David Risley writes at Problogger:
I’ve been quite direct about the fact that blogs are not businesses. I believe that so many bloggers get so hung up on their medium that they haven’t stepped back to look at the big picture. A blog is a promotional medium and a communications platform. And in order to really monetize a blog, you have to ask the question: To what end?
What is your real product? What is the thing that you can provide to others in exchange for some of their money? [...]
Most bloggers today operate in a dream world of made-up business rules. They try to make money with their blogs when they have nothing to sell. They’ll try to monetize the eyeballs only by littering the blog up with banner ads to sell other people’s stuff. It doesn’t take long for most bloggers to realize what a freaking difficult way to monetize a blog that is!
So many bloggers seem to think of their blog as a newspaper. Newspapers are monetized by ads. Guess what? Newspapers are disappearing left and right last time I checked. The model is limited and broken. So, why try to perpetuate it in a completely different medium?
No, the REAL answer to full-time incomes from blogs is to answer that question: What is my product? And if you don’t have one, you need to create one.
Problogger: Poor Bloggers Focus Too Much On Blog Posts
This sounds about right. It’s possible to make money from advertising on a blog – maybe even a living (in the journalism world, The West Seattle Blog is apparently doing well). But it’s damn hard. Selling a product or service is also very hard, but it’s far more realistic than selling advertising.
By the looks of it, Risley is in the “info product” business. Technically, this means selling any non-fiction or instructional content be a book, DVD, or e-book. Generally this means selling short high priced e-books (say, $100 for a 10 page PDF). I’m certainly not accusing Risley of this (the free e-book on his site is quite good, though I can’t speak to his paid products), but be warned: if you start to go down the “info product” rabbit hole, you’re going to find a greasey business full of hucksters who despise their marks. Not everyone in this business is sleazey, and there are plenty of good products out there.. But I can sum up at least 80% of the info products out there: they’re just explanations about how you can make money selling info products. But you’ll have to buy the next, more expensive info product to find out more. Hit up a torrent site, and you can find gigs of this trash.
ANYWAY. Info products are ultimately content, and I’m cynical right now about the future of selling content as a business model. But there’s probably good, honest money to be made here. Think about it – everything from The Economist special reports to Vice guides are “info products.” (That’s not an endorsement of either organization or their products, just examples).
I’m slightly more bullish on the prospects of selling services. That’s what I’ll be doing here at Mediapunk. (Though I do hope to come up with some “info products” [*gag*] to sell). There’s even potential for news organizations to move into this business in the future. To use The Economist as an example again, they have their Intelligence Unit that does business intelligence research for corporations. (See Future journalism business models: research and explanation services).
There’s plenty of other things you can sell – physical products, software, subscription services. But although “starting a business and using your blog to promote it” is fine advice, it’s far easier said than done.