to see these infopreneurs succeed and call their own shots? And who wouldn’t want to shake the opinion epicenter?
    Blogs have already run more ads this year for different political campaigns and causes than the Washington Post or CNN or Blogads are THE STANDARD for online political advertising.
    Folks on the street may not realize it yet — particularly if they don’t read the WSJ or MediaPost or NYSun or Minneapolis Star Tribune or Raleigh Observer — but blog business is Here and Now.

  • Most big blogs are already selling something … namely, the person writing it, as a consultant/expert (ummm, no offense, there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m merely describing it).
    Elsewhere, publishing is a tough eyeballs-for-ads business anyway, and blogs are just the same equation.

  • I know this will sound like an in and of itself but, to Henry’s point about blogs already being a viable business model, I’d mention MarketingVox (formerly MarketingWonk) which has used the blog technology platform to aggregate multitudes of content focused on a single topical area: online marketing. There are associated email lists to join (some paid, some free), discussion groups (some free some paid) on-site ad banner programs and affiliate marketing deals with research providers providing both value to the reader of the blog as well as income for the blog publisher.
    Aside from Henry’s blogads, most blog-related businesses haven’t hit the big money yet but it’s coming. blogads actually provides a very nice separation of church and state allowing for commerce while keeping the impartial credibility of the blogger.
    It’s not all about using a blog to make money though. A blog can also be a representation of a company’s intellectual capital through “expert opinion” posts. So many corporate sites are flat and without any redeeming information value. Blogs can fill a gap here.
    Rick Bruner could write a comment a mile long here about the potential of blogs for businesses. Rick?

  • 1. Building a constituency/audience for something else–short films and documentaries, in my case–was a primary business motivation for my launching my first weblog. Treating a weblog as a relationship building tool helps obviate the gaps in existing distribution. (I.e., far more people know and see my short films via the site than in their various one-time film festival screenings.)
    2. Now that I’m in the middle of launching a more venture-motivated weblog, I find that the blogosphere’s still better suited to some flavors of businessblog than others. [cf. the echo chamber] Content-agnostic infrastructure is called for. (As a non-pundit, I don’t feel blogads is there yet.) And until/unless I plug into a whole new ecosystem of subject-relevant webloggers, word of mouth and narrow offline marketing still drive more traffic & business.
    [Gotta plug the URL, obviously:, a weblog for new dads which gives a shoutout to Gizmodo and Kevin Kelly.]

  • I did a bit of an informal survey of the top 30 blogs listed (by traffic levels) at the Ecosystem and was interested to find that over 80% of them were either advertising through blogads, adsense, private banner/button ads or were endorsing books through Amazon or other affiliate programs. That was a few months ago (a long time in blogging) so it may have changed, but I suspect it would not have gone down.
    I also surveyed bloggers further down the list in the 100’s ranking and then in the 400’s ranking.
    The proportion that were advertising in some way went down the further I went down the list, but still remained around the 50% figure.
    A lot further down the list it got a lot lower.
    My obvious conclusions – a lot of us are attempting to at least get something out of our blogging, whether that be earning an income, getting a few books from Amazon or trying to cover our bandwidth.
    I personally have experimented with a number of revenue raising methods and am finding that it is possible to earn more than enough to not only cover costs, but also pay yourself a part time wage. I’m no where near the big bloggers league by any means, but there are some positive signs for people willing to put in a bit of hard work and use their common sense.
    I have had some concerns that the rise of blogging for dollars will decrease the quality of blogging and lead to people compromising on content for the sake of the advertising dollar, but I also think that the blogisphere will regulate itself in a sense – if people sell out too much, people will avoid their sites – if this happens they lose readership and advertisers. It is one of those fine line things I guess.
    Anyway, for what its worth I wrote a piece on it here – Blogging for Dollars

  • Heh. Well, I use my blog to sell my cartoons, blogcards, prints, and last but not least, my advertising services. It’s totally viable so far and best of all, the overheads are close to zero.
    I agree with Seth- every blog is selling something, especially the “professional blogs”.
    If people tell me “I don’t like you advertising on your blog”, well, I can take their opinion on board, certainly. Or not. My blog, my call.
    I also happen to believe that blogs could be harnessed as viable mass-advertising media, if the powers-that-be want to spend money on creating a mass audience, same as any other media. I’ve been playing around with that with the film industry- a friend of mine just directed a Ewan McGregor film and I’ve been helping the production company learn about blogging as a viable “buzzmachine”.
    “10 rules for commerical movie blogging”
    “blogs as mass-advertising medium?”
    The Blogosphere is all ablaze with talk about Nick Denton and Jason Calacanis. But I believe Blogads is a much bigger story.
    Am I the only one?

