Reality check: You’re not going to make money from your blog

Almost everyone should forget about making money directly from blogging. It’s so unlikely that it’s a total waste of your time trying. I am actually shocked at how ubiquitous the idea is that blogging is a get-rich-quick scheme. Or even a get-rich-slowly scheme. It’s not. Blogging is a great career tool for creating opportunities for yourself. But here are eight reasons you should stop thinking about money from blogging:

1. Big bloggers come from big media.
Usually I’m the first person to rip on print media as outdated and a dead-end career. But here’s something that maybe you don’t realize: Most big bloggers today have a strong background writing for print. For example: Erik Schoenfeld (TechCrunch), Owen Thomas (Valleywag), and I all wrote for Business 2.0 magazine at the same time. Ten years ago. Which means we had a ton of national media experience before we started blogging. Anya Kamenetz (Yahoo Finance) wrote for the Village Voice and had a very serious book published—before she started blogging.

2. Sure, there are exceptions. But you’re probably not one of them.
Let’s look at some people who have big blogs who didn’t come from big media. Heather Armstrong at Dooce. She’s a good one. Here’s what she has that you don’t: She’s a talented writer and a talented designer. She’s married to a developer who does all her tech stuff for free. And she has an amazing story to tell. She has the ability to translate her genius across many media—photography, memoir, twitter, and so on. She is a marvel. And you are not. None of us is. That’s why she is making so much money from her blog.

3. Even if you can do it, supporting yourself with a blog is crazy hard.
Most people had to do their day job and experiment with their blog and figure out what works and then do two, pretty much full-time jobs, and then quit their day job when their blog earned enough money. JD Roth did this at Get Rich Slowly. I did this with my blog (and nearly fell apart). Most people who do this do not have kids. Because if you have kids and a job you already have two full-time jobs, so you cannot add another. Blogging to support yourself is a complete full-time job. Read Gina Trapani’s post about how she is taking a break from blogging because it’s so life-consuming.

4. You probably have to be controversial to make money blogging.
Yes, there are some topics that do not require controversy: Productivity tools, for example. I think it’s safe to say, though, that that market is pretty saturated. You will have to find a good niche for yourself in order to stand out from the crowd. So you will have to be different, and the bloggers who are different have surprising things to say. And if you have surprising opinions, you’ll have people who tell you you’re an idiot. And if you are making good money from your blog, you’ll have hundreds of people telling you how you’re an idiot. Do you want that? Really? Will you be able to write another controversial opinion the next day or will you be too nervous?

5. You can make more money flipping burgers.
If you want to get your opinions out into the world, or you want to write a diary about your life, whatever—do that. But why do you have to make money at it? Most of you would probably like to write a bit, to get new opportunities, and then leverage the blog to do something fun. Most of you do not want to write blog posts optimized for advertisers. Really.

6. Please shut up about your book deal.
Books are not cash cows. They are time sinks. And they are marketing tools for something else. Like a consulting business or a speaking career or a blog. And people who are great speakers are seldom great writers, and vice versa. So don’t tell me you are doing a blog to get a book deal: Dead end. And don’t tell me it’s not a dead end because you’ll turn that into a speaking career. Show me someone that has worked for. Don’t tell me about Seth Godin. He had huge books before he started blogging. Not the other way around.

7. Blog for better reasons than money.
There are a lot of reasons to blog, but for the most part, money is not one of them. In the book, Blog Blazers: 40 Top Bloggers Share Their Secrets, Stephane Grenier asked forty bloggers what their definition of blogging success is. He talked with people like Seth Godin, Neil Patel, Ramit Sethi, and me. We all make a living online, and we all have big blogs, but almost no one in the book said money was the definition of success.

Bloggers defined success as things that mattered in their life: influence, connections, friendships, the ability to lead a conversation that matters to people. Some talked about a blog leading to other business opportunities.

8. Banner advertising is the mafia.
I have not had banner advertising on my site because I am so adamant that people should not blog to earn money—I don’t want to encourage anyone. I did take one ad. For Career Bags. I’m going to tell you something: The amount they paid for that ad was insignificant to me. But they let me do a lot of shopping on the site for free. Which was a huge treat. Shopping was fun. And I think about how much I love my blog every time I put my laptop into my Casauri bag.

I would never say that about a banner ad. But I am about to capitulate and sign a contract with Federated Media, the by-far-biggest company for online ad sales. Federated is sort of doing me a favor. I mean, I have about 400,000 page views a month, which I think is less traffic than any of their other clients. I’m grateful to be part of Federated because I do, in fact, need to make money from my blog. But what I have done to get here—work two jobs at once while raising kids, sell equity in my blog and then almost go out of business, and spend about four hours on each post—you probably wouldn’t want to go through all that just to make money on banner ads. You probably have a way more efficient mechanism for earning money and you can blog on the side.

This seems like a good time to tell you the advice my writing teacher gave our who class in graduate school: Writing for a living is a very, very hard life. If you can do anything else for a living, you should.

So the idea that blogging will help you get rich: Forget it. Your chances of that are so slim, while your chances of gaining the other benefits of blogging are very high. So blog, yes, and do it to reach real goals, just not financial goals.

