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Is Blogging a Good Profit Center for Freelance Writers?

October 18th, 2008 by Bob Bly

No, according to Garry Trudeau, writer of the Doonesbury comic strip.

In Doonesbury, one of the characters is an older experienced journalist (I am not a regular reader, so I do not know his name).

He has been let go by his paper in a round of layoffs, and to make a living, he has turned to blogging.

When his son asks him how it’s going, the reporter replies:

“Okay, I guess. I’m piecing together a living. But only barely. It’s tough to leverage a byline in a media environment where anyone who can type gets a byline. I’m competing for eyeballs with millions of narcissists, almost none of whom expect to actually get paid.”

This reveals a rule of thumb for freelance writing success that has been in effect for decades: namely, it’s very difficult to make a good living as a professional writing something that millions of amateurs are more than willing to write for free.

This is why things like short stories, poems, and essays pay so poorly.

It’s also why copywriting pays so much better than most journalistic and literary endeavors.

Millions of Americans dream of writing the Great American Novel … but relatively few want to write the Great American Annual Report.

Therefore, novelists submitting novels on spec are a dime a dozen, while top annual report writers are in short supply and command high fees.

I know there are exceptions, so you don’t have to tell me about the rare blogger or screenwriter who made it big.

There’s an old saying: you can get rich in writing, but you can’t make a living.

Those that hit it big in hyper-competitive markets like screenwriting or blogging are few and far between (how many JK Rowlings are there)?

If you want to write for a living — and live well — writing for business customers is the surest road to a six-figure income, for the reasons stated above. (And yes, those business assignments can include corporate blogs.)


This entry was posted on Saturday, October 18th, 2008 at 11:47 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

46 responses about “Is Blogging a Good Profit Center for Freelance Writers?”

  1. Louis Burns said:

    It really depends on how you monetize your blog.

    Some “bloggers” with extensive product lines make six and seven figures annually. By that point they’re usually outsourcing their actual blogging though.

    It comes back to what you’re saying – strategically valuable writing pays much more than filler content. The point is to make blogging strategically valuable.

  2. Michael Kelberer said:

    True, Louis, but then they’re not making money by blogging per se, but just using a blog to sell product.
    Michael Kelberer

  3. Fiona Fell - The Profit Maximsing Web Geek said:

    You can make money by creating content for a blog on someone elses behalf, ghost writing etc.

    And you can make money from a blog selling products or services.

    The blog may simply be a conduite for the $$ from your readers to your pocket.

    But if writing is your business, selling to business is much more pfoitable than selling to the masses.

    The masses have to be concerned about the price tag to a great er degree than business, and they read for pleasure where as business write and read with monetary purpose.

  4. Dave Gardner said:

    On the point, Bob.

    I bought your book “Elements of Technical Writing” when I started as a beginning technical writer (and I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into). I’ve since bought your books “Secrets of a Freelance Writer”, “Selling Your Services”, and “Copywriter’s Handbook”. I’ve also bought many of your reports–one includes “How to Be Successful During an Economic Downturn”.

    I’ve been a professional writer-editor for the past 25+ years–it’s a profession that has been very good to me. I’ve worked in industries that would not take “amateur” writers to work in their tech-pubs or marketing departments.

    The market is getting a bit tougher to navigate–but it can be done. Blogs are one way to focus traffic to your website. They are a way to get your name out there for search engines to find you. So, for this, blogs can provide value. Whether or not they can become their own “profit center” may be missing the point. But they can be great in driving traffic!

  5. DonnaB said:

    Bob- no argument that technical writing pays better than other kinds unless you are a superstar.
    But …
    the truth is …
    you can earn money at blogging, just not a quick fix and the Doonesbury ‘toon is right…
    except it is easy to sift thru the amateurs and find pros…
    and that’s where the money goes.

    I am a blogger. I am a freelance writer. I am a niche affiliate marketer.
    I am making a living. One day at a time.
    And my traffic increases every month.(except if the server goes down!) 🙂

  6. Cynthia Maniglia said:

    Agreed, Bob. You speak the truth. When it comes to blogging, for me, it’s just a diversion. Kind of a link a very complicated business card that I can update whenever I feel like it. I don’t expect to draw new clients to my blog. My blog is meant to give my business a somewhat informal yet professional online voice – and “give a shout out” to my existing clients, colleagues or new acquaintances. Nothing more, nothing less. With so much “free content” available online, blogging for dollars can be a very difficult sport. I’d rather blog for the fun of it. And keep my day job – writing direct marketing copy.

