Becoming a writer means putting up with a lot of things. Most of those things are necessary if you want to keep being a writer.
Your revenue stream is your life blood, so you’ll have to…
Mr. Devil’s Advocate: “Sorry I’m late. You would not believe the day I’m having.”
Oh, Mr. Devil’s Advocate. How nice of you to join us for this post. And after staying aloof for so long.
Mr. DA: “I’m always with you in spirit.”
I am all too aware of that. Still, I have to wonder where you’ve been for so many weeks.
Mr. DA: “Not that it’s any of your business, but I have been with my client.”
Really? Do tell.
A Big Year
Mr. DA: “The problem is this whole stinking year. Ever since it began, I’ve been working overtime. You didn’t hear it from me, but my client has BIG plans for the world before 2016 is over.”
Well, I have noticed quite a few ominous signs recently. Care to clue us in to what your biggest customer is planning?
Mr. DA: “Oh, just everything. There are fingers in every conceivable pie from here to December 31st. And, naturally, every plan and campaign needs a good looking over by his legal team. I mean, he’s always the devil, but this year he’s really been THE DEVIL, if you know what I mean.”
I’m sure I don’t. But I guess it doesn’t concern me.
Mr. DA: “Technically, it concerns all people everywhere.”
Right, right. But I won’t ask you to violate attorney-client privilege just for the sake of my little blog. Besides, we have such an important topic to cover today.
Mr. DA: “And what would that be?”
Ways to Monetize Your Blog
Mr. DA: “Heh. Well that is something I can help with. Root of all evil, and whatnot.”
Precisely. This post’s topic deals with the necessary evil of finding ways to make money as a writer, since it can take years before your work makes enough money on its own merit for you to quit all other considerations.
A successful blog can yield profits enough to keep a writer’s head above water during the dry times. An income source—even if it’s only a supplementary source—can make the going so much the easier. Today’s economy may seem turbulent, but there are more ways than ever now to reach people and be paid for it. Granted, not everyone can become an internet celebrity, but in an infinite search space (such as the internet) there are more than enough niches for everyone to set up their own specialized shop, as it were.
It is possible to make a living off of your blog. Not easy. Just possible.
Mr. DA: “Yes, well that’s all well and good. But of course I have to ask if you have had any success in this arena. Are you making a living from your blog?”
Admittedly, no. I have not reached the finish line, but while in the race, I have certainly noticed a few speed bumps. And I think we can all benefit from a discussion of what those are. I may be in the same boat as everyone else on this, but that’s just it: we’re all in the same boat. If we don’t listen to each other’s ideas, then we’re not going to make it back to shore.
Mr. DA: “Well in that case, Mr. Presumptuous, lead on.”
The Most Important Part is not being a Jerk
By which, of course, I mean that the most important part is not being a jerk to your audience. You can be as jerky as you want on whatever issue you choose, and a lot of petulant blogs generate a lot of traffic and income. If you are vehemently against certain issues, you will lose the readers who support those issues but you will gain other readers, who either are neutral on the subject or who agree with yourself. Do not be a jerk to these people. And keep in mind these facts:
- People who agree with you on most subjects may still disagree with you on certain issues.
- Some people either have no opinion on the issue or have not made up their mind yet. That does not make them “the enemy.” They are just what they are—the undecided. You have to respect their agnosticism, even if you oppose it.
- Some people who are on the complete opposite end of the spectrum will still choose to become your readers. These are those blessed few people who are intelligent enough to seek out positions that contradict their own and try to understand them. Don’t be jerks to these people, even though they are, technically, “the enemy”.
- Despite the previous bullet point, there will also be some people opposed to you who will not seek to understand your position, but will seek to attack or ridicule you at every turn. You have no obligation to be nice to these people. Make them weep.
What do the above bullet points have to do with monetization? More than you might think. For no matter what advertising or monetizing mechanism you have in place, none of that will mean a hill of beans unless your blog is a place worth coming to. So when I say the most important part is not being a jerk, I mean that the most important part of being a good blogger is being a decent person.
And Don’t be the Other Kind of Jerk, Either
The other thing you want to avoid becoming is a car salesman.
Mr. DA: “Such an uncanny resemblance to my client. But then, they say everyone in the world has at least one doppelganger.”
You want to make money from your blog, but you don’t want to be the guy who is always selling something. Neil Gaiman said it best:
Use your blog to connect. Use it as you. Don’t “network” or “promote.” Just talk.