Posted in How to blog, Journalism, No image
307 comments on “Reality check: You’re not going to make money from your blog
  1. Alan Wilensky says:

    Why would I check my blog page views when I only have three readers and I am two of them?

    • Erin says:

      Alan,

      I laughed out loud when I read that. You sound like me. The 3rd is my mother. :)

      • irah says:

        hello erin.

        just want to let you know that i appreciate your positive comment about blogging.

        my question is how do you start blogging? did you start getting your own domain name and also hosting? is it good to do it on a wordpress or something free hosting? please let me know.thanks

  2. Ryan Stephens says:

    Actually Penelope. I make 1.2 million a year directly from selling bags of my charisma from my blog.

    In reality, I wish more people understood this because it would save me from having to answer a ton of e-mails about how people can get wealthy and monetize their blogs.

    Blogs = great connections, and a great chance to show who you are, the way you think, etc. You CAN leverage your blog content for other opportunities (i.e. speaking gigs, consulting opportunities). You mentioned this of course.

    The way I look at it there are very few that make any money directly from blogging. A few more that leverage their content, and then plenty that just use it as a tool to learn more about their passions and interests.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Love this comment, Ryan. You are so on target about what blogs are good for.

      And the stuff you list, great connections, a chance to show who you are and how you think — this is what really conveys how valuable a person is.

      Penelope

      • Mike says:

        First of all,Penelope, your writing gives the impression that you are about 15 years old. I cant imagine you having a professional writing job. I find it very humorous how many times you contradict yourself in that whole tirade about not being able to make money blogging. It seems that you are doing just that. I bet it would really suck for you if we all just went away. Then you wouldn’t be able to brag about your big contracts with Online advertisers like Federated Media. Maybe you should just stick to flipping burgers. I wonder what Federated Media would think about all of this, especially the bragging part. You seem pretty full of yourself. The fact is, Penelope, people with personal blogs about their cat will not make any money. The people with commercial blogs, however, can make a great deal of money if they are half descent journalists. I find writing to be one of the easiest jobs there are. I find it ironic that your teacher told you that you should do anything else but write for a living. Isn’t that what she and you both do? You could have picked anything else in the world to do but you write. Imagine that. Writing is easy. Especially if you are a staff writer. You are told what to write. There is very little imagination required. Try writing a screenplay or novel. Then we will talk. A piece of advice before I go… Don’t choke while eating your own words. And be careful up there in high society. I know it must be difficult slumming it with all that money you make from your blog.

        • NERLINE GERMAIN says:

          I love you. Are you married? Just kidding, great comment though.

        • Lauren says:

          Dear Mike,

          I think you are getting confused.

          Penelope doesn’t sound like the 15 year old, you do.
          There’s no need to say negative comments that make people feel bad just to make yourself feel better. I bet that comment made you feel all high and mighty, didn’t it? There is such a thing called constructive criticism. I think you should look it up and use that instead of trying to make yourself feel good by thinking you’re being smart and clever, when you’re clearly not. She’s telling this from her point of view, if you don’t like it then leave and don’t comment! Honestly, i think people would rather you not comment, it’s just too much negativity.
          Grow up and be a nicer person.

          Wishing you all the best in life,

          Lauren.

        • Rajiv says:

          I agree with you, and I think making money blogging, though, may not very easy, but one can definitely earn if planned accordingly.

        • Alaba Ogedengbe says:

          @Mike, well said. And @ Penelope, you must be the most selfish person in this world. I read your article. It totally discouraged me as a new blogger, you claimed to be one of the “pioneer ” in blogging so to say, yet you av no clue upgrading the up coming bloggers and writers to grow. Like Mike said, you fell pretty full of yourself, and I agreed. And I don’t think you enjoy writing, if you do, as a good journalist, that article would be last that you would write.

        • sokun says:

          Wow, this post saved my life! I was about to give up on blogging sort of. I always had a feeling it could work out if you didn’t treat it as a joke

          • Maverick says:

            All comments are very interesting, the most interesting part is time? The time when this piece first came to being – April 2009, through the many comments, notably March 2013 and now mine – May 2014. This is the beauty of blogging, your comments keep going, and going. As the years go by, remember always write like your mother will read it! History and SEO will always find Tossers leaving negative comments targeted at the author as I have found in this blog.

            Well done Penelope, I’m sure your children are all grown up as I write……..

  3. Alli Worthington says:

    Loved the whole post.

    Brilliant.

    “Banner advertising is the mafia.”

    You laid it out so well. I do not have traffic-based ads on my personal site for the same reason. They used to give other bloggers, especially MommyBloggers, the impression I am raking in cash from them.

    When personal bloggers talk about making money directly from their blogs, it is almost never enough to support a family. Most personal blogs earn very little.

    Great post!

  4. principalspage says:

    In review…

    I am not going to get rich…

    I am not THAT talented…

    I can’t quit my full-time job…

    I need to be more controversial…

    And I am not getting a book deal any time soon…

    Wow. I feel like crap. But the truth hurts.

