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Sunday, December 2, 2007

Making Money In The Long Tail: Dream Or Opportunity?

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There's No Money In The Long Tail of the Blogosphere is the title of a recent post written by Alex Iskold on Read/Write Web, one of the most authoritative new media and independent online publishing news sources out there. But is it really so?

Photo credit: Anatoly Tiplyashin

While the post leverages no hard data to corroborate its conclusions, it strongly argues that there is little or no money to be made in the "long tail" of the blogosphere.

Alex Iskold writes:

"In a recent post here, we examined the reasons that people feel compelled to blog. From the post and the comments it received, it became clear that quite a few people are blogging to make money.

The blogs that they started live in the long tail of the blogosphere, however, and the reality is that it is difficult to make money in the long tail - Anderson's point was that the money is to be made by selling to the long tail, not so much by existing in it.


Now imagine that the network is the blogosphere where new blogs spring into existence every day.
And as they do, these newly minted bloggers are aspiring to make money.

They set up their blog, pick a unique topic, research Google ads and affiliate programs, and they start writing content. But they are in for big disappointment, because in order to make money from blogging, they'll need more than good, original content - they need traffic.

Because of the power law, the long tail of the blogosphere is huge and so any individual blog is not easily discovered. That is, the chance that a random Internet surfer will find a blog that is part of the long tail is nearly zero.

Whatever monetization means the blogger in the long tail settled on, be it Google AdSense or Amazon affiliate codes, it can only work on large volumes of traffic.

AdSense works for Google because the odds are in its favor - it is aggregating small amounts of traffic across the entire web. The math works for them because it is based on the massive scale of the web. It similarly works reasonably well for the sites with large amounts of traffic, but it fails for smaller publishers who have low visitor counts.


[Therefore] it is not realistic to expect these blogs to make money.

As the enthusiasm and the incentive in the long tail begin to wear off, what would be the impact on the businesses that depend on them?"

(Source: Read/Write Web)

Is Alex drawing the right conclusions?

Is it true that little or no money is to be made by those trying to build small independent sites on specific topics and content niches?



Having found the article extremely provocative, and far from matching any of my own views on the topic I have spent some extra time waiting for readers to comment on it and hoping to find other individuals seeing things differently than what stated there.

Unfortunately, with nearly one hundred comments posted under that article already, only very few bring in real arguments in support or to dismantle the key thesis proposed.

I have decided then to take inspiration from some of the many comments appearing there to make myself some points on the issue of how real is the opportunity to being able to make money while publishing a long tail site.

I have chosen ten key points that are generally made in such monetization discussions over the long tail monetization potential and have used them here as an opportunity to offer a different view from someone who makes since three years, and without living in the US, all of his living online.

Thanks to Richard MacManus, Alex Iskold and the Read/Write Web readers who have provided me with such great content for inspiring my own thoughts. To see the original article and comments that inspired my post here go to:


Myths about Blogs Monetization Debunked

  1. There are thousands of bloggers out there who think they can get rich in the growing sea of blogs.

    True. There are probably more. They are the same people who go to marketers seminars, have spent money on buying e-books from long-winded one-page long marketing pages and who listen to a bunch of self-proclaimed experts who claim to have made millions of dollars online. Blogging as a fast way to get rich is a loosing game. Ninety nine percent of those marketing blogs as a venue for making money are selling you snake oil. Yes, late-night infomercials and weekend sales pitch meeting in hotels focused on people desperate to strike it rich - are not a good way to start. As with any other get-rich-quick scheme if you are in just for the money you may soon find out that to make it work you either have to cheat or you promise to others something you really do not have.

  2. The only way you can make money from the long-tail is to not be a part of the long-tail.

    False. While there are indeed multiple ways to make money out of the long tail by acting as an outside aggregator, talent scout, or re-distributor, there are as many or more for those living and working inside the tail. Of course if you don't know anyone who makes a living online this may sound like self-made rubbish. But from what I can see from my end, these independent publishers making a serious sustainable income out of their online activities are in the order of hundreds in the major western countries, and even more in other parts of the world where much lower revenues are worth order of magnitude more than here.

