Economic Models for Sustainable Blogging

Those of you who read our earlier post, Interview with Julie Zickefoose, and followed the comments thread know that we’re having a lively discussion about the economics of blogging. Can nature blogging can be self-sustaining or is it destined to remain a hobby? Is the best model for support advertising, subscription, or sponsorship? or something else entirely? No firm answers, but a lot to think about.

This is not just a question in our corner of the blogosphere. An article earlier this week in the New York Times, Let’s invent an iTunes for News, talks about this same issue on a much larger, broader scale. The music industry has changed thanks to the Internet, and, as Julie pointed out in her interview, the New York Times moved away from charging subscription fees for online access to articles.

What does this mean for our particular niche on the net? We’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, and plans, and to start you thinking, here are some questions. Please participate in the poll but also add your comments to the discussion.

Should nature blogs be financially self-supporting?

  • Maybe for some blogs but not all (27%, 12 Votes)
  • No, information on the Web should be free (16%, 7 Votes)
  • Yes, it's a lot of work and bloggers should be rewarded (14%, 6 Votes)
  • No, it's a hobby not a business (14%, 6 Votes)
  • It doesn't matter, no one will pay to read nature blogs (14%, 6 Votes)
  • Yes, why should weight-loss, get-rich-quick, and porn sites make all the money? (7%, 3 Votes)
  • Yes, we'll have better blogs if bloggers can recover their costs (5%, 2 Votes)
  • Okay for others but not for me (5%, 2 Votes)
  • No, that would take all the fun out of it (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 44

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Which of the following do you use or would you consider using for your blog:

  • Advertising (45%, 23 Votes)
  • Sponsorships (37%, 19 Votes)
  • None of the above (12%, 6 Votes)
  • Subscriptions (6%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 51

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You can check on the answers throughout the week (I’ll close the poll next Wednesday night) but comments remain open indefinitely.

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Check back on Monday for an interview with Florida Cracker, of Pure Florida.

37 Comments

  1. January 15, 2009 at 9:51 AM | Permalink

    Um, where is the poll?

  2. January 15, 2009 at 9:52 AM | Permalink

    Ummm, sorry, but I don’t see the poll?

  3. January 15, 2009 at 9:58 AM | Permalink

    It’s fixed now, Heather. Thanks for the heads up!

  4. January 15, 2009 at 10:29 AM | Permalink

    The question is sort of strange. “Should be compensated” implies someone is doing uncompensated work involuntarily. Nobody is forcing you to blog! If it takes up too much of your time and money, don’t do it. Presumably most bloggers feel they benefit in any number of non-monetary ways and that’s why they keep doing it, as noted by Mike’s comment in the Zickefoose thread.

  5. January 15, 2009 at 11:49 AM | Permalink

    In pondering all of this, and being a small little po-dunk blog myself, I can’t help but wonder if there is another line of thinking that needs to go on for smaller bloggers like myself (and maybe for all of us, even the top 10′ers), and it’s more along the basic lines of how to grow your audience. I would need to think about that before I could even THINK about making a living off of blogging. I would be interested to see some discussion about how folks go about spreading the word about their own blog(s). Do you do it through the social promotion sites like StumbleUpon? Do you do it by commenting on other people’s blogs and hoping they notice you? Something else? Do we have any marketing folks out there?

    Granted, the top 10 or so in this network get several 1000′s of hits per day (a number which will continue to grow, I’m sure), but is that really enough to make a living at it, even with advertising on your site? I guess if you got $0.10 per add with an average of 2500 hits per day, that WOULD be a nice little chunk of change. But as Cyberthrush mentioned over in the comments on the Zick interview: “even the most popular nature blogs have relatively small audiences compared to many other media,” so how can we hope to bring in good revenue without a plan for growing our audiences?