  • Dave

    I hate this entire concept/discussion.
    I certainly understand that every blog has promotion of blogger behind it’s motivation. That’s human nature. But blogs BY DEFINITION are personal in nature, individualistic by behavior.
    The moment you speak of “making blogs a business” is akin to speaking of first building a “constituency” and only then revealing to your readers that you were about profit-making the whole time. It’s changing the rules in a devious way, and it sucks.
    There are blogs with agendas. For example, makess numerous posts weekly about RSS in positive ways. [email protected] has disproportionate posts regarding the absolute wonder of MS products that won’t be released for years. But you know, I can handle that… there’s nothing devious nor have they made me feel duped because they changed the rules in midstream.
    I can also cite blogs I’ll never visit after my initial visit because they offered nothing to me – and their whole reason for being was to sell something I wasn’t interested in. But again, I’m okay with that because I understood that this is business as usual.
    But this concept/discussion? Nope. Actually considering developing some sort of business model that generic blogs can use? Or even guidelines or coherent thoughts about how hundreds of already established personal blogs can generate revenue to [insert reason to raise some dough here]?
    That’s akin to what happened in the late 90s when the web got taken over by corporate interests.
    Is there a place on the web for the ESPNs of the world to bombard me with popups and CSS-shrunk ads that I absolutely hate? Definitely! But there’s also room for the EDUs, GOVs and personal blog sites too.
    Sorry Jeff. If you want to institute a business model on your blog – go for it. If you want an ongoing and informal discussion about models for blogs – again, I’m there. But making this a session a Bloggercon somehow strikes me as being a bit too – formal? dictorial? A-List weighted? – for my tastes.

  • The current way to generate revenue from blogs is advertising: Gizmodo guys, Calcanis and others are generating revenue from blog advertising. Dave above feels it may be too formal, but it is there. Is there a place for business in the blogosphere? Yeah.
    The difference is we users CHOOSE the blogs we go to. We make a choice. Voices we respecct and or trust recommend other vvoices with something to say. If the voice is authentic and gives us something of value (content/ideas/data pointss/analysis) we we will be more likely to come back, view ads and maybe click on ads that are relevant to us/the voice
    What happens when you combine RSS with blogs? Now I can TiVo (MythTV!) the web AND the voices I like to listen to, sidestepping the billboard model of Madison avenue. I can look at Dave Winer’s scripting and pick the stories interesting to me. Take a look at EWEEK Linux RSS feed from Ziff Davis – they have ads in the feed. Every Ad starts with ADV. I havent clicked on one. But they showed me some resepect by not embedding them in the story. And when I click, i get all the ads I can stomach when i go to the site.
    Now thanks to some real smart people BitTorrent/RSS is a reality. How does this change things? MMMM more TV ads for the masses. Or I will watch an ad and then get my family guy short (someday).

  • Ok, you sold me, I’m going.

  • Dave writes: a) “blogs BY DEFINITION are personal in nature, individualistic by behavior,” and b) bloggers trying to earn some dough is “akin to what happened in the late 90s when the web got taken over by corporate interests.”
    I agree with a) but not b). All commerce is not corporate. To paraphrase the Instapundit, bloggers can be individuals in a pack and not cattle in a herd.
    For me the key difference (and improvement) this time versus the nineties is that the individuals have achieved a critical mass that exceeds the power of most corporations; now, bloggers can be autonomous individuals and do whatever-the-F they please.
    Bloggers can make money exactly because they are uncorporate — speaking with their own passionate voices and vigorously sharing readers and advertisers.
    Commerce and individual autonomy are not opposed. In fact, on blogs, they can be mutually reinforcing.

  • Other than individual bloggers (like OM Malik, and those listed above), who run ads on their blogs for revenue, which companies are using blogs really well? How are they using them well?
    Is slashdot a blog in the sense of what Dave is talking about above? Can a blog have many voices, or is it a one-to-many conversation (individual)?
    Is there a corporate use for a blog that wont insult the blogosphere?