  7. Curtis said:

    Out of curiosity, if you were starting out today would you still write for other businesses or start out writing “how to” books for yourself where you would get to keep the profits from your work?

  8. Dianna Huff said:

    Showing my age here . . . the Doonesbury character’s name is Rick Redfern. I remember when he got married and had to send out an “errata” slip with the wedding invite because the printer misspelled his name. That was back in the 80s, I think. (I’m a long-time fan.)

  9. Bob Bly said:

    Curtis: For my primary sources of income I would (a) write direct response copy for business clients and (b) sell my own information products on the Internet. I would also write books for mainstream publishers, but as an avocation.

  10. Travis said:

    Including a blog in your business plan is a lot like including a website. Many companies will come to a web designer with one goal in mond: “We need a website.” But when faced with the first question, “What do you want your website to do?” they have no idea. A website is essential in almost any sort of business these days. Potential customers enjoy the safety of being able to check you out while knowing they can click the Back arrow at the first sign of danger.

    As mentioned above, several bloggers make a mint. But the blog itself doesn’t need to be and end in itself. A blog is a way of hammering the web with tons of keywords that drive traffic to your site. This blog in and of itself is cluttered and I don’t think it’s done with the intent to make money. That could be something to consider right there. Why, if not to make money, are you blogging?

    Some bloggers do it just for the satisfaction of publicly airing their opinions. I have, from time to time, got my opinions published in the newspaper. Most of my letters were simply discarded, as are everyone else’s. A blog is a way to avoid that kind of censorship.

    Other bloggers do it for purely financial reasons. You can recognize them easily. Their blogs are fully custom, and laid out nicely to the point where they look better than some magazines. The ads on these sites are not seen as an intrusion, but rather as just part of the design.

    Google text ads are the best example. Yes, it takes someone away from your website. But if you’ve done your job as a good blogger, they will be back. You can also include banner ads, where appropriate. Making sure to choose a reuptable ad source, of course. You don’t want to drive your readers away with ads for products to increase their penis size.

    If I were Bob Bly, I would take a chainsaw to this blog page, and get rid of the chaff that’s not helping to drive profit. Links to other blogs, for a start. At best, I’d keep a rotating list of no more than four at a time. Recent posts should be limited to 5 posts, and no more than two weeks given the frequency. Archives list should collapse, to be expanded by clicking the year.

    With all that remaining real estate after the cutting is done, there’s room for Google text ads, skyscraper ads, and partner links. And most importantly, links to your own books. It needs to be done tastefully of course.

    Seth Godin’s marketing blog comes to mind as a well-designed contemporary blog. Selling your books alone is a good income center, but driving traffic to Amazon or to eBay pays dividends as well. Check out each ecomm giant’s affiliate program.

  11. Hendry Lee said:

    Out of millions of blogs out there, only a handful that knows enough to create their own products.

    It takes a lot of traffic to make a living by selling advertising space…

    I’d like to think of a blog, for freelance writers, are much like portfolio. Depends on the content, it demonstrates your writing style for prospective clients to see. Building a profitable blog is more about the strategy.

  12. Andrei Stanciu said:

    I believe blogging is more then profit for freelance writers, its also for people who wants to make a side pocket money during this global melt down

  13. Adil Malik said:

    Hi, yes definitely.
    I am also a writer and earning handsome amount of money through blogging.

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  16. Jeremy said:

    I believe blogging is more then profit for freelance writers,but i think its mainly people wanting a side income for some extra cash.

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  26. Avtar Singh said:

    Bounce no contention that specialized writing pays superior to anything different sorts except if you are a genius.

    Be that as it may, …

    the fact of the matter is …

    you can earn money at blogging, just not a convenient solution and the Doonesbury ‘toon is correct…

    but it is anything but difficult to filter through the novices and discover geniuses…

    what’s more, that is the place the money goes.

    I am a blogger. I am an independent author. I am a specialty affiliate marketer.

    I am bringing home the bacon. Each day in turn.

    What’s more, my traffic expands each month.(except if the server goes down tachavtar!

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