    Maybe I could write a blog entry about going nowhere. And fast.

    Oh well. I will just have to get rich the old fashioned way.

    By winning the Lottery…

    • FC Maeila says:

      You hit the nail on the head, we all understand the value of social media and blogging. However for monetary income, only a small pecentage of bloggers benefit!

  5. Steve says:

    Or you could get rich the old fashioned way if inheritance or the lottery don’t work for you – hard work producing things or services of measurable value.

  6. crystal lindell says:

    Ya. I mean, if something is hard, we probably just shouldn’t even try to do it. That’s the message you’re giving here right? Well, if that’s the case, isn’t starting a company like Brazen Careerist hard? You should probably just give up. You’d be more stable flipping burgers.
    Do I expect to make a full-time living off my blog tomorrow? No. Do I know that the more effort I put in, the more I’m going to get out of it, in a variety of ways? Yes.
    I’m a 20-something and I don’t have kids, and I love my blog and I have tons of time to commit to it.
    And I still kind of believe that you have to dream big with things like blogs, so, as the old saying goes, if you shoot for the moon and miss, at least you’ll land among the stars.
    You say corny, I say goal-oriented.

    • Anthony says:

      With all due respect, I would not put all of my eggs into this basket from a monetary perspective. I’ll admit that I’m not an expert in online marketing, but as a web application developer I can certainly see the challenges. In my humble opinion, blogging is arguably the worst way to make money online. Pay per click advertising for the most part pays terribly, and it is crooked scam. The advertiser get exposure and space on your site for free even if no one clicks. As for renting out space for your site, you must first must gain a high level of traffic, a level of traffic that a shared host simply will not allow. You will have to upgrade to either a virtual private server or an actual private server, both of which will a good deal more than shared hosting, especially if you don’t know how to administer it.

      If you have other goals with your blog, that is fine, but if you goal is to make money online, I would look to other streams of revenue.

      • Sin Ning says:

        Wow, I guess blogging in US is different from South East Asia.

        I’m not a blogger but from what I know as an advertiser, getting a blogger to write one post on you could range from giving free products to paying USD 200 to USD 12000 for a single blog post (depending on the hits per month a blogger has).

        And that makes sense for a small business such as myself. To pay for a 10cm x 8cm ad space in the national newspaper costs USD 2000. And that only runs for a single day. While a blog post is always there in the archives, and comes up in search traffic which is more convenient to click through for customers if you’re an online business – it seems more cost-effective in the long run.

        Here, bloggers do mostly reviews – product/services/events and takes tons of pictures of themselves and their friends.

        But then, I suppose it can get competitive too – not everyone is interesting to follow so you may not get high readership. But the least you will get even as a low profile blogger is freebies, free services (eg spa/massage/hair salon/manicure), VIP event invites to free flow parties etc – but very few make it to full-time blogging.

    • just some ignorant blogger says:

      Well put. Don’t give up on your goals just because some bitter naysayer can’t deal with the changing nature of journalism. If you feel you have something of value, then share it and see what happens. She is meeeeaan.

  7. Mark W. says:

    This is a great post and rings true to me on all counts. I have read and commented on numerous blogs and I am still amazed to this day the amount of talent exhibited on them. Talent which includes writing, content, coding, and design. As you say, these blogs are not directly being monetized but rather contributing in other aspects of the blogger’s life. Also the amount of time and expertise required for some of these exceptional blogs require specialists of various disciplines such as editing, graphic design, SEO optimization, etc. I know this to be true just from reading your posts. Thanks for relating your experiences with blogging.

  8. jrandom42 says:

    Still waiting to hear what you have to say on us Aspergers’ actually doing well in today’s workforce.

  9. Alicia says:

    You probably have to be controversial to make money blogging.

    Can I just say how tired I am of the kooky fringe bloggers who write and say outrageous and insane things just to get site traffic or get on the Today Show? As someone who rides their blog analytics button like it’s a slot machine, I fully understand why site traffic is equivalent to what (I can only imagine) crystal meth is. But I refuse to play the attention-getting whacked out statement game in the hopes of gaining traffic for the use of making money. I see too many people take the “all publicity is good publicity” approach and it’s just sad.

    In the end, monetizing is all about leverage.

  10. Anna says:

    This a bit ironic, since your mini-me, Jamie Varon, is seeking a book deal from her blog, and has a distracting amount of advertising on her blogs. Shouldn’t you be talking to her about this stuff?

    Also, how can you sell equity in your blog if you don’t generate revenue from it? Serious question.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Same way Twitter sells equity in Twitter without generating any revenue: Brand and audience.

      -Penelope

    • Jamie Varon says:

      When the hell did I become Penelope Trunk’s “mini-me”? Thanks Anna. Considering the success that Penelope is experiencing (400,000 page views a month), I’d be more than happy to clone that.

      • Anna says:

        Jamie, I consider you her mini-me because you’ve interned with her, and you’re obviously trying to become her. I’ve read a lot of what you write, and you seem to be trying really hard to be PT 2.0, from your writing style to your approach.

