Blogging for dosh
There are 57 million blogs on the web and 100,000 new ones appear every day. But can you make any money from an online journal? Holly Yeager investigates
It's getting harder and harder to resist the call of the blogs. I don't mean that I can't stop reading them.
It's that as I click around sites about gossip and gadgets, pickles and politics, I can't help wondering whether to start one of my own.
After all, if so many others can find fame and fortune from their corner of the internet, isn't it worth a try?
The musings of an actress who writes about her pet cats and favourite television series have captured the imagination of internet users and made her the most-read blogger in the world.
Xu Jinglei's blog has become the first to boast 100 million hits and it's not unusual for Miss Xu to receive 1,000 responses to a posting about her cats or the difficulties of learning English for a 33-year-old aspiring Beijing actress.
She spends about 20 minutes a day on her writing and it's this commitment that may be a reason for her blog's popularity. Fans can be almost certain that every day she will post yet another quick update.
Henry Copeland, founder of Blogads -- which connects bloggers and advertisers -- understands the temptation, pointing to the wild success of "Perez Hilton", a sassy online gossip columnist who started his blog just two years ago and now registers almost 100 million impressions a month.
With his sniping comments such as "Need Stylist" scrawled on celebrity photographs, Perez has a cult following and a brisk advertising business to show for it. "People look at that and say, 'That could be me too'," Copeland says.
Jim Furtado is one of those. He started his blog, Baseball Think Factory, nearly six years ago when he was working as a fireman in Massachusetts.
Now the Boston Red Sox fan says he spends about 40 hours a week working on the site -- in addition to his regular job.
Furtado is a bit frustrated because his time for writing about baseball is crowded out by the demands of keeping the technology working and chasing down ads.
"It's not as much fun as when I first started it," he says.
The site has well over a million visits a month and brings in a little more than $1,000 (€700) a month from ads, but Furtado is trying hard to boost the cash intake.
"As you start spending tremendous amounts of time, your wife says, 'You better start making money on this'.,But he knows it won't be easy. "I'm going to have to put in even more time.,Furtado is far from alone in spending long hours on his blog. The word (shortened from web log) was not used until 1999, but today there are 57 million blogs around the world, with new ones being launched at a rate of about 100,000 a day, according to Technorati, a blog tracking firm.
A poll last year by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that most US bloggers do what they do to express themselves creatively and to document, and share, their personal experiences.
Only 7pc said their main reason for blogging was to make money.
But the market for blog advertising has become surprisingly large, hitting an estimated $36m (€26m) last year, according to PQ Media, a Connecticut-based consultancy. With its promise of engaged readers in key demographics and market niches, spending on blog advertising is expected to continue its rapid growth and top €200m by 2010, the group says.
Blogs can bring other kinds of success, too. Julie Powell, who called herself a "government drone by day, renegade foodie by night", became a blogging superstar in 2004 when she chronicled her attempt to cook all the recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a single year. The buzz was so great that she got a book deal, and the resulting Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen was a bestseller.
So why do some blogs bring in the big bucks and others flounder?
Successful bloggers must work long hours -- "18 hours a day, truly compulsively", Copeland says. They also need the guts to commit themselves fully to their projects.
Perhaps most importantly, they need to cultivate a voice that will attract readers and keep them coming back.
Copeland's five-year-old business, with 10 US employees and a dozen more in Budapest who work on programming and customer support, is one of several that have sprung up in recent years, connecting blogs with advertisers and allowing bloggers to run ads without dealing directly with advertisers.
The rates vary wildly -- about $10,000 (€7,000) a week for a prominent spot on a big-name site, and $20 a week for an ad along the side of less-well- known blogs.
All in all, Copeland says there are hundreds of people who get monthly cheques of $100 to $1,000 and a much smaller group for whom "it's a real business".
Darren Rowse has managed to make blogging a business. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Rowse started blogging when he was a church minister.
Today, he still ministers but as a volunteer, while drawing his income from his blogs, including one of his most successful ones, Pro Blogger, and from related activities such as consulting, speaking and running a blog network.
He says one common mistake that he sees bloggers make is getting obsessed with one particular element of their blog at the expense of others.
"A successful blog needs good content, usable design, a marketing strategy and search engine optimisation.,That said, it's clear to Rowse that the blogosphere rewards the quirky.
A case in point is Manolo's Shoe Blog, which mixes footwear advice, criticism, and celebrity sightings.
The blog's anonymous author, who writes in the third person, told Rowse he earns "in excess of six figures a year".
With all that encouragement, I asked Copeland if he had heard any dramatic stories about blogs that failed.
"You don't hear of a lot of species going extinct, because they just fall over in the forest and die, without much of a whimper or a growl.,Then I asked what he thought I should do the next time I felt the beckoning of the blogs. "I don't think you have the guts," he said.