Money in the archives

Following a recent article in Wired News about the viability of blogging as a revenue generating model, I started thinking about the value of archival material to a blogger.

As readers of this site might have noticed when using the web interface, I am using the Google Ad service called AdSense. As I am not at freedom to reveal the terms of my contract with them or discuss specific, I’ll talk in general about online advertising programs.

The first thing to take into account is that the model on using advertising in archives is one largely predicated on a long tail concept, whereas one can make more money from small increment over a long run than trying to score the big hit. In my case, this means trying to get a few good stories out on a regular basis, none of which is going to make lots of money on a single day but a few cents or a few dollars a day can add up to quite a nice payoff on a yearly basis. I believe that people who blog and develop a nice audience can see some of those results.

Let’s take a hypothetical story of 1000 words. A long-standing view in the journalism word is that a dollar per word is the standard (I’ve seen much lower rates as a result of the downturn in technology publications but more on this later). So a writer would write the standard story and get $1000 back for his or her effort. At that point, the publication would print it and/or publish it on their website and start generating revenue against it. The model here, is that the publication is taking a risk with the writer, fronting the money and will recover the money over time. The other part of the equation is that publication has a built in audience and therefore markets the writer to that audience. Because they market their own publication, there is supposed to be a halo effect that shrouds the writer into the great light of being associated with publication X.

The truth, however, is a little different. Unless you’re already an established brand or have a story that is of such import that it will rock the nation or the world, no one will care who the writer is. For a quick test, try to think of who were the writers who wrote the front page story of any given mainstream publication this week. Let’s assume you passed that test, what else have you read by them?

By contrast, blogs offer the writer a single platform. When I visit a particular blog, I have a relationship with the writer. Over time, as I visit it more, I get to know the writer’s brand. This is important because several bloggers have already made the transition from the blogging world into traditional media on the strength of their audience.

This, of course, is a role reversal as blog writers now establish their own audience, decreasing the need for the much vaunted halo effect large publications can give them.

Going further, one has to think about the long term dollar (or Yuan, or Euro) value of a story. As I mentioned above, the traditional freelance writer hands over the story and gets paid. That’s where the money stops.

However, on a blog, the story stays online. If the blog is reasonably optimized to figure prominently in search engines, this is where it starts having a second life. Long after a blog post has been made, it still gets traffic. I see this here at TNL.net on a few popular posts covering areas that no one else seems to have bothered with. And this is where the incremental revenue start to come in.

Once the entry has advertising on it, any revenue generated from that advertising goes to the blog writer. Initially, it’s not comparable to the thousand dollars the writer got from a mainstream publication but, if the entry has legs (ie, it keeps serving an audience), it continues to generate money, pretty much until one of a few possible things happen:

  • The writer decides to remove ads from his/her site
  • The writer decides to remove the entry from the site
  • The story has run its course and is no longer useful or superceded by a better one

If one writes with such a long run view, a story can generate several times what the initial payback was from a publication.

Another important thing, when one writes a weblog, is to ensure you promote your work properly. I read a number of weblogs (over 300 at this time) and have gotten familiar with a few of the writers. If I write an entry that may be of interest to them, I have no qualms about dropping them a quick email with the link to the story and the content of the full entry in it, along with a short note as to why I thought it might interest them. This kind of self promotion generally helps in driving initial traffic to the entry.

But this does not have to be something that is limited to bloggers. Writers can also take advantage of it. As per word rates have been decreasing, it has been easier to negotiate on certain terms in a contract. One of the terms a writer should always try to negotiate is the length of exclusivity on rights. I generally negotiate for rights on a piece to revert to me after a certain period of time (for example, exclusive rights being given until 90 days after initial publication). Writers will find that most editors are more willing to negotiate such terms (as they have some leeway there) than they are to increase the per word rate. Once a story is published, I then make an entry in my calendar (or in the case of the custom publishing solution I have running this site, in the content management system itself) to publish the story on the site 90 days after the first day the story was published (I check that either by having a copy of the print publication in hand or seeing it live on their site). That content then stays online for as long as I want. In some cases, it gets interesting as stories I wrote years ago are getting a little extra traffic and making some extra money. It’s the fire and forget approach.

The result is that there is a lot of money to be made in such archival content, small dimes adding up to, hopefully, full dollars.

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