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Monday, August 22, 2016

"Art" Blogs as a Business

Chris Gampat's ongoing quest to turn talking about black and white art photography into a business got me to thinking, is there a business here? Let's poke at a few numbers.

First, let's suppose that the language in question is English (if you're dealing with Mandarin Chinese the situation is a somewhat better). We've got about 1 billion people on the planet who speak English, and let us suppose that all of them read it fluently enough to follow an English-language blog. We're erring on the side of generosity.

Let us also assume that all these people have cell phones and internet access, again, a bit generous. They probably all also have a camera in their phone.

Suppose 1 in 100 of those people has some interest in Photography as a thing they might like to read about. That gives 10 million people who might read some English-language photography content, and let's say, I dunno, 20 percent of those are the sort of people to become regular readers of something other than facebook or whatever the major social media sites are. That leaves us 2 million people.

Given that sites like PetaPixel and DPReview and whatnot seem to clock in around (very vague estimates) 100,000-200,000 regular readers and probably roughly the same number of casual/occasionals, it feels like we're in the ballpark. Those 2 million are going to be spread around a bit over the half dozen or so majors, many of them will have found more niche-y homes, and so on. 2 million is at least a credible number.

Now, what percentage of those are going to be interested in Art & Culture? 10%? 1%? You're looking at a total global market of, estimating generously, 200,000 people. Of that population, let's say 1 in 4 finds your particular take on things interesting enough to read your output from time to time, you're down to 50,000 people. In total.

If you capture 100% of those generously estimated 50,000 readers you can not make a living. Let me re-phrase that. You cannot make a living as a pure media play. There's just not enough money there.

Google AdSense says they think I could make $12 a month on my blog, which has maybe 200-400 readers (in my 50,000 readers sense, so including the casual drive-bys as well as the regular/daily readers). Scaling up to those 50,000 readers (250x), AdSense clocks in at $3000 a month. To capture that market, you're probably spending some money on content, or at least on staff and infrastructure, so there's less money even than that. Maybe AdSense sucks and the real number ought to be more like $6000 a month, if you did the advertising right.

Now, if you chose to make the blog a marketing vehicle for selling something else, services or products, than there might be a business here. But nobody's making a living with a Photography Art E-Magazine, there is literally only a few thousand bucks a month -- globally -- on the table here.

And, to be honest, I think that the real number is more like 5,000 (1% are interested in Art and Culture, not 10%). I've been writing this blog for a while, and every now and then I place a piece somewhere else or get a high-visibility link. There's a spike in traffic, but in a week or two it backs off to the baseline. I think I've tapped my market out pretty completely. There's probably a bit of turnover, people get bored, new people discover photothunk, but I'm pretty sure this is it. Maybe I could quadruple my readership or something, with the right sort of push? That's generous, I think.

So, $48 a month. For, I admit, a pretty fringe blog. Go more mainstream, generate 10x the money! $500/month.

There's no business here. I'm not gonna monetize you guys, because there are easier ways to get $12/month, when you get right down to it.


  1. Your analysis is interesting, but it includes only the revenue from selling eyeballs and overlooks the subscription revenue: "Basic membership starts at $15/year while intermediate will be $40/year, and advanced will slate in at $100/year."

    50,000 readers at, say, $20/year (I'll assume the average subscription fee is weighted heavily toward the $15 rate) is $1,000,000. I don't know about you, but even after paying out a substantial portion of that in expenses, I'm fairly certain my dog and I could live comfortably on what's left.

    Speaking of which, do you have any idea how LuLa is doing now that it's been behind a paywall for a while?

    I decided it wasn't worth $12/year to me -- just as I have already decided La Noire Image isn't worth any amount of money per year to me (and I haven't even seen it yet, plus I love B&W photography, so that really says something, eh?) -- thus I have no idea what's going there these days...

    1. Conversion rates are generally abysmal. 3% or so seems to be normal. Even assuming you can convert 10% of that hypothetical 50,000 readers, you're still looking at $20 x 5000 a year, which is $100,000 gross, which is a) a gross revenue figure and b) based on a series of pretty optimistic guesses.

      That said, sure if there IS a business in here someplace it's in add-ons and extras. One might consider the e-zine as the media component of, say, an e-gallery. One could rep photographers, sell prints, and so on. I'm pretty sure Chris G has some general aspirations in that direction, but I'm pretty sure he's just chucking together all the ideas he can lift from other nominally successful web sites.

      ToP is probably the closest thing to a successful web site in this area that exists, and I suspect that it's the only one the market will support. Mike is pretty low-key about it, but he is hitting a bunch of revenue opportunities. Ads, affiliate links, print sales, and now a patreon. And good for him, Mike writes excellent and important content.

  2. I long ago gave up on trying to make money writing a blog. I'm happy if a few extra people sign up for one of my online courses or stop by Amazon to buy a book but the actual revenue that the site generated, even in its commercial heyday, topped out around $1,500 a month and that was mostly affiliate marketing with Amazon. The flip side is that to hit that small figure required the almost ceaseless marketing of any photographic tool that came down the pike. It was a mess. According to Google I've had about 84,000,000 page views so I'll leave it to someone brighter than me to do the math and figure out what I was able to earn per view. I did not quit my day job. The only way to make a blog successful is to love to write and to love your subject. That may make the blog successful (existentially) but is absolutely no guarantee that you'll make enough $$$ to buy coffee...

    1. I thought you were on holiday, Kirk?
      Yeah I know - we still check into our favourite blogs.
      Now isn't that a sign of success regardless of dollars earns?

  3. As Mae West (should have) said, "Monetize me, baby!"

  4. OK, let's try this once more, in English:

    I think I've made this point before, but: most free-of-charge blog traffic stats are very unreliable. Google Blogger's own stats are vastly inflated by multiple counting and robotic visitors; divide by four or more. Google Analytics is better at filtering out junk, but probably misses some of your most regular readers using various feeds, whilst including your own visits, including the many you might make when editing a post before posting it. Blogger claims to be able to exclude your own pageviews, but doesn't.

    No doubt you can pay someone for accurate monitoring, but until your daily hits get into the tens of thousands (I believe TOP gets 30K+ daily) what's the point; there's no money to be made out of blogging out here in The Black...


  5. Now we have some decibel numbers to describe to us how loud the sound of one hand clapping actually is...

  6. I wonder what the figures are like for The Inspired Eye? That seems to be what Gampat is trying to copy. It's been going for quite a while now. Quite unpretentious and turns out a few gems now and again.

    1. Thanks for the pointer to Inspired Eye, I hadn't run across them before!

      They claim 10,643 readers (which... I don't even know what that means, does that mean subscribers to the e-mag?). Feedly shows about 5x as many readers as me, which is.. not a good indicator.

      Alexa suggests 200,000the most popular site, which is well below all the majors (PP, LuLa, ToP, etc) and also firmly below minors like, well, like thephoblographer.com.

      My guess is that the site gets Very Little Traffic in terms of commercial web operations, but they're selling an e-mag, not a web site. It's possible that the subscription numbers for the mag are honest, but they probably have promoted through many other venues.

      The e-mag would be generating about $100K/yr in recurring revenue, which ain't bad. But also ain't nobody getting rich.

      All estimates vague and subject to wild inaccuracies, of course.

    2. They're also just quietly getting on with it, working hard, building by word of mouth, and being professional and enthusiastic. They don't ask for hand outs, their rates are reasonable, and they deliver. And the content is always interesting, albeit niche. And I'm pretty sure they know what gender "image" is in French.