  3. Making money from the long-tail simply takes frequency, quality and good search marketing (link building).

    False. I wish it was as simple as that. Yes, quality has a great deal to do with it, even when such quality is reserved to a restricted, not massified audience niche. Search marketing is a false road, as quality linking should always flow out of publishing quality content and supporting natural interactions with the social web. Frequency can be a factor, though it doesn't have to be one. Yes, for some type of sites (e.g.: news, technology and other time-sensitive topics) frequency may certainly be quite critical.

  4. Too Many bloggers are in it for the money.

    True. Poor them. Not an issue for those who are in it, first to provide a great information service, and then to see if they can capitalize it. The "too many" bloggers are often of such low quality, and focus that you should not consider them competitors. They may actually help serious, passionate blogs, created and maintained by individuals with a strong mission, stand out from this growing crowd of fake, badly built, anonymous, automated blog ripoffs sites.

  5. Even sites with several thousand RSS subscribers don't make much money.

    True, but...That proves only that those maintaining those sites either are not interested in making a profit from their work or that they have not yet started learning and discovering the multiple effective ways they could do so.

  6. Most bloggers never have a chance. Blogging is a bad way to make money and people will soon realize this and quit.

    True. Blogging is about creating and publishing content online without the mediation of large technical infrastructures and the limitations of traditional media editorial policies and workflows. It is not about making money. But... if you are successful at this... and so much so that there are enough individuals reading your content, THEN, you may have the opportunity to let those companies providing products and services which may be really valuable to your own readers, start talking to them and opening a conversation with them. This is how you blogging can LEAD to help a value content publisher make money online.

  7. No one wants to advertise on old pages

    False. Stereotypes of old world media. Value content pays back over time online. I, like many others, make often more money from posts I have written a long time ago but which keep providing real value to readers than do great new posts I have recently written.

  8. Because of the power law, the long tail of the blogosphere is huge and so any individual blog is not easily discovered. That is, the chance that a random Internet surfer will find a blog that is part of the long tail is nearly zero.

    False. The web doesn't work around random internet surfers just like Santa doesn't exist. This is a fable that never dies. To get traffic to your site you don't need to wait a random internet surfer to discover you. You can be sure of this. If you write valuable content, share resources that are hard to find and require time and efforts to collect, while following all of the core basic steps of a wise publisher, the web will notice you "automatically". Whoever tells you anything as absurd as affirming that random internet surfing is what makes up traffic to sites should be sent back to read the Internet syllabus. Traffic on sites is made most exclusively by two things: your ability to get others to link to you (which, like in my case, may just be a consequence of what you do) and your ability to make your content easily found by those most in need of it.

  9. Whatever monetization means the blogger in the long tail settled on, be it Google AdSense or Amazon affiliate codes, it can only work on large volumes of traffic.

    False. Nothing can be further than truth. I have personally ample proof that sites with as little as a few thousand visitors per month can actually bring a full salary and more even for someone living in the first world. They may not be the sites of popular bloggers and you may have never have heard of them before, but small sites, that do something simple and well while making great money at it keep increasing by the day on my own radar.

  10. It is not realistic to expect blogs to make money.

    True. It is not realistic to expect blogs to make money. They are communication instruments, tools to share information, news, insight, images and experiences. They are not tools to make money indeed.

    It is also true that if you decide to use your blog as a professional tool for communicating and sharing news, resources and information that can be useful to others, you can start building a significant traffic, and, in many cases you can indeed make money on it. Of course, this doesn't happen automatically. You need to write or publish valuable information, you must have a passion for what you do, you need to be persistent, you need to provide real value to whoever reads you before even thinking about monetization. But once you have established some credibility for yourself, and you have learned how the web works in terms of being found and interacting with others you can definitely start thinking about making money too.

    Credibility, authority and traffic can be established by going out of your personal way to investigate, research, test, and explore new things and reporting in detail your discoveries to others.

    Personal informal blogging can be even an art form but has nothing to do with this. If you want to blog about what you are doing next week and about the coolest tech book you have just read today, monetization should not be a concern for your site. Can't you pay $20/year for hosting and be done with it. Who ever got in your head that you could write just about anything you felt and make money on it? Rethink this one please.

    If instead you write and report on a specific topic, application or audience, while providing true value to your readers, you can then offer a ton of useful things, from relevant ads to the selling of great anthologies of your work in print, video DVDs or e-books. The possibilities for anyone taking care of a focused topic are just about endless.


"1) Long tail advertising is real. AdSense accounts for $4B/year to Google (2007). And it's the faster growing side of their business. 5 years ago that was $0.