In a minute, I’m going to talk about using advertising to monetize your blog. But even before I talk about putting up ads, I am going to warn you not to put up too many. Nothing sends a reader packing like a popup window blocking the screen, except for the even-worse popup tab in the browser window (I hate those things).
Remember, there are many different kinds of capital. And the capital we call “Good Will” leads to the creation of the capital we call “Money”. If you sacrifice the former to get more of the latter, you will end up with less of both.
Methods of Monetization
Mr. DA: “Well, that was a lovely detour. But when do we get to the meat and bone of the matter? Exactly how does one make money from blogging?”
Mr. DA: “Yes, but how could you possibly…wait, what?”
Like I told you before, I have not achieved any great success at this. I don’t know what it takes to make this work consistently.
But I do know what everyone else is doing. And I know that at least some of it works.
Let’s begin with the most obvious.
For most of the internet’s history, this has been the only way to make money from a non-commercial website. We live in a world that is bombarded by ads, and people don’t put those ads up out of the kindness of their hearts. They get paid. And, for some people, this alone is enough to keep them afloat.
But there are many different ways to put ads on your blog, and some are undeniably better than others.
One of the most powerful advertising tools—if not the most powerful—in the history of mankind. Google Adsense uses the omniscient power of Google’s tracking software to provide tailor made ads to your readers. It gives you a decent amount of control over what can and cannot be advertised on your site, and most analysts use it as a standard against which all other forms of internet advertising are judged.
It is a pay-per-click service. Meaning that in order to collect any revenue, your readers need to deliberately choose to click on whatever content is being shown.
Mr. DA: “And you get to be a part of a campaign for world domination by one of the planet’s most powerful corporations.”
The Amazon Affiliate program is another popular ad service. It allows you to advertise any product that amazon sells, and have the reader buy it from your website as if you were a bona fide storefront. You can pick an individual item and put an ad for it in a specific blog post, or you can pick several items to advertise in a side bar. The whole setup is highly customizable.
The Amazon Affiliate program is a pay-per-purchase arrangement. In order to get any money from it, your readers need to buy something from Amazon.
But—and this is the most important part—your readers do not have to buy the specific product you are selling. Once they click on your Amazon Ad, a 24-hour timer starts, and anything they buy off Amazon before the timer runs out, even if it was not the product you were advertising, becomes a purchase in your favor, and you get a cut of the earnings.
Of all the different ad methods, I have the most experience with this one. And, to be honest, it hasn’t been very profitable to me. I don’t have the necessary level of self-loathing to convince people that they have to buy a product. I don’t want people to buy things off my site that they wouldn’t be buying anyway.
But if you are already planning on buying something from Amazon anyway, then why not click on one of my Amazon Affiliate links first? Or even the Amazon links on any other website of your choice. Because if you just go to Amazon of your own accord, they get 100% of the purchase. Nobody wants that. If you arrive at Amazon through the links posted on your favorite website, then that site gets a share of the purchase. And it costs you nothing.
So, in the words of a wise shopkeeper:
Pay Per Impression (CPM) Services
We’ve covered pay-per-click and pay-per-purchase services. The other primary category of internet ads is the CPM method, otherwise known as pay-per-impression.
On the surface, this looks like the best deal of the bunch: every reader who comes to your website automatically puts money in your pocket. They don’t have to click anything or buy anything or even do anything extraordinary. As long as their seat is filled, it is making you money.
However, CPM services have tons of strings attached. A lot of them won’t even consider your site unless it has 50,000 unique visitors every month. And the payouts are small—small enough that you get paid not for each view, but for each 1,000 views. They provide no way for smaller sites to make substantial gains.
Furthermore, your degree of control over the ads is limited. CPM services offer you a number of predefined formats, and usually give you no say in what is advertised. You may find your blog catering to predatory payday loan companies, phishing ads trying to steal readers personal information, or even pornographic websites.
CPM ads are often a great way to drive readers away from your blog forever. If you must use them, I would recommend that you put them in their own little pen, far away from your blog’s content.
New Alternatives to Ads
While the methods of blog monetizing have been pretty stagnant since the dawn of the internet, a number of new methods have appeared in just the past year, hoping to break the glass ceiling of possibilities.
Brave Web Browser: Get Paid to Surf or Host Content
One of the most interesting developments has been in the form of Brave, a new web browser that pays people to view pages on the internet.
