The money question. This is what everyone wants to know. Are bloggers making money? How much? How?
The short answer is yes, bloggers with a decent-sized platform are making money. Some bloggers - and not always the ones that you’d suspect - are making LOTS of money.
Now, if you’re attending blogging conferences or reading “How To Start A Blog” type books or posts, they’re going to preach at you that normal bloggers ARENT making money. That you shouldn’t expect to make any money, and that you certainly shouldn’t start a blog with money-making in mind. The only statement I’ll agree with there is the last one. If your heart isn’t in it, if you don’t actually enjoy it or find immense value in creating on the internet, then most likely you will not be a successful blogger. But I think that’s true of any small business.
As I’ve laid out earlier this week, blogging well and consistently takes a ton of time. But if you build it, they will come, as the saying goes. And then once you’ve built the platform, almost entirely from your own sweat and tears and will barely any income as an incentive, then what? There comes a point with every single blogger I know where they ask themselves why they’re doing this. For some, the benefits don’t outweigh the cost and they burn out. For others, they decide that this thing being a hobby is enough. And for others, there’s cash.
Here are the current traditional ways that bloggers are making money:
Sponsored Content. Once it became clear that bloggers of all kinds were an influential voice in readers purchasing decision, brands large and small started sponsoring content. Most of the time you’ll recognize this is as a sponsored post, when a disclaimer somewhere says that “this post was brought to you by Old Navy” and then it’s a round up of the bloggers favorite items from that store. Or maybe a food company will pay a recipe blogger to create (and blog about) three dishes that use their ingredient.
When it’s done well and makes sense, sponsored content is one of the most lucrative paths for bloggers right now. These things shift from year to year, but I feel like sponsored content is here to stay for awhile.
Because it’s right in the regular content space of a blog, sponsored content is a) more expensive for a brand to purchase (rightly so) and b) garners the most complaints from readers. Depending on the size of their audience, bloggers are getting paid between $500 - $5,000 for sponsored content. That latter number is not a cap, I’m just tossing around the numbers I’ve heard in my fairly wide blog circle. I’m sure Super Big Time bloggers get more than that, especially if it’s a campaign that includes a large amount of social media, too.
Bloggers are working directly with brands to negotiate sponsored content rates, then there are also networks that broker deals between brands and bloggers. Clever Girls, Sway, Say Media, Federated Media, Pollinate, and others come to mind.
Affiliate Sales. Affiliate sales are when a blogger recommends a product and a reader clicks through and purchases, giving the blogger a small commission. To me, this is the most genuine and authentic way for bloggers to make some money because so many stores and brands have affiliate networks, so it’s easier to assume that the blogger really does endorse this thing. She’s not limited to a store, she really can recommend her favorite pair of jeans and this is where she got them.
If you’re a regular reader of mine, you might recognize that this is my primary method of income for my blog. When I write about the books I’m reading or the clothes I’m wearing, I link out to those products with an affiliate link. It’s freeing for me (these really are the books and clothes I chose) and I feel more trusted by the reader.
However, it takes a lot of purchases to add up to a few bucks. The commission rates are small (I’d say they range from 3 - 10%), so if you click through and buy a $10 book, I’ll probably get under $1. If 10 people do it, I still haven’t even made $10. So to make any kind of dent in affiliate sales, you have to have a pretty large readership and earned enough trust that they’ll actually purchase things you recommend.
Right now fashion blogs are exploding in the income department. I think it’s because of the visual nature of Pinterest and Instagram and that the affiliate networks have gotten better than they used to be. The affiliates I use the most are amazon, RewardStyle, and ShareASale.
Ads. Generic ad space has been dying fast, but then again we’ve been saying that for awhile so who knows? When you see ads in the sidebar (or at the top, or in-between posts), those are generating income for the blogger either by page views (you get a certain dollar figure per 1,000 page views) or by click throughs (you get a certain dollar figure for each reader who clicks on it).
A lot of these are run through google (which means almost anyone can run them), and again there are ad networks that supply those ads through a code the blogger installs on the blog.
