Blogging for dollars may be over before it really started

ON BLOGS

March 05, 2006|By TROY MCCULLOUGH

Just over a year ago, longtime blogger Jason Kottke announced that he was quitting his Web design job and planned to work full time on his Web site, kottke.org.

For revenue, Kottke decided to try a bold experiment: Instead of adding advertisements to his very popular site, the Brooklyn resident decided to hold a three-week fund drive.

"I'm asking the regular readers of kottke.org (that's you!) to become micropatrons of kottke.org by contributing a moderate sum of money to help enable me to edit/write/design/code the site for one year on a full-time basis," he wrote at the time. "If you find kottke.org valuable in any way, please consider giving whatever you feel is appropriate."

Late last month, Kottke offered his readers a year-end report:

"Over the course of three weeks, people generously sent in their financial support, giving me enough to pay my salary for the entire year, and not have to bug you about it every few days," he wrote.

Kottke said 1,450 people had contributed $39,900 - the vast majority of that money coming during his fund drive. It probably wasn't the most luxuriant of years in New York, but people have lived on less. Still, after a year of total dedication to his blog, Kottke announced that the experiment was over:

"I haven't grown traffic enough or developed a sufficient cult of personality to make the subscription model a sustainable one for kottke.org," he wrote. "Those things just aren't interesting to me."

Many bloggers took the news hard. If Kottke's site, with its No. 22 ranking on Technorati's most popular blogs list, couldn't pull this off, then what hope did the masses have?

In a recent cover article, New York magazine examined the strict blog hierarchy that many people online have been complaining about for years: A small, elite A-list of highly successful bloggers pulls in traffic, fame and fortune, while the frustrated masses toil in eternal obscurity (and quite likely poverty, if it's their only vocation) despite their best efforts.

"If you launch a witty blog in a sexy niche, if you're good at scrounging for news nuggets, and if you're dedicated enough to post around the clock - well, there's nothing separating you from the big successful bloggers, right? ... In theory, sure. But if you talk to many of today's bloggers, they'll complain that the game seems fixed," wrote Clive Thompson in the widely circulated article.

Slate's Daniel Gross translates it this way: "A few people will make money - journalist money, not Wall Street money - and the hordes of late joiners will make nothing."

In an article titled "Twilight of the Blogs," Gross says, "As a cultural phenomenon, blogs are in their gangly adolescence. ... But as businesses, blogs may have peaked."

For blogs, the sky may no longer be the limit - something Kottke and thousands of others are finding out.

Blogging for the sake of blogging can be a passionate endeavor, a freewheeling and unrestrained exercise in self-expression, which is why so many people seem to be attracted to the medium in the first place - blogging can be great fun. But blogging for a living opens the door to all sorts of mundane occupational realities, with no guarantees of success.

As Kottke wrote: "The site became a normal job, a 9-to-5 affair."

A normal job. A 9-to-5 affair.

Where's the fun in that?

troy.mccullough@baltsun.com

Listen to Troy McCullough's podcasts at baltimoresun.com/onblogs.

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