    Anyway, being a part of this network is a good place for all of us to get our feet wet in this sometimes strange little world of blogging, and to have great discussions like this. I know that I really appreciate the chance to have dialogue about this stuff. And even though it would be awesome to make money from sharing my experiences on my blog, for now I will just have to hope that I can enrich someone else’s life maybe just a little bit or teach someone something with something they might find on my blog.

  6. January 15, 2009 at 1:32 PM | Permalink

    I view blogging as more of a creative commons activity. There are fun and interesting blogs, and I’m glad they’re out there — they make the internet a better place — but I wouldn’t pay to read one.

    On the other hand, if someone aggregated the best material in a way that interested enough viewers, they could sell ads (maybe even subscriptions) and pay contributors. Even better, form a nonprofit organization that aggregates nature blogs in a pleasing way and get rich people to support it.

    Any blogger who insists on being paid can simply charge a subscription or charge for ad space. Insisting that bloggers “should be rewarded” will get you nowhere. If you want money, you have to insist on it.

  7. January 15, 2009 at 2:58 PM | Permalink

    I think the proper question is not “should bloggers be compensated” but “can bloggers be compensated.” I think it’s great if a blogger manages to earn some income via a blog, but most bloggers who earn enough for blogging to become a day job have far higher traffic levels than anyone in NBN. As for a subscription model, I do not think that it would work for smaller and medium-sized blogs. I think it would end up discouraging readership from all but the most loyal readers.

    Advertising is a tricky business, especially when it comes to contextual advertising. I have noticed that a lot of the bird-related contextual ads are for pest control, pet stores, and the like. I think that poses special problems for nature bloggers since many of us question the propriety of such things. Again, it’s great if a blogger can sell advertising or sponsorships, but the potential for that is likely to be tied closely to traffic.

    I could see a compensation model working for a large number of bloggers would be if some munificent environmental organization or business(es) made a concerted effort to sponsor nature blogs regardless of traffic. I could also see potential in a nature network akin to Scienceblogs. Other than that, no.

  8. January 15, 2009 at 3:19 PM | Permalink

    Regarding the failed subscriptions at the NY Times, I’ll note that it charged for its least valuable service (the opinion page), unlike the WSJ, which charges for its most valuable service (the reporting) and leaves its op-ed nonsense out for free. If nature bloggers could devise a way to leave some content free and charge for others, there might be a viable model for some income. But it would have to be done carefully, and might only work for larger blogs.

  9. January 15, 2009 at 3:27 PM | Permalink

    It’s true that phrases like “compensated” and “financially self-supporting” are slightly off the mark – after all, most bloggers on the NBN use Blogger or some other free platform and consequently incur no costs at all.

    However, by looking past the imprecision, we can try to inch closer to that oasis that has so tempted those toiling in the blogging desert these past years: remuneration, compensation, cashola. Call it what you will, it may be a mirage but enough strivers have attained some level of income and percs from their blogs that the idea is worth considering.

    Heather, I’m glad you’re interested in answering those questions because starting next Thursday, I’ll be rolling out a series of posts on how best to use blog carnivals to promote your blog!

    And as a thought exercise, I urge everyone to go back to the poll and replace the word “blog” with “book” to root out any prejudices about blogs as opposed to other, more accepted and commercially successful forms of media.

  10. January 15, 2009 at 7:44 PM | Permalink

    I think it very much depends on the blog. Most of the sites I visit are clearly enthusiast blogs and I doubt there’s any thought about getting paid (to say nothing of the hassles of tax returns etc). However, I can see that some of the more specialist sites, especially linked to professional roles (environmental organizations, academic-related and so on) might well benefit from appropriate sponsorship if it enables them to enhance the quality of their work.

  11. January 16, 2009 at 12:39 AM | Permalink

    Hmm…In most cases I don’t very few of the bloggers could hope to make a living on nature-blogging. As mentioned there are too few of readers. However, this does not mean that a small advertising income does not hurt.
    I am quite new to this. Learning a lot on the way, but as far as I understand – and in my case, the blogging can help people finding your main site. That is why I recently opened a new blog on my business-web-site. I hope my blogging will help people finding my business. If done in personal way, giving away information, and being receptive, people should at least they will find the person behind the business – and that could be worth a lot (or if I am an asshole – completely ruin my chances – time will tell ;-) ).