Imagine getting paid for doing what you’re already doing right now: reading a blog post. That’s the basic idea behind Brave. It is a browser with a built-in ad blocker. If the web surfer chooses to forego the ad blocker, then he can get paid for viewing pages with ads. If the viewer wants to turn ads off, he can opt to pay a small fee (usually no more than pennies) to do just that, with proceeds being awarded to the website. All transactions are accomplished in Bitcoin, an online cryptocurrency that makes for seamless transfers. As a viewer or a blogger, you would get paid in Bitcoin.
According to Brave’s website, 70% of the profits go to the publishers (website owners who display ads), 15% go to viewers, and 15% goes to Brave itself.
It’s an interesting experiment.
Mr. DA: “But…?”
Which could revolutionize the internet.
Mr. DA: “BUT…?”
And change the way blogs are monetized forever.
Mr. DA: “BUT…?”
*Sigh* But it’s off to a rocky start.
Mr. DA: “Thank you.”
The Brave browser hasn’t even started making payouts yet. It will have to sign up more than a few sites to its service before it can function at all, and advertising companies are already bringing lawsuits against it. Maybe one day it will be huge, but right now, it’s all just a possibility.
Steemit: Get Paid for Creating Content
There are a lot of social media sites out there, as I have mentioned before. However, none of the major players—all of which make billions of dollars each year—has ever considered to pay their users for the content they create.
There have been exceptions, of course, some blog aggregates hold contests and award prizes to the best bloggers. Others reward participation with non-monetary achievements and trophies. But there has never been a direct pay-for-quality system. That is, until now.
Steemit is a blogging network where every post, as soon as it is submitted, can be voted on by the entire community. The more votes a post gets, the more money it makes. Quality content is rewarded, and people get paid for voting, too. It’s a nifty system that…
Mr. DA: “It’s a pyramid scheme.”
Mr. DA: “Steemit. It’s nothing more than a pyramid scheme.”
Oh. Uh, I know it’s your job to contradict me, so that I won’t make baseless assertions. Still, I’m going to have to ask you to justify your position.
Mr. DA: “Gladly.”
Mr. DA: “Ahem…”
Mr. DA: “Steemit is a platform that rewards content in the form of a cryptocurrency called Steem. Popular posts get greater rewards, but they are still denominated in Steem, which comes in three flavors:”
“Steem: a currency that can be bought, sold, and traded.”
“Steem Dollars: Shares of Steem that, through currency manipulation, are kept roughly of the same value as the U.S. Dollar. 100SD ≈ $100”
“Steem Power: A measure of the user’s clout on the platform. Everyone gets to vote on posts, yes, but some people’s votes are worth more than others. Those with great amounts of Steem Power can easily tip the scales in a blogger’s favor. Steem Power can be earned or bought, and, if the owner desires, he may sell his Steem Power for currency.”
Mr. DA: “Naturally, those who hold all the Steem Power control the entire system. And those are the people who have been with Steemit since the beginning. They can make any post a bestseller, and determine the winners and losers on a whim. It’s a classic multi-level marketing paradigm.”
I see what you mean. But isn’t the same thing true of any publicly traded company. Those who have been with the company since the beginning have amassed large amounts of stock, so they have control over the company after it goes big, or they can sell their clout for a quick payday. How is that any different than what Steemit provides?
Mr. DA: “In the case of a company, the stock means something: it’s a share of the company.”
And that’s what Steem is, too: you can think of it as a share of ownership for the Steemit platform. This is little different to how the stock market works, except that you have the option to keep the value of your shares locked in place against the value of the dollar.
Mr. DA: “A benefit that means less and less with each passing year.”
Whew. On behalf of the Federal Reserve, allow me to say “Ouch.”
But enough of that. Can’t you concede that there is some value to owning such an interesting new platform.
Mr. DA: “I’m afraid that I must stand by my original statement: it’s a pyramid scheme.”
Maybe, but it’s a scheme that you don’t have to pay any money into if you want to get money out of it. I went to the backlog of all my posts on the blog, and I reposted them on Steemit. I got almost $300 in Steem Dollars out of the experience.
Mr. DA: “Yeah, but you cashed that out as soon as you got it, right?”
Of course. I’m not an idiot.
Blogs are tons of fun, but they are also work. And turning them into reliable money makers is even harder. It’s important to remember that many bloggers only made it big because they absolutely had to—they had no other hope, and so they employed an “all of the above” strategy, taking in the trickles of money from whatever source they could find. And those trickles came together to become a river of revenue.
I know it’s hypocritical to vaunt this strategy, having never employed it myself. But hey, if people on the internet actually knew what they were talking about, blogs would not need to exist in the first place.
Think about it.
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[This week’s tagline: “Where people come…clean.”]