Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It’s the Economy, Stupid

On the VQR blog, Waldo Jaquith confirms what I’ve long suspected. Blogging as a revenue stream is, shall we say, somewhat paltry. Maybe you should go back to shooting those 300 free throws before dawn.

Mark Penn (who was Hillary Clinton’s chief political strategist for her presidential campaign) came up with the incredible contention (in the Wall Street Journal, no less) that “more Americans are making their primary income from posting their opinions than Americans working as computer programmers, firefighters or even bartenders,” and that “there are almost as many people making their living as bloggers as there are lawyers.”

You could fit what I know about blogging into a matchbox (a full matchbox), but even I know that is an extravagant error. In fact, this bring to mind the overblown claims of “trends” as breathlessly described by Time Magazine--in short, wishful thinking in the form of narrative.

Here are Penn’s claims:

20 million American bloggers
1.7 million bloggers making a profit
452,000 bloggers using bloggers as a primary source of income.

The internet is magical and all that (like King Midas, everything it touches turns to content, which is half-way between data and metaphor, either partaking of the most or least interesting aspects of both), but it’s not that’s magical. Pixel dust will not get you high enough to suspend the economic laws of physics.

Penn claims that it takes about 100,000 unique visitors a month to generate an income of $75,000 a year. Jacquith points out that the average annual blogger revenue is more than $6,000, but that this figure is dependent on the top 1% of bloggers, who earn over $200,000. He does some other takedowns of Penn’s, er, methods, the least of which underscore the reality that net journalism needs infrastructure and review just like ground-bound print journalism. Which makes me feel both worried and comforted.

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