  12. January 16, 2009 at 2:53 PM | Permalink

    I think, too, that we need to remember it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing type of remuneration. Even just a small amount of payment that might help the blogger justify putting so much time into it, and therefore result in better blog posts, would be better than no payment at all.

    I put a lot of work into my blog. About half the time I spend on it is background research for the subject I’m talking about that post. From start to finish – editing the photos, researching the subject, distilling it into something digestible by people without science backgrounds, and then writing about 1000 words on it – a post can take me up to two to three hours to compose.

    Obviously there’s a personal component – no one is forcing me to write these things, I do it by my own choice. However, there’s undeniably more effort involved than if I were simply to post a bunch of pretty photos or write about how lovely it was on our hike today.

    Also, visitors take away much more from informative blogs than they do from personal blogs. A substantial portion of my hits every day are the result of Google searches looking for information on a subject. I get many comments from people who have found my blog through such a means, thanking me for answering their question.

    I enjoy what I do but it is a lot of work, and in order to maintain good-quality posts I need to take away from either my paying work hours, or my relaxing off-hours. I’m not looking for $100 a week to cover the 10 hours a week I spend writing, but it would be nice, perhaps, to receive a little compensation for the time and effort I put into creating what I feel is a valued resource.

    It also doesn’t have to be direct financial payment. I would be perfectly happy accepting a new pair of binoculars from a company, for instance, which I could then write about in my blog – “In recognition of the fine blog I maintain, XYZ Binoculars sent me a brand new pair of Exwhyzeds. I was excited to take my new optics for a spin, and headed out to our patch of woods.”

    You don’t necessarily have to indicate whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em (some people may be torn about endorsing products, or may not want to badmouth something they got free even if they’re not crazy about it), but even just mentioning the company’s name and product are publicity for them. The bins are yours to do what you want with, after that – if you love ‘em, then keep them for yourself. If you don’t, put them up on eBay. The challenge, of course, is convincing companies that this is a valid and productive means of marketing.

    I agree for the average blogger – myself included – making a living from the blog is probably a bit of a pipe dream. But that doesn’t mean that receiving a small amount of compensation for our time and hard work is necessarily out of the question.

    Even quality personal blogs can make this work. I encourage folks to check out Confessions of a Pioneer Woman. This woman makes enough money from her blog to buy and give away deluxe prizes every month – we’re talking $200 gift cards to Target, or computer printers, or such things – simply out of the earnings from her blog, which I think is primarily advertising revenue. Microsoft has given her copies of MS Office – not cheap! – to give away on her blog. She’ll easily get 10,000 comments in response to such a giveaway. Her normal posts are usually at least in the hundreds. And yet, her blog is simply a personal blog about life on a ranch. Can we as nature blogs emulate what she has done?

  13. January 16, 2009 at 11:33 PM | Permalink

    Great question, Seabrooke. I feel a kinship with you in the effort you put into your posts–learning enough about a subject before posting on it to say something of worth. We both know that the learning goes much faster with all the FREE information we can get on the Web! ;-/

    Heh. Nice not to have to pay for it, isn’t it?

    The genie is out of the bottle. We’ve been giving it away, and now how do we figure out a way to ask people to pay for it? I do not know. When you google and get a nice Encylopedia Brittanica entry on something you’re trying to learn about, how do you feel when you hit the “Subscribe Now!” wall if you want to read more? If you’re like me, you go find it for free somewhere else. That’s what we’re up against.