        I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing or a good thing. But I do think it’s a pretty clear fact, and I’m not the only one who’s noticed.

    • Jamie Varon says:

      I want to fail on my own with my non-book deal and my non-making money blog. Did you read Chris Guillebeau’s manifesto he just put out? It’s called “279 Days to Overnight Success.” It’s a stark contrast to what you presented here, which I can only describe as naysaying.

      This is practical advice. No one could disagree with you there.

      However, do you really want to be the one to come in and say that someone’s dreams are too high for them? I want to make money from blogging. So, what? Let me fail at that on my own. And I’ve wanted to write a book since I was old enough to read – just ask my parents. And, giving all that up because it’s difficult to accomplish is really silly.

      You set an example. You CAN make money from blogging. You’ve published a book. You have started and are running companies. You are doing what a lot of us want to do. I say instead of being a naysayer and chopping down what we want to do, you offer up some insight into how maybe we can get a little closer to where we want to be. You have an unending supply of empowering advice to offer up, but you go with: “It’s too hard. Don’t even try”?

      You own a company designed to empower youth to go for what they want. Then you write a post denouncing the dreams of some of your audience. That doesn’t match up.

      • Penelope Trunk says:

        One thing that has served me really well in my career is that I look at my options and I go for the most likely to succeed.

        Research about which entrepreneurs fail and which succeed is very interesting. It’s not about personality type — a smart entrepreneur can surround himself or herself with complementing skill sets.

        The entrepreneurs who succeed are actually very risk averse and are constantly looking to hedge their bets (a partner with a different skill set, taking in investors to spread risk, etc).

        We are each entrepreneurs in our careers, and I can tell you for sure that aiming for high-risk goals won’t get you far. High risk goals have low-risk of panning out. Instead, look for the intersection of what you want and what is likely to work,and do that.

        If you love to write, blogging is likely to work. If you love to write, aiming for a Nobel Prize is likely to be a waste of time.

        It might look, from the outside, like the people with huge success are huge risk takers, but I think that is not the case. People who want success look at what we can possibly do to be happy and we look at what is likley to succeed and find something there.

        Things like shooting for the moon with a blog, or getting the very rare book deal that changes your life strike me as unnecessary risk, and generally a waste of time and talent that could be directed somewhere else.

        Wait. I thought of one more thing: I did not move out to Los Angeles to play professional beach volleyball until I was sure I was the best amateur female beach player in Chicago: I hedged my risk. What I’m saying is that even if you are incurably drawn to a crazy dream, you can still hedge yourself to get there.

        Why shoot for the moon? The players who win at hearts never shoot the moon.

        Penelope

  11. John Feier says:

    I want to thank you, Penelope, for suggesting that I even start a blog. Combining my fervor for social justice, internet research skills, writing skills and general knowledge about economics, business and accounting has resulted in a unique blog where I break the news stories about the current financial crisis down into understandable terms for people.

    I’m sort of controversial (see number 4 above) in the fact that I subtitle my blog, “Become an economic terrorist!” I’m telling people to do their part to bring down the entire financial system and stop feeding the animals…STOP PAYING ON YOUR LOANS! Bring the system down and rebuild, from scratch, society in a more equitable fashion.

    I’m still trying to figure out what to do with “Boner” though. I think I’ll reconstruct it into something more of a social commentary about gender role expectations than a scientific paper. I would love to have feminine input in that reconstruction though. Maybe a blog could invite such input?

  12. david says:

    I think this is a great post. Honest about the reality of the business.

    Everybody has an opinion. But not everyone has a voice. And there’s the misconception I think people tend to have: “I have something to say, I should be able to turn that into a profitable online “brand.””

    You make it look easy, Penelope. Thanks for articulating that “easy” came from your decade+ of work you put in.

  13. Joselle says:

    I know you’ve said this already but I’ll repeat it because it’s been really important to me. You can definitely get a job because of your blog. My blog has been great at getting me interviews and job offers. And a radio interview. So, in that way, it can make you money.

    But I blog because I’ve been writing since I was 5 and I don’t know how not to write. Blogging is just another way to write. That more people can see my writing when I blog as opposed to writing in a diary under my bed is fun but it’s not the reason I do it. And I absolutely would hate people telling me I’m dumb 600 times a day and it’s starting to happen to me on a bigger blog I contribute to and it just makes me anxious. Even if I do have Dooce-sized fantasies, I hate how the internet is like road rage–people saying shit to you they never would if they were 12 inches from your face.

    Of course, Penelope, you will get comments saying, “This post is dumb! You’re a writer so stop telling me not to write!” But the advice is more compelling from you because you are actually doing what people daydream about and know how much time and energy you have to put into something that seems effortless.

  14. Vulgar says:

    I think i woudln’t try to make money with my blog, cause it’s something that i do for pleasure and not for bussiness, it relaxes me. And if i gotta start thinking about money, i either will have to find another ‘way out’ for my energy or burn myself out.

    On the other hand, i’m also writting a book. Cause i think that blogs are not always the best media to show everithing.

    Vulgar.

    ps. i’ve been a copywriter in an advertising agency for 6 years, so i agree on the first reason.

