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Bloggers can make money, but most keep day jobs

The rise of 'contextual advertising' has created a 21st-century version of royalties.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 5, 2007

Blogger: Kevin Vahey's website on Boston transit also generates revenue.

MARY KNOX MERRILL - STAFF

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BOSTON

A penny for your thoughts? Kevin Vahey has done a good deal better, turning a personal gripe into $1,000 a year of supplemental income.

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Mr. Vahey started a blog called " Charlie on the MBTA" that has become a sounding board for Bostonians frustrated with the city's public-transit system.

After two months, he's gained 1,200 readers a day, the attention of officials, and – like thousands of others putting their interests online – a small revenue stream from advertising. "Yesterday I got the check from [Google], and I said, 'Hmm, that's cool.' I don't feel like I did anything," he says. He's not quitting his day job, but now he commutes to it free of charge: "[The blog] pays my monthly pass."

Through systems like Google's AdSense, advertising now can be added with the click of a mouse to the smallest of websites. The model will soon be expanded to online videos with the announcement last month that YouTube will share ad revenue with content creators.

The rise of what's known as contextual advertising has created a 21st-century version of royalties that's reaching deep into the ranks of amateurs and hobbyists. It points to a future where many people will moonlight online as small-time creators for a little extra income, with a few finding fame and fortune along the way.

"A lot of people say it's sort of like a little investment. They write something every night before they go to bed, and another page on their website gets added. And the more pages they've got, the more chance they've got of earning a little bit of money," says Darren Rowse, the webmaster of problogger.net, a site that helps bloggers improve their income.

He says he makes six figures a year blogging, when factoring in all his sites and the consulting gigs they generate. "You put something out there," he adds, "and it has the potential to earn money forever. And in that way it sort of is like a royalty."

A little more than $1 billion, or one-fourth of all advertising online, went to Google's AdSense program in the third quarter of 2006. Of that, Google shared $780 million with those running AdSense. Approximately 3 million blogs now use AdSense, according to the blog-tracking site Technorati.

What isn't known is how that $780 million was distributed over those roughly 3 million blogs. But anecdotal evidence suggests that there's a majority making nothing, a sizable minority bringing in at least $100 a month, and a few making serious money.

This past November, a survey by problogger.net of 732 self-selected respondents found that of the 625 bloggers using AdSense, 45 percent were making at least $100 a month. Another survey of 104 bloggers at a blogger summit last week in New York found roughly a third making that money, not necessarily with AdSense.

Nearly one-sixth in both surveys made at least $1,000 a month. These samples, of course, skew heavily toward the more committed and successful bloggers.