Our Dream, Their Profit - 1: The Persuaders

Bob Leggitt | Monday, 21 May 2012 |



It’s an often regurgitated line in business circles that if you want to make money in a gold rush, you don’t dig for gold – you sell the means to dig. This, in fact, is one of the fundamental principles of business. It simply acknowledges that real, phenomenal success in life is severely limited and therefore highly unlikely, but the dream of phenomenal success is everywhere. Hence, making yourself a component in other people’s quest to live the dream is vastly more reliable a way to get rich than attempting to live the dream yourself.

If you're someone who creates music, or writes, or takes photographs, or in any other way generates original creative work, you probably have a dream. Ultimately, pretty much all of us either want mass attention, or money… Ideally, in most cases, both. But as creatives, the potential we see in our work is unusually grandiose. We can see precedents in which people with similar abilities and roles to ours, have made massive amounts of money and achieved astronomical success. Success which enables them to quit work, quit worrying about money, and basically do what the hell they like, for the rest of their lives.

That makes our dream more than a dream. We see astronomical success as something real and quite feasible, so instead of being a mere dream, it becomes an ambition. This is our Gold Rush, and we are the gold diggers. We're now vulnerable to the countless businesses who recognise our deep desire to strike gold, and want to sell us their shovels.

First, though, they have to raise our expectations – pretend that our success is much more likely than is really the case. This insidious raising of expectation is a threat to us, because it persuades us to spend money when, realistically, our chances of even recovering the outlay are near non-existent. Chances are, we won't just buy one shovel in the course of our endeavours. We'll buy heaps of the things. The article on the following link is an all-too-common example of the kind of exaggeration we encounter on an almost daily basis. This is how the persuaders do their persuading...

http://www.forbes.com/sites/larissafaw/2012/04/25/is-blogging-really-a-way-for-women-to-earn-a-living-2/

It’s a credibly-presented piece on a big, ‘reputable’ site, which I imagine most people would trust, and, if they’ve never previously tried blogging, take seriously. However, if you’re a typical blogger who’s been active for a considerable period of time, you’ll most likely assess the article as grossly unrealistic. It serves, in my opinion, purely to dramatically and unrealistically inflate people’s expectations of earning a good living from blogging.

Surely, no writer working for a big, financially-orientated site like that could possibly believe that, quote: "the majority of women bloggers receive at least $250 in free products each month". That's just blatant crap. But remember, this is not a 'scam site'. It's a respected source which many a naive newcomer to writing will trust. In fact, adding together the 10% of 'top earners' and the 70% of other 'earners', the article suggests that 80% of (in this case female) bloggers do so for profit. The author refers to figures from the Pew Research Center, and the actual numbers clearly don’t incorporate the whole of the worldwide blogosphere, but that's not made clear. Reading that article, someone with no prior knowledge of blogging would see a wildly distorted vision of a pastime which compensates most participants, and in which the chances of success are very high. Blogging, as that site well knows, is the exact opposite of that. Here’s the reality of blogging for profit...

WordPress.com, one of the 'big three' blogging platforms, is well known for its refusal to permit users to blog for profit. Therefore, tens of millions of blogs, hosted on WordPress.com, do not generate revenue for the blogger. Then there’s Tumblr – once again, hosting tens of millions of blogs. What proportion of those Tumblr blogs are monetised? The percentage is inconsequential, and indeed the overwhelming majority of Tumblr blogs don’t even meet the terms of service for the major advertising programmes. Between them, the largely user-ad-free platforms of WordPress.com and Tumblr make up a huge chunk of the worldwide blogosphere, so any notion that 80% of female bloggers could be blogging for profit is clearly nonsensical.

And to take seriously a suggestion that 10% of female bloggers earn over $100,000 a year is either sheer incompetence or a deliberate attempt to mislead. The article admits there’s no real way to measure what bloggers are earning, so what substance there could possibly be to a claim that 10% earn six figures is a mystery. It can only be guesswork – very bad and/or deliberately exaggerated guesswork in my opinion.

Of course, there are millions of blogs which can feasibly be monetised by the blogger, and many, many are. And yes, there are some 'bloggers' who do earn a proper living purely from what they write. But let's be clear; the proportion earning over $100,000 per year is minute. To make six figures I'd estimate that you'd need to be getting over a million hits per month, constantly, no dips, and you'd definitely need to be selling with every post. Posting photos, comedy or poems wouldn't bring you that sort of return or anything like it - even if you were getting the hits.

You'd have to be doing 'product reviews' - in other words, literally writing adverts. If you're not doing 'product reviews', it's easily possible to get over 1,000 unique visitors in a day and earn literally nothing at all from a monetised blog. I can state that from personal experience. To make good money in the long term, you have to be an exceptionally good salesperson. But frankly, if you were that good a salesperson, there'd be much easier and more profitable ways to earn than blogging. Indeed, I'd argue that someone who earns a great living from a blog is not a blogger, but an Internet marketer. It's a different brief, and the boring, day after day grind of weasel-wording eulogies to indifferent products would probably be no more fulfilling than a regular, nine to five job.

As for the article's suggestion that hard-nosed companies hand out $hundreds per month to unknown bloggers on spec… Well, that's barely even worthy of analysis. You establish and maintain a successful business by pinching every single penny – not by chucking products and cash at anyone who has the ability to spell. A $300 kitchen product for 500 monthly views?… Yeah, if you say so. That’s not even 20 visits a day! Turn the situation around: if you had $300 to spend on advertising, would you give it to some random blogger quoting stats of 20 visits a day? No, and neither would any other sane being – let alone a ruthless, moneywise business.

So the whole picture is about as feasible as Narnia turning out to be real, but it’s all part of the dreambuilding process which allows the shovel sellers to sell us their shovels. We have to be convinced that the gold is there, and that it’s relatively easy to find, and articles like that do the convincing.

The example I’ve used to demonstrate the way creatives are led up the garden path in the name of profit, is relatively innocuous. The article’s horrendously distorted and grossly misleading, but it doesn’t directly push a service. Other online businesses are far more exploitative and manipulative, obviously, but when you see a ‘reputable’ site coming out with stuff like that it really brings home the magnitude of the problem. The people we expect to be able to trust are feeding us material they must know is inaccurate. Profit comes first, and the almost inevitable disappointment faced by those taking the 'information' at face value couldn't matter less.

In Part 2, I’ll be moving closer to home, and looking at how the blog hosts capitalise upon our dream. here's the link to Part 2...

Our Dream, Their Profit - Part 2: The Blog Hosts

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