    Confessions of a Pioneer Woman is selling a lifestyle, a brand, just as surely as Martha Stewart is. Dooce is selling the same thing. Both of them let their readers into their private lives and thoughts. Both use humor, often pretty earthy and salty. There are ways to do that and still be dignified. But it is a delicate dance, and one that not many nature bloggers are really prepared to do. We as nature bloggers need to serve something people really, really want, and there are a lot of us trying to do just that. It’s fascinating to see our various styles and responses to the big void out there. Weight loss sells, self-improvement sells; porn sells…our bugs and Bostons and bunnies are a long way from being a hot commodity for most of the surfing public. But we’re all trying, floundering around, and this is a place where we can learn a little more about how it’s done. Thanks for re-opening the discussion, Wren!

  14. January 17, 2009 at 11:00 AM | Permalink

    Looking at the poll results so far, and reading the comments, my sense is that we aren’t all that far apart in our thinking – more differences in degrees or logistics than philosophical differences. I’m interested in hearing from others, and having more responses to the poll to get a broader picture of what nature bloggers think. Don’t be shy, people – pretend you’re writing on your blog and tell us what you really think!

  15. January 17, 2009 at 2:22 PM | Permalink

    I think what complicates this discussion is the wide definition of “nature bloggers.”

    While on one hand, part of this community is strongly rooted in science, their blogs containing densely packed posts which serve to educate and can be used as resources for study, highly crafted and “professionally” produced. Others bring insight to lives and places beyond our borders, sharing unedited images amidst sparse, halting language—in the simplest and most elementary of offerings. Perhaps, in some ways, saying every bit as much.
    We are both the formally educated and the lay nature-enthusiast, made to feel welcome in a community by participating in a “network,” feeling part of the whole, yet each separate and unlike that standing beside it.
    And, although the rankings clearly show some far out- ranking others, the fact that the others are here at all, is evidence of an audience seeking just their style.

    The hours I spend on my blog, after an 8-hour day in a job totally unrelated to nature, are all I can afford. And, many times, sitting down to write would come with fewer feelings of guilt for all that is left undone if a paycheck spoke to its worth. But a freedom comes with being unsponsored—and an honest, genuine voice that only I own.
    And to the “natural” part of me, that feels real good.

  16. January 18, 2009 at 5:38 PM | Permalink

    Honestly, I think the idea of writing a nature blog with the expectation of any kind of serious income from it is loathsome! Certainly that’s the case for me. I do this because I love doing it; it never entered my head when I started that I could/should keep a blog with the prospect of earning the coin of the realm.

    A little bit of money from advertising? That seems benign enuf, but I don’t know the economics of it. I doubt that my 40-50 visits a day are going to earn enuf at all to make that kind of trouble worth the trouble. When a blog with a massive hit count starts doing it for money, the blog becomes a factory.

    Furthermore, if I thought I was writing for payment, I’d probably feel some kind of obligation to write “well” or “informatively.” Is this post long enuf? Is the science in it accurate? Am I being too personal? Am I drifting off topic? Is my tone professional? Am I repeating an earlier post without sufficient substantive difference? And so it goes. I’d have to take on a different online persona than the amiable goof I am now. I certainly couldn’t toss off some of my quickie posts and feel like I’m earning my way. And if I saw my income dropping would I feel a need to change my style or purpose or pleasure in order to turn things around?

    I’ve stopped reading a lot of blogs that are too clearly just window dressing and cross advertising for the blogger’s other activities (nature blogs and others). To me, blogging is informal and egalitarian. By making it a working enterprise, I think you rob it of its true wealth.

    One thing is certain, I would NEVER, EVER pay to visit a blog! The writers of most of the blogs I visit every single day have become friends of mine. If I thought there was some commercial exchange going on between us, it would no longer be friendship.

  17. January 19, 2009 at 12:16 PM | Permalink

    I guess it depends on what sort of blog you’re writing, Pablo, and your motivation for doing it. As Nina points out, there are many definitions of “nature blogger”. There are many blogs out there who write for themselves, for the fun of it or for the friendly interactions that result from it. There never was and never will be any sense of obligation for these folks.

