Blogs are an unforgiving medium

by Ritwik on July 5, 2009

Everyone knows that there exist people who make money off their blogs. They run these little “ads served by google” on their online pages and get paid every time someone clicks on one of these links. If one has many thousands (or even hundreds of thousands or more) readers, then these translate into a lot of clicks on ads. In the language of e-commerce, such clicks are called click-thrus. In the era of Web 2.0, blogging is a major industry.

But just how hard is it to convert your blog into a profitable venture?

The “business” of blogging comes with a very unique set of challenges, over and above the basic challenges that are to be faced by any entrepreneur.

When you sell a product,  you face the following fundamental challenges:

1. making a good product
2. promoting your product
3. providing strong after-sales support and service to make sure the consumer returns to you time and again, and also sends others your way through word-of-mouth.

Companies that manage to meet these challenges adequately over a period of time are generally successful, that is to say, profitable.

Now let us consider blogs. A blog owner has to inevitably be good at points 1 and 2.

(1) He has to create a good product – an interesting blog that preferably fills a niche in the market.
(2) He has to constantly promote his product (ie, his blog) on search engines, on sites like technorati, and through word of mouth.

Point (3) is not critical to blogs simply because no physical product is being sold. But a blogger does have to use good sources and generally be honest with his readers,respond to their comments and engage in discussion, otherwise his credibility would go up in smoke.

But, even a blogger excellent at handling what I call the “fundamental challenges” would struggle to monetize his blog. The problem is not strategy. The problem is content.

In terms of content, blogs are unique. A blogger has to literally think of fresh, interesting, slightly out of the ordinary stories practically every day to keep readers interested. He dreams up some idea, packages it in an attractive style and tone, maybe adds a dollop of sensationalism, and finally looks for a HOOK (maybe in the form of a smart title) to find an ever greater number of potential readers. A blogger gets no breaks; he does not have the luxury of waiting for moments of inspiration unlike musicians, artists or novelists.

A musician or a novelist can produce an album/book over the course of a long period of time, then sit back and relax and spend their royalty cheques as they recharge their batteries, till they hit the next jackpot idea. A blogger simply cannot afford that. 2 or 3 days of no activity on his blog and his readers will move on, taking the advertising dollars with them.

I know what you are thinking: journalism. Newspapers, news channels and websites survive on the basis of fresh content served everyday. So what’s unique about blogs?

Simply this: ever heard of a newspaper produced by a solitary journalist? Ever heard a news broadcast created day after day by a single person? There may be some blogs with multiple authors, but the vast majority of blogs are the personal musings of a solitary individual.

At a deeper level, newspapers can choose, and are generally encouraged, to be formulaic. Their basic function is very well defined: serve news. This function requires a lot of hard work, writing and editing, but not necessarily creativity. Blogging is different. You typically wouldn’t change your newspaper if it covers news adequately. On the other hand, you’ll never stick with a blogger who becomes formulaic, who fails to hit you with new, interesting, maybe bizarre events and commentary day after day.

You read newspapers because you want information, film reviews, gossip and a couple of editorials and analysis. On the other hand, from a blog you basically want entertainment. Or at the very least, information not provided by other sources. Familyhack is a great example of such a blog.

As I become a somewhat regular blogger, my respect for people like Seth Godin keeps rising; bloggers who make money are people who have the ability to produce exceptional content on a daily basis to keep us all entertained through our virtual wanderings.

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