I’m about a month late to this party. Oh well. It’s still important to address.
On January 28, 2015, Andrew Sullivan announced his retirement from blogging. For those who don’t know, Andrew Sullivan is the grandfather of political blogging.
That’s probably an understatement. Okay, he invented political blogging.
A few days later Vox followed up with a report on what it meant that Sullivan had created a popular blog, but couldn’t figure out how to monetize it.
This seems to be the perennial challenge, doesn’t it? How do you make a living from a popular blog?
Klein said there were two reasons: scale and the erosion of voice. In his own words, “the bigger the business gets, the harder it is to retain the original voice.”
Can’t argue with that. His next statement is more revealing:
He was trying to make his blog — and its sizable audience — into a business. But blogging, for better or worse, is proving resistant to scale.”
As if it was an enigma. Like we haven’t solved this problem a hundred times over.
But not so fast.
Klein is careful to define his terms. Blogging is “the unedited voice of a person.” (That’s actually Dave Winer’s definition, Klein notes.) It’s transparent, off the cuff, random.
We all know bloggers like this whom we love. Unfortunately, some of them don’t know how to go from popularity to profitability. Which is a shame. But it’s really quite easy to fix.
My failed attempt at mission: monetize blog
My first move when I went to work for myself was to start a blog. It would be my business card. Through which people would hire me and I would charge fat fees.
But eight months in I knew I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. I needed to find a culture and cause I could put my weight behind.
All I wanted to do was work in the lab.
I used to call myself an entrepreneur. Over time I realized I was dishonest to true entrepreneurs. What entrepreneurs do was something I never wanted to do.
I was a freelancer. A mercenary.
So I spent the next ten months looking for a culture and cause I could put my weight behind. I eventually found it at Copyblogger. Which deserves a little history.
The humble start of Copyblogger
Copyblogger was founded on two blog posts a week by Brian Clark. It took months to grow the audience, but eventually it did grow.
Here’s the thing. As Brian has said in other places, monetizing an audience was easy for him. It was finding a topic that could keep his interest that was hard. Which is why he went from legal to real estate to copywriting — and now is extending it again into the health and lifestyle arena.
Brian has a business mind. And this explains why he partnered with the people behind StudioPress, Synthesis, and Scribe — and they were more than happy to partner with him. They knew he could double their sales.
He did. And then some. Today, we are a software as service company with ten million in annual revenue who employ over 50 people.
You have to be a visionary to reach that sort of business success. But of the right variety.
Not THAT kind of visionary
When I was working for myself my mind was thinking about the next client. And that drove me nuts. I looked at my blog and said, “I need to monetize this. I need to scale.”
But I had no desire to build a business. Yes, I consider myself a visionary. But not of the business sort. I have a mind that wants to lallygag in theory. Play in research. Experiment with creativity. You mean I have to make money? Crap.
But other bloggers do.
Jeff Goins is a great example. A kid from the cornfields who took the world by storm has monetized his audience successfully through a number of membership sites.
Chris Brogan has built a substantial little empire through his blog — which began with him complaining about his lame workout routine at the gym.
James Altucher is another example. Bernadette Jiwa another. Matt Inman, the man behind The Oatmeal, yet another.
Of course, some edit their work more than others. That’s smart. As Klein writes, “My voice needs editing. The cost of being unedited is too high.” But being edited and having a popular blog are not mutually exclusive.
Besides, only the hardy can stomach raw for long. Exhibit A, lead singer-songwriter for The Church Steve Kilbey’s blog.
It is true that as a blog grows the original voice diminishes. That’s the risk. Brian rarely posts original content on Copyblogger. But that’s okay. Your business will evolve. And should evolve.
In the end, I hope this article reaches Klein, Sullivan, and other bloggers who are kicking around ideas on how to monetize their blog. Because they got the first part right: build the audience.
But once you have that audience, ask them what they need. What problems you can solve for them. What products you could build — or service you could provide — that would deliver a better version of themselves.
Because here’s the alternatives: if you have a successful blog — and you want to earn a living out of it — you need to partner with or hire someone who has a business mind.
Or go work for someone else.
P.S. Have you seen my new podcast Rough Draft?
Image source: This Is Andrew Sullivan
John Patrick Weiss says
The Internet is such a crowded place, it’s hard to stand out, let alone monetize. Compelling writing, great copywriting and a unique voice help. But still. You’ve got to enjoy it and modify as you go. I think that’s part of the hidden story of success. Passion, flexibility, modification and consistent execution.
Andrij Harasewych says
Too many are jumping on the blogging bandwagon, thinking that they can quickly take a personal blog and monetize. But you are right on the money – build an audience first, and evolve with the audience that grows. It may be the audience you were seeking – it could be someone completely different – especially if your goal is monetization – you need to engage them and find out what they want.
YES. Good read.
Good to be back here, Demian.
Demian Farnworth says
Nice to have you back Greg!
“I have a mind that wants to lallygag in theory. Play in research. Experiment with creativity. You mean I have to make money? Crap.”
Demian…OMG! Me too! I hate all the business junk. Let me just play around on my keyboard.
Glad you found a place you can do that–hoping I can too!