    For others, though, they do feel something of a sense of obligation. It isn’t “I’d like to post this evening”, it’s “I need to post this evening”, “I have to post this evening, I haven’t posted in a couple of days”. All those questions that you pose already go through my mind when I’m working on a post. I’ve established a persona for the blog, I’ve established a readership who have come to expect that of my blog, and I feel an obligation to maintain that. I know I’m not alone in feeling that way.

    I don’t think blogging will ever be able to use a subscription model, except for the best and/or most popular blogs such as Perez Hilton or LOLCats, that have millions of visitors, and even then those blogs would lose visitors by doing so. Advertising and sponsorship, if done well, are benign enough that it shouldn’t substantially change the reading experience for your visitors even while allowing you to receive a bit of income to justify the time you spend on it instead of fixing the leaky faucet or getting to the laundry or spending time with your spouse. Because it is time consuming, any way you look at it.

    Everyone has the right to decide whether that’s an avenue they want to pursue with their blog, but I would hope that those who do wish to seek some return in exchange for their valuable time and effort wouldn’t be scorned for it. We aren’t bothered by newspapers that run ads on their websites so that they can continue to provide the news articles to the public for free. Why should we be any more so for blogs, which ultimately are just another form of online publishing, our own personal daily opinion and nature columns?

  18. January 19, 2009 at 6:38 PM | Permalink

    Seabrooke, I’m glad you addressed Pablo’s comment. Couldn’t have said it any better. Everyone’s entitled to his own feelings about generating income from their own blog, but to describe trying to make a blog bring a little money in as “loathsome,” or implying that making any money on nature blogging would “rob it of its true wealth” is, in my opinion, going too far.

    Is Perez Hilton doing something on his blog that contributes more to society than a good nature blogger? Does gossiping about “stars” lift us all up? Is it worth subscribing to, while a nature blog that gently teaches while entertaining is not?

    It’s the Puritan view that work should be onerous and hard and art is essentially frivolous and not worth remuneration that still pervades these attitudes, and as someone who makes a modest living (and would like to make more) from doing things that are joyous and creative, I have to reject that worldview.

  19. January 20, 2009 at 12:23 PM | Permalink

    I’ve got to say that this is a very interesting discussion to me because it closely parallels what I see going on in my other pin-money hobby, which is writing genre fiction. In sf, fantasy, and especially horror, there’s a community, but also a divide between people who give away their work (online or in ‘zines) and people who make money from it (if only a few cents a word.) I think that a two-tier structure like that is inevitably going to develop in nature blogging as well, if only because the line between the very best nature blogging and print nature journalism will break down as more magazines and mainstream nature organizations move to a strong online presence and either affiliate with existing blogs or get popular bloggers to create exclusive content for them.

  20. January 20, 2009 at 3:24 PM | Permalink

    Great discussion.

    My blog would not be what it is, nor would I cherish the relationships it has brought into my life, if I were expecting or demanding compensation. Besides nature, I blog about simple, deliberate living, which would naturally go against selling the whole thing.

    Of course, I would love to earn a simple, modest living doing nothing but blogging, or playing music. I would not be adverse to selling a tangible product on my blog, such as a self published book or musical CD, to meet that end. But I will not blog to deliberately increase my audience, or cater to what the lowest common denominator wants. To turn away from the core of what my blog means, for what I stand for, would be loathsome. I think that’s what Pablo meant.

  21. January 20, 2009 at 7:40 PM | Permalink

    These last two comments are a balm. It is a privilege to self-publish online, a privilege to gain and keep a reading audience. Trying to find a way to help support oneself through blogging is not equivalent to selling out for mega-hits or appealing to the LCD. It can be, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Getting a lot of hits doesn’t automatically make a blogger part of some kind of hierarchical conspiracy. It often happens purely by accident, in fact. And placing ads, accepting sponsorships, and soliciting contributions does not automatically degrade the blog or the blogger’s character. Good content is good content, whether the blogger benefits monetarily from it or not. I think we owe it to all bloggers to let their content speak for itself.