  • Sean, assuming that question was partially directed at me, an overview of the list of bloggers selling ads is here: … a lot of smaller blogs are currently invisible on that list, unfortunately, because we’re busy coding something that makes the list more transparent and usable for advertisers.
    Is Slashdot a blog? When asked, Slashdotters say no. (Or “what’s a blog?”) Is Drudge a blogger? He says, vehemently, no.
    I don’t think “a company” can blog any more than a company can go to a bar with friends. And although some companies can encourage honest and exuberant employee blogging (or barhopping), corporate padding around a blog (design/cultural and/or managerial) can easily stifle the human-to-human connections that make blogging so vital.

  • A couple of unrelated thoughts:
    1. Blogs are dependent on search engines. People were upset when google cut blogs out of the news query results. If Google (for some corporate reason) decided to do that altogether, blog readership growth stops.
    2. The faster and cheaper internet access becomes, the more internet users will demand content with high production values. If it gets as fast and cheap as I think it will, sites will have to deliver TV-quality video to gain viewers. In effect, there will be a potentially unlimited number of TV stations. The cost of producing video will rule out most individual website operators, except for porn. That intrinsically limits the readership of the individual blogger, which undercuts the commercial opportunities.

  • I think of using blogs for business less in terms of generating income from the blogs themselves, and more as using them as a vehicle for promotion, and/or as a “living” resume. Most of what I’m referring to in this case applies directly to writers of various kinds, but there are those who are also using their blogs to promote small businesses of other varieties. This is an ideal way for someone with a limited budget for things like advertising to present themselves and/or their works, products, services, whatever, to an online market. It will be even more effective in times to come as local search becomes more important.
    Of course, the blog itself must be promoted, but that’s still an affordable proposition if the blogger is motivated and willing to put in the time. It’s such a new thing right now that the novelty is a big help in building a readership. For blogs, the promo you need to do for them is not as intense or neverending as for static websites.
    Blogs do need more PR, more blog evangelists, though I don’t think of it as much for the ad people as it is for the general public. The advertising industry is becoming more aware of the power of online presentation, blogs just being a part of that. Once the idea of blogs being defined as personal diaries goes away, and they’re seen more as active websites for many different purposes, there will be more businesses and entrepreneurs using them.
    The ad people are most concerned about their metrics, but from where I sit, if there was an accurate way of just knowing how many readers a blog has both directly and thru the RSS feeds, it would go a long way in helping a business get an idea of the effectiveness of their blog as a campaign. To me, a single blog is a lot like the tiny, one-column-inch newspaper ads many small businesses use over the long term with great results. It’s something that’s always there, and once the use of aggregators becomes more widespread, a blog in people’s aggregators will also be a long-term benefit.
    As for the last question, blogs have already “gone commercial” in many ways, and I don’t see any downturn in the number of people using them as diaries. IMO, it’s just a situation of putting the technology to another use, so the idea of using blogs for business doesn’t “ruin” the medium, any more than having advertising in a newspaper causes harm to the reputation of paper. People still use paper for many other things.
    I think the same kind of business and professional ethics applies to blogs as anything else. I did a presentation on blogging for a committee of my local chamber of commerce the other day, and we had a discussion on that same thing. We came to the conclusion that if you’re going to be saying negative things on your blog about an individual or company, you need to consider it in the same light as the content of a static website, if you’ve got one. Either be prepared to take the flak or don’t say it in the first place.

  • Jeff,
    Good luck with BloggerCon. A key issue in the development of “blogging for bucks” is the relationship between major media and the blogs, an area where you obviously have some applicable experience (Side note: I worked for Advance for years, doing a tech column for The Trenton Times).
    Newspapers will try to launch their own blogs, but in some cases would do well to just buy a blog/blogger with an established audience and niche expertise. This will no doubt lead to handwringing and concern about evil major media co-opting the blogosphere.
    But for “personal” bloggers, the lure of a paid gig working for a sponsor is an attractive and sensible exit strategy. The ability to blog full-time and make a living at it will be a wonderful thing for many talented writers.
    As for the business models for the independent one-person blog, the key moment will be the tipping point where large national companies start to buy Henry’s blogads in droves and drive up prices. This has already happend with Google/Overture text ads. As advertisers become more aware of niche opportunities on blogs, many of them will want to target influential blogs directly, rather than through AdSense.