  15. Danilo Campos says:

    Advice is, as they say, repackaged nostalgia. So as you often do, you’ve undermined your decent points by injecting your very special message of self-defeat.

    She is a marvel. And you are not. None of us is.

    I don’t have a dog in this hunt — I’ve no interest in riches and the thought of getting rich off of blogging is downright amusing to me. Still: speak for yourself. It’s clear that the above is absolutely true for you. I’m sorry that’s the case. But given your young audience, many of your readers have ample time to become whatever marvel they aspire to be.

    No one ever accomplished anything meaningful by accepting a low estimate of their own worth. I have met incredible people with truly stunning accomplishments and lives that are shockingly gratifying. Invariably, they each got there by accepting that love for their hard work would give them whatever reward they sought. Invariably, they advise others that they, too, can get there. Life is best lived without the acceptance of limitations.

    With your level of practice, one would think you could make your points without resorting to this sort of ugliness. Then again, you write what you know, I suppose.

    • Matt Secor says:

      I think the comment about not being a marvel ties into a theme better developed in one of my favorite posts, http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2008/08/08/living-up-to-your-potential-is-bs/

      High goals are great, but realism is still better. Full life goals, that aren’t just directed at work, are more likely to lead to happiness. That’s my take away from point #2.

    • Nicola says:

      very well put Daniel. I read this and thought, ouch, harsh. And yet here she is making money from her blog. So it’s more a “we’re really good and you haven’t done it yet so don’t even bother trying to find out how good you are.”

      All writers have to start somewhere. Dooce wasn’t anyone special until she got sacked for writing about her work and became an example of what not to do. She could have been the world’s most brilliant writer but without that publicity no one would have known. So what’s to say that people with smaller blogs or who haven’t started yet aren’t as talented?

      Everyone has something to say and it’s usually worth listening to.

  16. Randy says:

    As Steven Pressfield stated, writing is not the difficult part. Sitting down to write is. The actual, real, daily time in the chair, hands at the keyboard. It is HARD to write for 4 hours straight on a good day. It can be downright torture on a bad day. It takes commitment, persistence, and grit, and the knowledge that it may never payoff, but you do it anyway.

    My friend Will Terry is a fantastic childrens book illustrator. He makes much more income on his speaking engagements and school visits than he does from his actual book royalties.

    All the best blogs I’ve read come from people who want to share their passion with the world. The people who intentionally set out to monetize their site usually end up writing phony-sounding posts peppered with obvious keywords and annoying MBA-speak.

  17. Matt Secor says:

    I’m confused by a few things in this post. You say that great speakers are seldom great writers, but that a book could be a marketing tool for a speaking career. These ideas seem to conflict.

    That makes me think that a book would have more potential for marketing a blog than a speaking career. Actually though, it seems more realistic that a blog would be used for marketing a book, since a blog is free to access. It worked for you, and to use an example of someone who wasn’t famous before blogging, waiterrant.net comes to mind, which I found from your blog. I’m having a hard time understanding how a book leads to a speaking career.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Some quick answers for those who are trying to plan careers moves from this comment stream….

      It’s very hard to book well-paying speaking gigs without a book to give you credibility. Not that this is how credibility *should* be established, but it is.

      You do not need to be a great writer in order to write a book that supports a speaking career. Non-fiction books are not so much about great writing as great ideas and organization.

      Waiter Rant is a great example. His writing is absolutely lovely and his is one of the first blogs I really connected with. But after all his blogging and book deal, he’s still a waiter ;)

      –Penelope

  18. David Cain says:

    I’d think I’d call this mostly garden-variety cynicism. There are a lot of sweeping generalizations (Blogging is crazy hard? Harder than working a job you hate your whole life?) but you are right to start this post with the word ‘almost.’

    The main reason most bloggers will never make money is because most people just can’t write compelling content. If your writing does not elicit a steady stream of overwhelming emotional reactions in people, you probably can’t. Blogging is something anyone can do, but writing well certainly isn’t.

    Those who can do that are the exceptions. And there are plenty of them out there, though their numbers comprise only a fraction of the 120 million bloggers out there.

  19. Alan Wilensky says:

    I wrote a four part series on underwriting risk on cloud computing client services. It was an important piece as far as the industry is concerned with the issues – not because I wrote it. But it took time, and didn’t get a lot of reads. The most I can hope for is that insofar as my expertise is showcased, someone might hire me as a consultant to develop that product sector.

    Hopefully soon, as I am not accustomed to being poor; living post boom has built my character and humility, though.

  20. Elizabeth Pagano says:

    Last week, I received a surprise in snail mail – a book royalty check for $569. I was ecstatic. Yip! That brings the total I’ve made on royalties for the book I published with McGraw-Hill in 2004 to a whopping total of about $639. It’s money to have my car fixed and maybe a dinner out. But NOT money to live on.

    People have always had the annoying impression that book publishing equals dollars. Where does that idea come from??

    And the same impression exists for blogging. People don’t seem to understand that the success stories (in book publishing and blogging) represent about 1% of the population of those out there doing the work.