2) Meaningful value can be created for advertisers on smaller (niche) sites, through AdSense and other programs.

3) Marketers are embracing social media (blogs, interest sites, social networks) where they seek engagement and voice.

Ultimately blogs as a more nuanced, subtle, perspective-ized media (that are also more personally relevant) are here to stay. In fact, blogs can create a safer, more receptive environment for marketers...

...AdSense is more useful to measure the potential of the market, at this very moment, and less useful for projecting the demise (or non-development) of a powerful, new media that promises to expose deep niches of content, hard-to-reach audiences, and webs of connections between people and ideas."

(Source: Jared comment)

Beware of recommendations and advice about making money with blogs and content online from those that haven't made any yet.

Those analyzing from the outside, theorizing business models and citing the hopelessness of the long tail as a matter of fact may be great advisors to those NOT interested in communicating, sharing, taking an opportunity to voice their interest and hearts while at times creating for themselves an opportunity to become more independent.

Blogging doesn't have to be about money, but what better way than to be rewarded for sharing your knowledge and skills in a blog?

If your passion and enthusiasm drive your focus and motivation to first start publishing online, you may have much greater chances to end up offering a valued information service, which, once successful, can be monetized and made sustainable.

Don't forget that what making money really means varies a great deal around the world. If you live in Argentina, Thailand or any other non-first-world-country... the revenues that may appear small to an American or a European, can provide a better economic payback than a full-time salary.

Let's not also forget that this is the new frontier and that making money with blogs online is a completely new endevaour without established practices and traditions and where new ways and approaches to monetization are created every single day.

To make money online you can't just follow the official 1-2-3 step dance: post, link and put AdSense ads next to your content.

Profitability online is the result of a different equation: give value, share goods, and enable your readers to discover tools and services that could truly help them in their professions. Do something you believe in first, and then if successful at it, find ways to make it pay back.

The key is not just about being unique. The key is providing relevant, findable answers, to specific question in a trusted, credible, way. And don't forget: Being persistent does pay off.

Readers' Comments    
2007-12-08 11:32:05

Jay Kerr

This entry was an excellent read because it was sensible and it takes a critical look at blogging for cash.

I feel sorry for people that quit their jobs and try to blog for a living. They read about successful bloggers that make $50-100,000/year and think they can replicate that if they read the right books and go the right seminars. The scary thing is that I'm reading more an more stories about people trying to earn a living from creating a blog.

If you blog with the sole purpose of making cash then your blog probably lacks soul and passion. I like to think that a lot of the better blogs exist because people are passionate about a niche market or subject. If they can make some money from the blog to pay for hosting then great!

If your only reason for having a blog is to make it into the next Newsweek article about people that blog for a living then you're probably wasting your time.

2007-12-03 04:19:13

Robin Good

HI Alex,
and thank you for coming by to provide your feedback.

You are very right that I didn't provide enough links and examples of what makes money, though I have listed a few very random URLs here in the comments that I know personally do provide a good return to those running them.

In response to your specific question: "What makes money?" I would answer: any site with a specific focus, good content and a good understanding of SEO basics, titling and proper online formatting can make money online, especially given the still very low standard of most other "commercial" blog sites.

Not every content niche is a money-maker, and Google AdSense is not the only way to make your blog sustainable.

Those making money are those screaming the least about it, as they often do not want others to see how simple and within reach that venue really is.

By all means it is not an easy road. But if you are passionate about the topic, it is definitely doable.

2007-12-03 00:01:04

Alex Iskold

Hey there,

A really really good counter post. I enjoyed reading it a lot.

To be fair though, I do not see any specific examples in your post. What makes money?

My post is simply based on power law curve and traffic arguments.



2007-12-02 16:17:13

Robin Good

Hi JP, here are a few sites that with a few thousand visitors can bring a living in revenue:
(Italian sites managed by one person)
(two extra small sites I manage)

Some of these sites make less than 10,000 visitors per month but they can pull in a good monthly salary for the person who maintains them.

2007-12-02 15:52:20


Thanks Robin for the article.

Can you provide some examples about this, please?:

9. ..."I have personally ample proof that sites with as little as a few thousand visitors per month can actually bring a full salary and more even for someone living in the first world..."

posted by Robin Good on Sunday, December 2 2007, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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