Buffalo blogging: for love or money?
Many writers who seek a pot of gold at the end of the online rainbow find they barely earn enough to buy a daily cup of coffee. And yet the allure of trying to make a living writing online is a powerful one. After all, what expert in any field wouldn’t want to work from home without a boss to censor or edit? But it isn’t that easy. I know from personal experience.
Since leaving the Buffalo News close to three years ago, I have been writing a blog, stilltalkintv. The idea was to fill what I believed was a void in my former employer’s media coverage, a void created when I left. By page-load standards, the blog has been a hit; I have had 1.3 million page loads since I began, and recently hit a high of about 80,000 page loads in a month. I often make between $100 and $125 a month from Google ads carried on the site, and I’m told by other bloggers that that figure is fantastic for a solo blog. I’ve also been told by media advertising people that readership of my blog should generate up to $800 or more a month, if I just had someone selling it.
I’ve tried. Three people who have sold TV time told me that it would be no problem to generate that kind of advertising revenue; they all left without selling an ad after they got new jobs and didn’t have the time to follow through. It gets to be more than a little frustrating despite the nonmonetary benefits from blogging: it keeps you in the game, and, in my case, it helped me get teaching gigs at two area colleges.
Still, my frustration got me thinking: How are other smalltime bloggers doing in this very competitive media world? Are they making money? If so, how? The answers from this small sampling should help any aspiring bloggers understand what they are getting into.
Bob Koshinski, All Sports WNY
All Sports WNY covers professional, high school, and college sports in the area, carries releases from area teams, and emphasizes coverage of high school wrestling, which Koshinski has been heavily involved in. He estimates he gets 25,000 page loads a month. Koshinski, who doesn’t pay for written content, spends about ninety minutes updating the site daily.
“I’m making money,” he says. “This probably is the first year I should end up averaging over four figures a month.” That’s at least $1,000 to you nonmath majors.
Koshinski says he’s done it by building relationships with potential advertisers over the years, as he worked at various jobs—but he didn’t start asking for advertising dollars until six months after he started, when he saw that his site was getting significant numbers. “I’ve reached out to people I know, have relationships with, or have done business with,” said Koshinski. “I have a number of repeat customers. They are happy with it.”
All Sports WNY advertisers include the University at Buffalo, Niagara County Community College, the Buffalo Bisons, and Chef’s restaurant. In addition to ads, Koshinski creates an entire page for each advertiser, highlighting business involvement or running profiles of their athletes. “A couple of relationships help me do it as a one-man band,” Koshinski says. “The key is I’m not asking for a lot of money.”
Of course, websites can’t ask for a lot of money because they’re competing with the reach of the Buffalo News and local TV channels and their websites. That means that the money Koshinski makes from his website isn’t a living; he has another job for that. “I’m doing this more as a hobby,” says Koshinski. “It’s keeping me interested.”
Brad Riter, Trending Buffalo
Former WGR and WECK sports talk host Riter operates Trending Buffalo from above Spot Coffee on the corner of Delaware Avenue and Chippewa Street. “There is a gap to be filled between what the mainstream media and bloggers do and we’re trying to fill it,” says Riter, who gets a salary from the site’s backers, who are following Koshinski’s model—building an audience before charging for advertising.
Riter says he used to be excited when the site received 1,000 visitors a day; now, a good day sees ten times that. “I want it to be at 100,000 a day,” Riter says. “I think there is an audience for it; it’s a niche market.”
“I know the Buffalo News is upgrading its online content, but it’s stuck in a lot of old-school thinking,” says Riter, who hopes Buffalo is a big enough market to achieve success. “The goal is to build an audience large enough that when something happens and you need to hear from the media, Trending Buffalo is on the list with WGR, WBEN, and the Buffalo News. We’re trying to get ourselves in the conversation in a mainstream way.”
Marc Odien, WNY Media (host of stilltalkintv)
WNYMedia.net has broken some big stories, including the damning emails that shook the Republican gubernatorial campaign of local developer Carl Paladino. According to Odien, the site averages about 250,000 page loads a month, which may sound like a lot, but he isn’t getting rich. Fortunately, he doesn’t pay anyone (including me) for written content.
“I make about $300 a month,” shares Odien, who says the site used to generate as much as $1,000 or $1,500 a month in advertising, but that has declined because he can’t find anyone to sell advertising at a reasonable cost. With so little income, why does Odien operate the site?
“That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?” says the former Channel 2 news employee. “It promotes me and my business, WNYMedia Services, and scratches that itch of journalism that is still in me. It also gives me an outlet to share my videos and anything I want to share.”
Odien can think of a couple of reasons why WNYMedia.net and other local websites can’t generate more revenue. For starters, it’s difficult for local sites to compete with Google, which can package ads on multiple sites and charge much less than a single, local operator. “The problem with all advertising on websites is we’re talking about the old newspaper vs. billboard model and applying it to new technology,” explains Odien. “We have to change the model.”
Odien believes that means sponsored posts and videos. “You need something more viral as opposed to just a little box in a banner on the side of a web page,” he says. “The key is to think out of the box. Don’t think in terms of dollars in old-school banner advertising. You have to be creative and find new revenue streams.”
John C. Powell, Buffalo Rising
One of the more successful WNY online products (it stopped running a printed edition about four years ago), Buffalo Rising got in the game early and in September will celebrate ten years of covering “the positive and interesting people that make our city unique.” According to advertising director Powell, the online publication gets about 80,000 unique visitors a month. Though BR doesn’t pay for content, Powell declined to provide revenue figures, but did allow that it supports a salaried staff of four.
Powell says businesses with websites use Buffalo Rising to drive traffic and that the proliferation of mobile devices makes it easier for consumers to access the site and its advertising. “We’ve been able to increase our traffic and revenue every year,” notes Powell, who adds that Buffalo Rising’s particular niche draws advertisers. “We have something unique to Buffalo; no other publication is devoted to the city and the city only. You need a niche. We cover things people don’t hear about elsewhere.”
Which means if there’s a Buffalo website or blog that is making a lot of money, we should hear about it on Buffalo Rising first.
Former Buffalo News TV critic Alan Pergament blogs at stilltalkintv.com and teaches at Medaille and Buffalo State College.