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Bleeding Edge and the Search for a Blog Business Model

ToadThere’s been an interesting progression of thoughts over at Aussie Charles Writght’s blog (Bleeding Edge) over the last week or so as they’ve searched for a business model for their blogging (originally spotted via Squash who has some thoughts on it too). Here’s the progression of posts on the topic over the last week or so:

Charles wrote on the 15th of this month that they were in the process of closing down the ‘Razor’ blog which he’d been writing for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age – mainly because of the time it was taking and the low return in terms of income in comparison to other forms of writing that they could earn money from.

The following day he wrote that they were exploring a subscription based approach – ie charging $15 per year for an email version of the column. The responses from readers were mixed, although the positives outweighed the negatives (although there were only 19 comments in total which makes me wonder how many readers would pay $15 if they didn’t bother to give an opinion).

The next day the reports were that 12 or so readers had subscribers – and that some had gone above the $15 subscription fee and had paid up to $50 – that’s what loyal readers to a blog will do.

On the 21st there was another post with an update. Again it spoke of the generosity of some readers and talked about the possibility of a subscriber only section of the blog called the Blood Bank. Readers were then asked to consider what the blog had meant to them.

I’m finding the progression of posts most interesting. The search for a business model is not an easy one (I say this from personal experience). In fact it can be incredibly frustrating and is filled with all kinds of heart ache and angst. You feel like you’ve got something worthwhile to say and you’d like to put more time and energy into it – but you have to pay the bills and despite your best intentions it just doesn’t work.

As I read through the above posts today I found myself thinking along a number of different spectrums simultaneously. Let me attempt to get some of the thoughts out here – not as a critique but in the hope that it helps someone (and perhaps even me as I continue to grapple with my own business models for blogs).

Subscriptions – as I wrote a couple of posts ago – charging readers for content is not an easy thing to do. The challenges are many and include (for Bleeding Edge) transitioning readers from free content to paid content. Most web users are used to accessing free quality content and many (if not most) would be reluctant to pay unless they were getting something either:

1. exclusive – something that they just couldn’t get elsewhere
2. extra – perhaps something beyond content (community, prestige, personal advice, a gift, a chance to win something etc)
3. excellent – exceptional quality of writing
4. expertise – perhaps this taps into #’s 1 and 3 but I think it goes beyond. Some people will be willing to pay to get content from someone who is the number 1 in their field.

I’ve not tried this route myself (and have no intention of doing so) but I suspect to make it work there would be a need for a fairly large readership to start with as only a small percentage (and I’m guessing) would be willing to pay.

Syndication – I first heard of Bleeding Edge and Charles Wright through reading his column on a Thursday in The Green Guide of The Age. The column has a URL at the bottom that was to his blog which grabbed my attention and took me over to see what else he had to say (I think he was writing something against Macs which of course sucked me in :-) ).

As I read the posts that Charles has written above about the decision to withdraw their content from The Age and SMH I wondered whether it was a smart move or not. While I understand the cold hard dollar figures and how blogging is paying them less per word than other forms of writing – I do wonder whether being published in those newspapers might have had other benefits to their income earning potential. I’m thinking here of another recent post that I’ve written on indirect money making through blogs and wonder if the same principles can come into play through newspaper columns.

The Bleeding Edge column was in the hands of thousands of people each week in hard copy and as a result the names ‘Charles Wright’ and ‘Bleeding Edge’ were being seen by thousands.

While I understand the decision to pull out of the papers I hope that in doing so Charles is not killing off perhaps the best publicity that he could have for himself and his other blogs.

Advertising – A year ago now I did a little friendly/free work for Charles in looking over his blog in terms of it’s AdSense optimization. From memory it helped a bit but not heaps. I’m totally unaware of how the ads perform these day on the blog but obviously they don’t bring in that much. There are probably a few teaks they could do to optimize the ads in terms of positioning that might bring in a few extra clicks – but as I look at the blog I see a larger problem in terms of contextual ads – these being the blog’s topic and the blog’s source of readership.

While I enjoy the topic (innovation) I wonder if it might be a little too wide when it comes to contextual advertising. I’m not saying they should narrow their niche, just that it might just be a reality that they have to live with.

In terms of the source of readership – I suspect it’s a largely loyal readership and as a result they are suffering from ad blindness. In at least one of the comments on the posts I mentioned above I read of one reader who said he didn’t even notice the ads. Perhaps some rotation of different colors and new ad positions might help – but unfortunately this might be an ongoing problem – one of the downsides of a blog which people love and keep coming back to.

My only suggestion with advertising is that perhaps they should investigate mixing the ads up a little. I don’t know the blog’s traffic levels but maybe they could try some impression based ads – perhaps there is also some scope to be selling some text ads to capitalize on their PR of 5 (more on different ad options here).

Other Indirect Income Earners – the last thing that I found myself pondering as I gave thought to the Bleeding Edge predicament is that perhaps one way forward is to explore some more indirect income earning possibilities. Charles does have a good reputation and profile when it comes to ‘technological things’. He not only had the column in the papers but appears from time to time on radio (or at least he used to). I just asked three Melbourne friends if they knew who he was and they all said they did.

Perhaps the way forward for Bleeding Edge is in capitalizing on this in some way. Of course I’m unsure exactly how (and I’ve taken almost 2 hours out of my day to think about this and write up this post already) but perhaps rather than exploring was to earn an income directly from the blog via ads or subscriptions it would be useful to think of how to leverage it’s profile. One idea is some sort of e-book on some subsegment of innovation.

Concluding Thoughts

I’m aware that the above thoughts might come off as a critique or as a pretty arrogant commentary on what is another person’s life and business. This is not my intention.

I see the search for a business model as something that many bloggers go through. My own search for one for ProBlogger has taken a year and a half and is only just now beginning to be formed (luckily I had other income streams to get me through to this point). My hope is that these random and unfinished thoughts being put out there are helpful to other bloggers working through similar issues with their blogs, and maybe even to Charles (who I’m told I’ll be bumping into in person in Coolum in the next few days).

Update: Charles has posted a response/update to this post and made a few clarifications. Seems I was wrong about the column in the Green Guide ending – I think that’s definately a good thing. Also the subscriptions seem to be rolling in which is great also.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Kevin says:

    “… the decision to withdraw their content from The Age…”

    NOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooo. This was one of the few reasons I subscribe to Thursday’s Age.

    I haven’t paid for any web based sites in the past, but maybe I will have to now to keep reading his stuff.

  2. Darren:
    I just started a blog on Web Analytics aka Web Traffic Analysis and I have to remember that even if I am to money from Google AdSense, it may take a long time to happen.

    I understand the pain of anyone who wonders why they can’t pay their bills with their Blogs or whatever they love to do, remember the popular saying, “Do What You Love and The Money Will Follow”?

    I believe that their has to be a deeper more fulfilling reason for blogging, like Guy Kawasaki says, you have to blog for the right reasons.

  3. Martin Roth says:

    Hi Darren,

    Looking just at the money side of things, I think professional journalism (that is, for a newspaper or magazine) pays vastly more than blogging does. I’ve done freelance writing for various Fairfax publications (Fairfax publishes both The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald) and got paid 50 cents Australian (about 37 US cents) per word. Is there any blogger anywhere in the world making 37 cents a word, apart from Andrew Sullivan?

    I’ve always assumed that if you’re a professional journalist you go into pro-blogging for the fun and freedom, but not for the money.

  4. Stuart says:

    I certainly wish Charles well but I’ve already told him that what he proposed would not work.

    The idea that everything on the Net is free is still firmly entrenched and people have a natural aversion to paying for a subscription to something they think should be free.