Recently Martin Crosbie wrote a post where he talked a bit about money, communes, and paying it forward. In that article he raised some questions about the fine balance between ethics, money, and the reasonable desire to make a buck or two. The article generated some good discussion in the comments. Another discussion away from IU about the economics of running a website made me realize that many people don’t understand the financial reality. This post is going to discuss this, a bit about monetization of a blog or website, and give a hint for what readers can do to support the websites they like and frequent.
I’ll start with the expense side. It’s possible to start and run a website or blog with minimal expenses. At least in theory the expenses could be nothing. Blogger allows you to setup a basic blog for nothing. But if you’d prefer people visit your site at www.mygreatblog.com instead of mygreatblog.blogspot.com, you’ll have an expense to register a domain name. Additional capability and flexibility all come at a price. A more typical blog or website done on a shoestring might involve domain registration, website hosting, and possibly the purchase of some plugins or a theme to add functionality or improve the look and feel of the site. It’s possible to nickel and dime yourself into the poor house, but realistically you can easily cover the basics for a couple hundred dollars a year. Viewed as a hobby, this is relatively cheap.
On the revenue side of the ledger, there are a few ways to generate income. Those I’ve come up with fall into five broad categories. Display advertising, other advertising promotions, affiliate income, direct sale of products, and sale of other services. I’m curious if anyone reading can think of potential sources of revenue I’ve missed. How much revenue a website generates is always going to have some relation to the number of eyeballs you attract, with other factors playing a part. Not all of these five categories are suitable for all websites.
I’m quickly going to discuss the last two. They’re related in that they’re both selling something directly, either a product (generally one you produce) or as advertising for a service you provide. There are bloggers out there who claim to make a six-figure income from blogging. From what I can see, most of their income comes from one of these two items. It might be a $25 PDF eBook on “how to make eleventy-bazillion dollars blogging” or selling their consulting services on how to make big bucks as a blogger. For IU’s audience, these might take the form of selling your books directly (autographed paper copies or possibly eBook downloads allowing you to keep the 30% that Amazon would otherwise get) or advertising your services as an editor, proofreader, or blog tour host. I also view these as using the website to support another business, not a case of the website as money maker. Neither of these is practical and, in many instances, is also not suitable for a typical book-oriented website.
The other three categories are all practical for a bookish oriented website. Depending on the specifics of your site, advertising can be tricky. Blogger makes it easy to have display advertising using Google Adsense. You define where ads go on your page, what size they should be, and they’ll serve up ads with no effort on your part. They do a good job of matching blog content to the kind of ads that go on your site, which can be good or bad. As L.A. Lewandowski explained in her post My Perception is My Reality earlier this year, this may result in running advertising for Kirkus Reviews, Author Solutions, and the like. How much you’ll make from Adsense is dependent upon the amount of traffic to your site and, with some ads, whether anyone clicks on the ad. Position of ads may or may not figure directly into revenue, but definitely influences it. The money adds up, but not very fast. My best day was just shy of $50 in revenue, but that was with over 200,000 page views. For a typical site this is usually going to generate revenue in the single or double digits. (That’s in a month, not a day.)
Another option is direct selling ads. These may be display advertising that look just like what Google Adsense would serve up, or it could be some other paid promotion (being “featured” on a site in some fashion), the form of advertising Indies Unlimited sells. What the market will bear depends on your reach. Scanning what IU charges for their promotional opportunities and some quick back of the envelope math tells me this isn’t going to make anyone rich. Assuming IU has these priced right, you’ll want to keep in mind that what you would be able to charge might not be as much if your site isn’t in the top 50,000 websites globally. The upside to this approach is that you’re getting 100% of what the advertiser is paying and have complete control over what is advertised on your site. The downside is, managing this is a lot of work for someone. (If Kat tells me this task is going to be assigned to me, she’ll have my minion resignation letter via email in seconds.)
I suggested Project Wonderful as an alternative to Adsense in a recent post. This has the advantage of giving you more control over your advertisers. For sites that don’t get enough traffic to justify a price that would cover the time required to manage the direct sale of ads, this might be the way to go.
How advertising is going to be perceived and what you’re willing to advertise is going to depend on your site. IU has an extensive and time-consuming vetting process to insure the books we’re helping promote are worthy. I struggled with accepting advertising for my review site, eventually deciding that if it is obviously an ad, that people would understand it wasn’t an endorsement, although I do reject ads for some businesses that seem shady such as vanity presses.
The last item is affiliate sales. If you feature books, you probably link people to the appropriate sales page on a retailer’s site. Maybe multiple retailers. If you do this, you should become an affiliate of that retailer. The lovely Ms Brooks has a tutorial for Amazon affiliates that should help with this. As an affiliate you’ll earn a percentage of whatever someone buys for a period after going to the retailer using one of the specially coded links on your site. Not only will you get a cut if they buy the book you sent them to look at, but you’ll get a cut of the Kibbles and Bits, vibrator, and brand new car they buy while there. (Amazon is called The Everything Store, so they must have cars somewhere.) You don’t even have to be endorsing something to link to it and potentially make money. My biggest affiliate month ever was the money I made from people going to Amazon from a negative review and buying something else. (Items I got credit for that month included a set of computer speakers, a breast pump, and three new Kindles.)
All of these methods of monetizing are worthwhile, because a trickle of money for something you’d be doing anyway is a bonus. However, the reality for most book sites like IU and both sites I run (the big promotion sites like Bookbub being the obvious exceptions) are that a reasonable goal for most is to cover expenses. The best month ever on my review blog generated revenue that was about 5% of my day job salary. Even with a 200,000 page view day and over half a million visits in a month. I’d be thrilled with that much traffic every month, but even then, quitting the day job wouldn’t be an option.
For those who have made it this far, you’re probably wondering why people run review websites or Indies Unlimited. The answer is going to vary, but those who are in it for the money aren’t around for long. However, a little money is always welcome. If you’re going to shop at Amazon, go there by clicking a link on a site you’d like to support. Those little trickles of cash are also a sign that people are visiting and paying attention to what you have to say (one of the non-monetary rewards that keep most sites going). And if you’re in the market for a new car, I know just the site you should visit first.