How should the WC turn a profit on the money-losing blog?
Jan. 10 update: Thanks to everyone who emailed suggestions, kind words, and encouragement. I was especially surprised that so many of you said I was giving the blog away for free when I should be charging money for it. Wrote one reader: “l subscribe to Netflix, AppleNews+,and various financial newsletters, why not a wine letter?”
Why was I surprised? Because I’m a cranky ex-newspaperman and was taught that circulation is all that matters. Which, as so many of you noted, is a very old-fashioned and irrelevant concept in 2021.
So I’ll look at the best way to do subscriptions and report back. And not to worry, it will include a discount for everyone from the blog who signs up.
The end of 2020 marks another milestone for the blog – I’ve lost money on it for 13 consecutive years. Which raises the question: Is there any way to make the blog profitable? Should I even try?
The blog’s primary goal when it started was marketing, to get my name and work out among the wine world. If I made money with it, so much the better. The blog has done the former beyond any expectation. I’m continually talking to people who know the blog and who know what I do even though there doesn’t seem to be any reason they should.
But money? Not so much. Again, in the blog’s early days, that didn’t matter. I had a more or less thriving freelance business, supplemented by teaching and a little consulting. But the pandemic has put a kibosh on the freelance business, which had already been in decline. And the latter were always supplements, and never a way to make a living (and, for what it’s worth, haven’t fared all that well over the past couple of years, either). So yes, now it would be nice if the blog turned a profit.
Many of you, at this point, probably want to ask: “But what about all those ads, Jeff? Don’t they make a difference?” Yes, if you’re the New York Times or ESPN or any site that gets millions and millions of visitors. A half-million isn’t enough: I’ve never earned more than $600 or $700 a year from ads. That doesn’t even cover half of the cost of the site’s hosting service.
So that brings us back to “monetizing” the blog – it it worth the trouble? Because, in the post-modern, 21st century world of blogging, making money on the blog means doing one of a variety of choices that are less than appealing:
• Sponsored content: Sponsors pay me money, I run posts they write to plug their products, and you may or may not be the wiser. “Oh, look, the WC found something nice to say about Winking Owl!” The surprise is not that I find sponsored posts morally reprehensible; I am who I am, after all. Rather, that so many wine sites that pride themselves on objectivity take the money and run the posts.
• Premium content: Pay a fee to get special, subscriber-only content. The blog’s reason for being is to make wine accessible, so making part of it inaccessible to most visitors doesn’t make much sense.
• Begging for money: It’s not called that of course, but that’s the result. Typically, there’s a button on the blog visitors can click to send money. Or there are sites like Patreon, which all the really hip sites use. Neither sounds like me, does it?
• A paywall: The Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate have paywalls. Enough said.
• Pay to go ad-free: This is the least annoying of the choices, but it raises more questions. How much do I charge? How much will it cost to set up? Will anyone care?
Hence, nothing will likely change, and the blog will continue to limp along financially. Unless, of course, someone else has a better idea? You can leave a comment or send me an email.