    “Please shut up about your book deal.” HA. Love it. Thanks, Penelope.

  21. Brian says:

    Making money through banner ads is indeed truly a hopeless endeavor for 99.9% of bloggers. For two reasons:

    1) Your number of page views is hopelessly low. Even a ravingly successful blog at 400,000/mo is nothing to online advertisers. For agencies placing branded advertisers you need to be talking more like 400,000 a day. Even 400k/day is on the low end for banner ad media buyers.

    2) Your blog is a “personal branding” blog or online diary that no one cares about. Advertisers want targeted audiences for their products. Also, what most people don’t know is that “User Generated Content” is a dirty word to branded advertisers. Placing their ads on your site is an unacceptable risk to many of them. Even if you convince them to buy your traffic they’ll be looking to pick it up at $1.00 or less per 1,000 page views, so 400,000 page views/month = $400/mo. Good luck supporting yourself on that (though Penelope probably gets better rates because her audience IS targeted).

  22. Alan Wilensky says:

    There are product driven entrepreneurs that can’t not take the risk – win, lose, or draw. The business press was all about the success stories, but there are legions of smart product driven folks that did not succeed.

    Self publishing, in any medium, as a way to earn has become a business of followers with no inherent expertise. For those with real how-to or industry perspective, it can be lucrative. Example:

    Fred Wilson, the VC, just writes whatever pops into his madcap brain and makes 30K a year on avc.com blog, which is astounding. Now, he spends time doing this, and I am sure he enjoys it; but compared to his presumed income, it is peanuts and almost a charity endeavor. Many of the avc.com blog readers are sycophants, and rightly so – they want to rub elbows with a funding source. So the synergy of a blog written by a powerful person wielding purse strings is a tough combo to beat.

    However, Fred Wilson is not the first or only VC to write a blog, although he may be the most authentic and compelling of the lot.

    True expertise is earned via work on oneself in one’s vocation; not by writing five posts a day on subject one knows nothing about (save what one has read on other blogs and trade rags).

  23. Alice Bachini-Smith says:

    Brilliant post, spot-on and so wonderfully sensible. I think it relates to the old “can you make money doing what you love?” debate. There’s blogging for love, and there’s blogging as a personal branding move: the relationship between each of those and income should be clear to everyone by now.

    On having a dream/ goal of making money directly from (advertising on) your blog despite this being impractical and unlikely: “getting rich by doing X” is not an dream worth having. You can focus productively on getting rich OR on doing X, but putting both goals together just dilutes them. Even pretending they are only one goal doesn’t alter that.

    Anyway, Penelope covers the very limited and demanding ways you CAN make money directly from your blog in this post: but extraordinary unusual successes are not normally the sort of thing one can just copy. Times change.

    Hugh Macleod’s cartoon about money and art has something to say about this, I think:
    http://www.gapingvoid.com/Moveable_Type/archives/000750.html

  24. Benjamin Lukoff says:

    Speaking of making money blogging, I just saw this post by Jeff Jarvis.. more may be doing so than you think.

    Also, Penelope – your audience isn’t necessarily average. Yes, the average American isn’t going to make money blogging – for one thing, the average American isn’t that great a writer, and, as everyone knows, even good writers have trouble making money. But your audience likely skews toward the better read, better educated – dare I say you even have a few marvels reading Brazen Careerist? Don’t be so quick to discourage.

  25. Rebecca says:

    I hope you realize that you just made making money from blogging all the more popular and desireable :)

    People want the biggest things they can’t have. To do this day, I still want to be a singer and I have no voice whatsoever.

    People want a lot, but I think this post is great advice in terms of actually getting you something real and meaningful in the meantime. I particularly like the parts about hedging your bets.

    I totally disagree with Jamie that this post doesn’t show you how to get closer to your dreams. Indeed, I think it exposes the sides no one ever tells you so that you can do just that and create realistic plans of where you want to go.

    • Jamie Varon says:

      We may have read this differently, then. Because, I read it as – don’t even try, you won’t make it in this business.

      And, while that’s probably true, it doesn’t hurt to try. And a realistic post would have been, “8 things you need to know about making money from blogging.” Instead, it’s – 8 reasons why you should be disheartened to find out that someone who has lived in this business basically is telling you it’s not possible to make money blogging and furthermore, it’s silly to even want it.

      How is this, “It’s so unlikely that it’s a total waste of your time trying” show you how to get closer to your dreams if your dream is to be a full time writer?

      I’m all about seeing the reality of situations and am a very practical person, but this post is not empowering – it’s quite the opposite in my opinion.

  26. Elizabeth Zelinka says:

    Great post and very true for most. I think money comes when people have something important to do or say, and for that reason only, they do or say it. When any of us sets out to do something with money as our only object, typically, the lack of authenticity, passion and heart ensure that nothing financially rewarding comes of it.

  27. Vik Dulat says:

    Your first though should not be about making money. If your content is good enough, you will have advertisers coming to you. Don’t give up your day job just yet.