  22. January 20, 2009 at 10:19 PM | Permalink

    I let my content speak for itself. That’s why I blog. That’s why I don’t edit my photos too much, and don’t expect the world to thank me for publishing them. I just do this because I enjoy it. I’m happy to be hovering around number 100; I do not blog to expect any more.

  23. Greg
    January 21, 2009 at 8:47 AM | Permalink

    Did you ever get invited to a friends for dinner only to find yourself in a sales pitch for time shares or beauty products? That’s what blogging for money seems like to me. Kinda smarmy! Journalism is one thing, but blogging ain’t journalism. And the notion that getting paid to write a post will lead to better writing is just plain insulting to people who write for the fun of it.

  24. January 21, 2009 at 10:14 AM | Permalink

    As others have written, there is a wide variety of nature blog(ger)s here and based on those I’ve seen I may be the extremist of the group.

    I love the natural history and science writing of people such as David M. Carroll and David Quammen and have dozens of field guides, but my primary interests are in questions of environmental ethics, preservation, and the blunt social criticism of “nature writers” such as Thoreau and Abbey.

    I think the pursuit of money is one of the major causes of the destruction of the natural world we’re all interested in. So for me, a blog (which I see as very different from the books I referred to) which was trying to raise money would turn me off immediately.

  25. January 21, 2009 at 7:24 PM | Permalink

    I understand why some people are ascribing a sacred purity to blogging but somehow wish we could put this sacred cow out to pasture. A blog is just a medium. Yes, blogs can become much more than that. Yes, groups of bloggers can create incredible connections and communities that transcend all manner of physical and metaphysical boundaries. But why should blogs be unique among media as a solely noncommercial pursuit?

    No offense to anyone here but trying to separate environmentalism and money just puts all the power in the hands of developers. The reason we want ecotourism and vegetarian/locavore/organic movements and birding and nature observation, etc. etc. to become lucrative is because then people can actually afford to protect the earth. The alternative is, for many, blogging about your passion by night but toiling in a potentially nature-unfriendly industry by day to pay the bills.

    Does anyone who abhors the idea of bloggers earning income from ads or sponsors subscribe to magazines? Purchase books? Buy art? Why is a blog different?

  26. January 21, 2009 at 8:20 PM | Permalink

    There are two separate questions here. One is whether you, personally, want to (or can) make money from your blog. The other is whether anyone can make money from nature blogging, or is it a fool’s errand?

    For the first, it’s largely a matter of personal taste, opinion, or belief. Whether you want to do this is an issue on which reasonable people can hold different opinions and still enjoy each other’s company, conversation, and blogs. However, being an opinion, it’s not subject to logical proof and demonstration.

    The second, an economic model for nature blogging, may or may not be attainable, but it is a issue that can be explored, tested, and evaluated. An conclusion can be reached. For those who are interested in exploring this, NBN can be a forum for exchanging ideas, tips, and success stories. For those who(for whatever reason) want to maintain their blogs as hobbies and not bother with any of the related issues, there will be lots of other topics for discussion. And with luck, we’ll all learn from each other.

    The second

  27. January 21, 2009 at 11:47 PM | Permalink

    Thank you Mike, Thank you Julie.
    Why should a blog be any different from writing magazine articles or books?
    The whole starving arteeest thing is soooo ’60′s. In fact, popular blog or not, I would go so far as to say if no one has valued your writing enough to pay you for the service at some time, you are not truly a published author.

    I don’t think the subscription economic model will ever fly for reasons already stated in the comments.
    But, how could ads in the sidebar somehow reduce the validity of your blog? Good photography and good writing are not changed by having advertisements hovering on the perimeter.
    As for me, I don’t have the luxury of looking down my nose at people trying to follow their muse AND earn a few bucks at the same time.
    There’s this teacher salary, two kids in college and one on the brink that demand I seek as much income as possible while still being me,… the tree hugger, snake snuggler, fish aficianado.

