Support Yourself By Blogging? Not Really

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For refugees from an intellectual and real-time-oriented business like finance, blogging for profit has natural appeal. An ex-colleague of mine blogs for a living, and a few professional acquaintances in transition have at least toyed with the idea.

How achievable is it? Not very - unless you're able to get by on $22,000 a year even after putting in enough work to attract what's considered a large audience for a blogger (100,000 unique visitors every month). That's what evidence from a widely cited survey indicates. And it's reinforced by anecdotal evidence from individual bloggers.

The economic potential of blogging is suddenly a hot topic, due in large part to an article in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal by guest columnist Mark Penn (better known as one of the nation's leading election campaign strategists). Penn cobbled together statistics from disparate surveys to argue that some 450,000 Americans rely on blogging as their main income source - more numerous than computer programmers or firefighters, and almost as numerous as lawyers - and those with substantial readership earn $75,000 on average.

Figures Don't Lie, But....

Other authorities - who apparently have greater respect for the numbers and sources they quote - call Penn's conclusions suspect (to put it with extreme politeness).

"This article is ABSURD!," one well-known financial journalist and blogger e-mailed me in reply. "My blog gets more than 100k unique visitors and was earning $200/year before we removed the ads (no point in having them)." He goes on to cite a friend of his whose site also draws heavy traffic, is highly targeted to a well-defined group... and brings in about $6,000 a year in ad revenue.

"No one is living off this money!" my contact concludes. "The notion that half a million people make anything near subsistence on blogging is total crap. I'm used to bad statistics, but this is really beyond the pale," he says of Penn's WSJ article. (For a rigorous dissection of Penn's methods, see Waldo Jaquith's post in the Virginia Quarterly Review.)

Which Pursuit Supports More People - Blogging or B-Ball?

Do some bloggers earn much more $6,000 a year? Sure. A survey in 66 countries by Technorati found about 13 bloggers who self-reported earning $200,000 or more a year. The highest-earning blogger in that survey reported annual income of $350,000.

But a lot more than 13 people worldwide earn millions from tossing an orange rubber sphere through a hoop. And a lot more than 13 bankers are still employed and earning seven-figure sums.

The figures I just cited come from Technorati's worldwide "State of the Blogosphere / 2008" survey. It doesn't show a publication date, but its findings reportedly are based on 1,290 self-selected responses from 66 countries. Although the top 1 percent - that's 13 people, give or take five after rounding - reported earning at least $200,000 a year from their blogging (including ad revenue), average income for those attracting at least 100,000 unique visitors per month was $75,000. However, the median income - a far more meaningful figure - was $22,000 for the latter group. (I couldn't find the number who drew 100,000-plus visitors anywhere in the Technorati survey results. But it does say that 6 percent of respondents - that's 78 people worldwide - manage to attract at least 50,000 unique visitors per month.)

Footnote: That same Technorati survey is the source for the key numbers in Mark Penn's dubious WSJ story about bloggers' incomes.