  28. Clare says:

    I make a whopping $100 a month on advertising on my first blog. That’s for months and months of getting the site up, writing content, getting visitors etc. On my latest blog, I make absolutely zip. And I spend hours promoting it by writing posts, commenting on others’ posts (thanks for reading!) and having the opportunity to give (unpaid) careers advice on a national newspaper. I do none of this for the money. And thank God I don’t have children. I do it because I’m passionate about it, because I learn from it, and because I’m interested to see where I’ll get with it.

  29. Jon Morrow says:

    Well, it’s true, and it ain’t.

    It’s true because most bloggers think they are writers and not online entrepreneurs, and therefore, they excel at writing but stink at making their writing profitable. This is a mistake. If you want to make money online, you have to stop thinking of your blog as a platform for your ideas and start thinking of it as a sales tool. Its purpose is to: 1) get attention, 2) build trust, 3) direct people toward products they need to buy. The third one is the key.

    It ain’t true because everyone that does the above (and does it well) makes money. Brian Clark is now making seven figures a year and rising. Steve Pavlina, Naomi Dunford, and Yaro Starak make excellent incomes too. It’s no accident that they all have an extremely entrepreneurial (not journalistic) focus. That’s what it takes to build a profitable blog.

    By the way, you’re brilliant at #1 and #2. I’ve always been curious why you don’t do more of #3.

    • Benjamin Lukoff says:

      Actually, “most bloggers excel at writing” isn’t exactly true. Have you seen what’s out there?

  30. Irina I says:

    Yes! Thank you! I tried telling my dad this, but he still thinks I can make money off my blog. Seriously…

    I felt really sketchy adding banner ads to my blog last week. After reading this post this morning, I removed them. They are lame and annoying. If anything, I would only advertise companies I actually like through my blog posts.

    Finally, Penelope, your last comment about research on why entrepreneurs fail and succeed made me remember very good and tangible advice that one of my mentors gave me last weekend about how to learn about life (yes, I have another mentor! :-)):

    “Interview as many successful people as you can and ask them what they think makes them successful. Rinse and repeat.” The last sentence was my addition to make it sound edgy.

  31. Kerry says:

    So basically, you’re telling us that you’re about to start running ads? Because there’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to apologize for having to feed your kids. We all have to feed our kids (or cats, or whatever).

    You don’t need all this smoke. Just run the ads. It’s not a big deal.

  32. alice hive says:

    Why this whole “you can’t do this”-talk? Sure I can. No question about that.

    • Ria Haag says:

      Thanks for sharing that WSJ article. I’d have to agree with Penelope and Megan that using blogs to pull in the big $$$ is only for the big media-types. A mommyblogger, like myself, would probably be better off posting mainly for other reasons other than financial. And if it were financial, have it not be the main source of income. Right???

  33. Zach says:

    What a coincidence. The Wall Street Journal has an article today about how much bloggers make on the web:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124026415808636575.html

    Megan McArdle, a blogger for The Atlantic, comments on that article and makes similar points as Penelope:

    http://meganmcardle.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/04/blogging_for_big_bucks.php

  34. Mark W. says:

    This sentence in #5 – “Most of you do not want to write blog posts optimized for advertisers. Really.” is still sticking with me. I agree and it reminded me of something you wrote in a previous post. So I did a search on this blog and found ‘The secret underbelly of blogging; why I’m done with linkbait’ ( http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2008/01/31/why-im-done-with-linkbait/ ). Basically it’s hard to know what’s going to bring traffic to your blog and not all traffic is equal.
    I would much rather concentrate on this advice – “So here’s something I do know about links. The posts I spend weeks and weeks writing, and I put my heart right on the page, and I give advice that I really know is true, those posts do well. They get lots of links and lots of traffic. Which means the real linkbait is an interesting, useful, well-written posts.” I have to believe a blog post optimized for an advertiser can really start to make things complicated.

  35. Nick Stinemates says:

    Get out of my way I don’t want any competition!

  36. Derek Z says:

    6. Please shut up about your book deal.
    You mentioned your book Brazen in a blog post (eons ago) and that led to me gladly buying it. Many of my favorites originate from blog posts – like Nancy Duarte's Slideology and Garr Reynolds's Zen. I hope people don't shut about their books – let alone pushing them, compels me to buy them – €“ especially when they make a good case to read it –

  37. rennie says:

    ooohhh, which Casauri bag did you get? The stripes? Stripes are cool.

  38. Carla says:

    Reading this post and then the comments reminds me of a “social media expert” in my city. She’s a pushy PR girl, started her own “business” right out of university, equating public relations with fluff publicity. Then she discovered social media. And got very busy blogging, and now has more than a couple thousand followers on Twitter. Interviewed recently by a newspaper about how to make money from Twitter, she said she’s already doing that. Because people are paying her now to talk about how to use twitter to make money. Huh? So her logic is that to make money from online media, you tell other people how to gather an audience online? Isn’t that kinda a pyramid scheme, where the people at the bottom pay to learn what the people at the top paid to learn, until there aren’t any new people wanting to pay…

    Is that what a Ponzie scheme is? I always wondered what that word meant…

    I liked this post. Vintage Penelope — good advice shot straight from the hip.