Since these ads are dependent on your monthly blog traffic, a more stable way to sell your sidebar space is with private ads. Lots of bloggers sell blocks of space to small businesses who can potentially gain lots of exposure with a good ad on a great blog. Etsy sellers take advantage of this, even small blogs might buy ads on a bigger blog. The rub here is that it takes a lot of effort to maintain private ads.
Other ways bloggers are making money:
Twitter parties. If you’re on twitter, I’m sure you’ve seen corporate twitter parties go down. That’s when a blogger (or often a group of bloggers) set aside 30 minutes and blog about the brand or topic surrounding the brand and use a hashtag to track it. The point is to get lots of other people tweeting about it (out of interest, in the hope of winning a giveaway or something) and then the bloggers can report back to the brand that x amount of people were tweeting about Brawny Paper Towels (or whatever).
As a blogger and a reader, I find this to be one of the most annoying ways of making money. It almost never feels genuine to me. But I guess I shouldn’t knock it - I know bloggers who make thousands of dollars for those half-hour tweets. More power to ‘em. (But show me the mute button.)
Hosting events. This can be a fun (but time-consuming) way to make some money, but also to connect with readers or other bloggers. If you host a little party at, say, a cupcake shop, and you invite your blogger friends and ask them to tweet and Instagram about the shop, it can be a natural fit and a fun event for all. I’ve done a few of these (and yes, I was paid). But if you’re up for it, I think this is a fun way to satisfy all kinds of need. The bloggers get to network, the brand gets exposure, hopefully everyone has a good time.
Selling something. Assuming you’re not blogging to support a shop (like Lisa Leonard, for example), then sometimes a blogger can put together a project to sell. Often this is an ebook, but maybe it’s a really interesting art print or piece of jewelry or whatever.
Writing for other sites. It’s really common for bloggers to write for other sites, as a column or just as the occasional guest post. If it’s a regular deal, assume they’re getting paid. When you see a blogger regularly writing for big sites like Babble, those are compensated. And this probably should have been listed closer to the top, since the pay here can be a blogger's primary income.
For a long time, my column at allParenting was my biggest source of blog income. I had to quit in the fall when our life got so busy, but the money I made there was extremely helpful in the work I was doing here. In theory, it’s a symbiotic relationship. A lot of my readers would click through to their site to read what I was writing there, and new readers to me might click through to this blog. Also, there was a work/money exchange.
Bloggers are also sometimes paid for giveaways or trips or any else you could dream up.
There are a lot of options. I haven’t even covered them all here. As creative as a blogger can be, they can spin it into something that helps pay for the time and effort they pour into this job. And, if you’re a reader, try to be understanding if a blogger that you read every day for free sometimes hijacks the space with some paid-for content. Or, if you’re going to purchase what a blogger is recommending, think about using their link so that it helps them keep creating.
Realistically, most bloggers aren’t making a lot (or any) money because their readership isn’t big enough. I’ve heard that a common threshold is about 100,000 page views a month. And it’s hard to build a loyal and consistent core of readers of this size, not to mention keeping them around. The internet is so competitive, and that can be discouraging. But a high percentage of the bloggers I know who are doing it full time (and not as a hobby), are making some money. And they’re all doing it in different ways, because the options are pretty endless.
I’ll be honest, what I make through affiliate sales and some ad space doesn’t add up to minimum wage. I haven’t chosen the path of major monetization for a few reasons, but as I’m well into year four of blogging, I’m thinking about how I can rearrange my time and process in order to propel myself forward, without selling out what I've created.
No amount of money can compare to what blogging has brought me: friendship, community, and of course experiences (I’m on a trip to Haiti right now!), but I am at a level where I’m really thinking hard about all of it. Making money is definitely not the only validation that comes with blogging, but it’s something to think about. And I hope this explanation makes sense to bloggers and readers alike.
Questions? I’ll answer what I can in the comments.
*top photo by tax credits via flickr