    The tiny trickle of cash that my Google Adsense ads bring me is much appreciated and certainly hasn’t affected my content. In fact, the Google ads often bring a bit of irony when the software crawls a rant about real estate developers I’ve written and then inserts real estate ads. Oh well, I get a chuckle and a few dollars. So be it.

    It is such a personal choice that I wonder why we are even discussing it. Just do it … or not!

  28. January 22, 2009 at 8:20 AM | Permalink

    Mike, I couldn’t agree more. Ironically, I wrote the following in a private email yesterday, probably as you were composing your spot-on comment:

    “Obviously, I have my own issues about the money-from-blogging discussion, and when words like ‘loathsome’ come out, it’s hard not to get offended. The thread I’m getting from some of these comments is that there’s a feeling that a blog that brings in money must necessarily be tainted by that (something with which I do not agree); that the desire for money will direct its content (again, I disagree) and that this all turns the blogger into some kind of sellout to The Man. I’m overstating it for effect, but it bothers me to see people regarding blogging as if it were somehow different from any other creative pursuit. If someone buys one of my paintings, does that make me a money-grubbing sellout? No, that makes me a working artist, and we all accept that artists need to sell their paintings and/or rights to their work. So if someone places an ad on my blog or responds to a fund drive, does that transform my blog into something that’s suddenly unworthy of being read?

    “I think my perspective is somewhat different from many other’s viewpoints in that I’ve been making my living off creative pursuits from the get-go. So when I attain a level of skill at something, whether it’s illustration or writing or photography, accepting money for that work is second nature to me, even if it’s a long time coming. I started as a scientific illustrator in 1976, got paid tiny amounts for ink drawings, then started writing in 1986, got paid tiny amounts for little newsletter articles and illustrations, and now that I’m taking fairly decent photos it’s not unusual to have someone approach and want to pay me a little something (like $25 or $75) for use of one of my digital images. So that’s another small avenue of revenue, income trickles for which no one, presumably, would expect me to apologize. Why should blogging be any different? Is it holy or sacred, just because most everything else on the Net is free? I don’t think so, and I think the long term trend on the Net is going to be making it pay or taking it down. We’re going to look back on these “everything must be free” times as the golden years, I think. I really do.”

    So, Mike, we think alike, and even at the same time. I appreciate your chipping in to this discussion, and I’m glad it got started, because I need to try to understand others’ attitudes toward generating income on a blog, whether I agree with them or not. As the Net continues to crush print media–and every other medium– under its big fat sloppy everything’s- free fist, the issue is only going to loom larger.

    To further explain my perspective on this issue, I don’t have a “day job” that supports me while I blog. Blogging is a huge part of what I do now, and I take time away from paying work to do it. Not whining here–that’s nobody’s fault but mine. Sometimes I feel like an idiot for pouring so much into blogging when the rewards are all fuzzy and warm and intangible–virtual hugs. I’ve faced the fact that, if I want to keep blogging, nobody but me is going to figure out how to make it help pay the bills. The gas guy and an electrician are coming today as we are without heat and it’s 20 degrees outside. 49 degrees in the kitchen as I write. It’d be nice if their services were free, too, but they aren’t, and it all has to be paid for somehow.

  29. January 24, 2009 at 9:01 AM | Permalink

    This may be a discussion better left to visit on a fresh and clear mind, but the intensity of feelings shared here and the clarity with which some see this is intriguing–here I am, early on a Saturday morning, reading on…
    And, perhaps as one still formulating feelings toward this, let me throw yet another thought into the stew.
    As one who fusses and struggles with my blog’s layout, I pay more attention than I probably should to appearances. I shift and crop and center text,…attempting to create, in addition to interesting content, a pleasant place. A “presentation,” if you will, if this could be art.
    And, though an ad may not take anything from my content, it certainly could take from its presentation– by the addition of competing text. Or banners so bold and brassy, you forget what you came there for.
    To me, its less about the idea of gain from money and more a concern for controlling the entire package.
    So the question,”would you accept pay?” really becomes this:
    Could we get her to sit demurely on a stool in the corner, instead of dancing through the art show like a leg-kicking, Las Vegas chorus-line?