    • Randy says:

      It’s kind of like how Anthony Robbins and the rest became successful by giving advice on how to become successful.

      I once worked at a print shop and this guy would come in every week to make copies for his business of “How to Make Thousands Stuffing Envelopes at Home.” One day I actually read what he was printing. In a nutshell, it basically said: do to a bunch a people what I just did to you. Unreal.

  39. jonathanwthomas says:

    You’re right on the money with this. I make a little extra money, but it’s not proportional to the amount of time I spend doing the work. What it has done for me is help launch freelance work.

    My major blog, Anglotopia.net has been a fantastic tool to open doors and help fund my hobbies. I also love using my blog to barter. I’ve exchanged ad space for goods and services that I couldn’t justify spending the money on.

    Not everyone gets rich blogging. If anything you can hope to make some pocket money. But it takes hard work. If you think it’s easy, blogging is not for you.

  40. cheryl says:

    I am not doing it for the money but I would love to see a few comments on my blog- Would any of you other posters like to look and tell me what’s wrong…..

    • Shefaly says:

      Cheryl

      If you want PT’s readership to bother clicking through to you, linking to your blog would be a start :-)

  41. Mike says:

    Who are you again?

    You are not honest period, and I don’t care about the 30.000 subscribers, why ? because clearly the post is crafted to drive traffic to your blog/site, hence “controversial” in that you INSULT the reader indirectly by pushing some buttons and the put down tactic.

    I can’t even believe that some readers agree with you in this !?

  42. Natalie says:

    I’m quite grateful for this post.

    It’s a subject that’s been on my mind a lot lately. Who is making money from all this time and obesssion? Not many. And not much.

    My blog has been stealing me away from my other writing that does make me money. I am a published author and I love my book in progress but the poor thing is very neglected.

    I’m going to keep up my blog because it’s a great support communication tool for my copywriting business, PR business and books but I’ve let the tail wag the dog in recent months.

    You know what they say when your parent tells you they don’t have favourites; it’s not you. It’s time to shower some love on the other baby!

  43. Cody - Dream-Life-Coaching says:

    Not sure I agree entirely, I think for most people making a lot of money at blogging is going to present a challenge, but not impossible. If you just do it as a money maker you are doomed, as you know it takes to much dedication and hard work just to “give it a go”, but if you love your topic and have something of value to add the the world I don’t see why you can’t make a living at it. It’s not all doom and gloom!

  44. Ben Moreno says:

    My goodness, what a nice post. I am sick of hearing about making money online. I spent the last year indulging in this idea and realized it is way more worth it just to have a job and blog about my life experiences for the sake of remembering them and showing others my experiences.

    I do use banner ads on my blog and make a very tiny amount of money from them. I figure it is free money for doing something I love. That is pretty much where it ends for me though.

    I like blogging for the sake of gathering readership to actually discuss my life experiences and ideas with others. Forget making money online.

    My favorite topics right now are promoting The Zeitgeist Movement, writing about my experiences in the Navy. I occasionally write about other topics that interest me.

    Anyhow, excellent post. It was a great piece of mind.

  45. HR Good_Witch says:

    Awww… SNAP. I guess I won’t quit my day job.

  46. Erin says:

    Hi Penelope,

    Thanks for the great advice. I just started a blog…well I should say REALLY focused on it in January. I love doing it because it is a nice break from my day job (resume writing).
    The only “following” I wanted were my clients and potential new clients. I was never looking to set the world on fire with my blogging. But suddenly I started hearing about how you could make “lots and lots of money by blogging!” and thought “hmmmmmm!”

    Thanks for clarifying it for me. :)

    Erin

  47. Ciara Byrne says:

    I started a blog only in the past month (partly inspired by this one). As usual a late starter…

    My reasons have nothing to do with making money but I am looking for some more intangible benefits.

    - I want to start a company and if I write a blog about starting a company, then maybe I actually have to do it.
    - The blog forces me to think about startup issues in a concrete way. It’s similar to having to understand something in order to teach it.
    - Writing is something I find easy so why not use it to create an idea in my own mind and that of others that I can be a CEO.
    - As Penelope has often pointed out, a blog is a way of networking and getting in touch with people who have similar goals and interests. To be honest though, thus far Twitter has actually been more useful from that point of view (and involves less effort).

    Ciara (aka @ceoseekstartup).

  48. Alan says:

    Penelope,
    Your blog posts are well-crafted and full of ideas. They gleam! The four hours of efforts really shows. Good luck with your ongoing monetization efforts.
    Alan

  49. Ken Wolman says:

    Make money with a blog? Who actually believes this hooey? I keep a blog to make enemies. I’m becoming wildly successful.

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    [...] 1)名博多出自平面媒体;2)当然也有例外,但你不是;3) 即使你行,靠博客维生简直难于上青天;4)要靠博客维生,你可能要博出位才行;5)你卖汉堡都可能挣更多的钱;6)请闭嘴枉谈书约;7)最好抱着挣钱以外的目的写博客;8)网页小广告形同黑手党。(http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2009/04/21/8-reasons-why-you-wont-make-money-from-your-blog/) [...]

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