  30. January 24, 2009 at 10:25 AM | Permalink

    I think we all know the answer to that last question, Nina!

  31. January 25, 2009 at 10:53 PM | Permalink

    You pose a good question, Nina. I don’t know if an ad can be effective if it’s subtle enough not to be obtrusive. We’ve all seen the gyrating, bouncing animated ads on places like Intellicast-ugh. Maybe one answer for those who are trying to create an aesthetic experience on the blog page is in periodic fund drives.

  32. January 26, 2009 at 5:14 PM | Permalink

    I want to thank Mike for directing me to this discussion. I already do plenty of volunteer internet work making identifications of insects and spiders, but I am a writer first, and to me the idea of ‘not’ being compensated for my work is what has discouraged me from blogging at all. I am certainly not alone, and the world is being deprived of glorious insights and witticisms and hypotheses because those writers cannot afford to write for free. What needs to happen is for corporations, non-profits, and other businesses to recognize the power of blogging and enlist folks like us to do so for a respectable wage. You could then choose whether to accept an offer based on your own personal philosophy. As for advertising, you can always include a disclaimer on your blog site stating you do not endorse any product or service advertised there (if you have no control over the ad content). You could also recruit your own advertisers. I’d talk the Nature Conservancy into being one of my advertisers, along with AARP:-) In short, I think there are creative answers out there. The bottom line for me, though, is that respect for my writing must translate at least in part into dollars.

  33. January 27, 2009 at 11:45 PM | Permalink

    Julie, everyone claims to hate the PBS fundraisers, but the stations keep having them because they work. You may be on to something.

    Eric, thanks for joining us. You make some good points, and this is obviously a topic of much interest to the nature blog community. I hope you’ll continue to share your thoughts and participate in the discussion.

  34. February 8, 2009 at 10:42 AM | Permalink

    I think a simple resolution of this conversation can be reached by definition. As creators of our own blogs, we can, of course, use them however we wish, and if our goals are personal or financial, both are legitimate. But I think for the benefit of our readers (and to help keep ourselves on track), we ought to define our blogs in a public way.

    I’d say that bloggers who write for some reason other than financial gain (though I’d say a window for an ad that pays based on visitor traffic would not be considered an attempt at serious financial gain from blogging) should use the term “traditional blog.”

    Those who seek to make some kind of serious income from their blogs (which is not to say that such blogs can’t have a personal component) can use the term “commercial blog.”

    And I say all of this from the perspective of a published-for-pay feature writer with many nature articles in circulation including many in a well-regarded publication with a pass-along readership of more than a million.

    I think a traditional blog is one of conversation. A commercial blog is, in a way, one of performance.

  35. April 13, 2009 at 5:22 PM | Permalink

    Goodness! Here’s a site that argues thoughtfully about resisting the temptation to put ads on blogs:

    http://www.adfreeblog.org/faq.htm

    Some nice links there too.

  36. April 14, 2009 at 8:12 PM | Permalink

    I think this is a “agree to disagree” discussion. I respect bloggers who don’t want ads on their blogs, but I have no problem with those who choose to do so. After all, I watch commercial television, listen to commercial radio, read newspapers and magazines(on- and off-line) with ads in them, and read billboards at sports arenas. It seems a bit arbitrary to draw the line at ads on blogs.

    Where I do agree, however, is in regard to the undisclosed paid reviews. They are usually pretty obvious, but I still object in principle to the pretense.

  37. October 6, 2009 at 6:59 PM | Permalink

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/06/business/media/06adco.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=bloggers&st=cse

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  1. [...] hope that it may also lead to a paid gig down the road, too. The recent discussion on the NBN Blog, Economic Models for Sustainable Blogging, about the feasibility of earning income from one’s blog has been an interesting one. I [...]