Advertising as a Revenue Model for Web Sites is Dead
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DailyKos announced yesterday that their online ad revenue has dropped 30% over the last year. At AMERICAblog, we're in a similar financial situation.
Online advertising revenue – our only source of income – died when Lehman Brothers collapsed four years ago. Within a few months of the collapse, 75% of our income was gone in one fell swoop. And it's never full recovered. Not even close. I've been subsidizing AMERICAblog out of my savings for the past four years. Those savings are now gone. But our expenses don't stop.
A lot of experts I talk to agree with Daily Kos – the industry has changed, online advertising will never again bring in the revenue it did four years ago (not only do advertisers become gun shy during an economic downturn, but online ads now go for a pittance of what they sold for before the collapse). Many now fear that advertising will no longer be able to sustain Web sites in the future. The mainstream media's financial problems have now become the online media's financial problems.
I don't normally talk about finances – my parents ingrained a “don't talk about money” ethic in me that's either very midwest, Greek or American, I don't know. So I haven't done nearly enough to educate folks about how bad finances have been these past four years, for the entire Netroots. Our financial situation is one of the reasons for this year's redesign of AMERICAblog.
Part of the impetus for the redesign was Blogger's new content management system that was so bad it didn't even work on Apple products. But an equal justification for the redesign was that the old AMERICAblog design was losing readers – something we can't afford in a climate where advertising revenue has already dropped through the floor. We had a choice to either redesign the site in the hopes of more traffic, and more revenue, or shut down. I chose to live and fight another day.
Fortunately, the new design has helped traffic a lot (the election didn't hurt either). But as Markos noted over at DailyKos, that's no longer enough:
“The business of online publishing has changed… [we] can no longer depend on advertising to finance operations… [and] we have to make up the shortfall in other ways.”
What Your Donation Will Be Used For
Sometimes I get asked: How much can it really cost to run a simple blog?
I spend 14 hour+ days working on AMERICAblog – I generally finish weeknights around midnight or 1am, I work every weekend, and during my “vacations” I continue working the same hours on the site. AMERICAblog is my sole income, and it has to be: Running a good media/activism Web site takes a full investment of time. So there's a year's salary, health costs, and retirement (which I pay 100% out of my own pocket – when you're self-employed, there is no employer to pay your Social Security taxes or match your IRA).
Then there are our hosting costs, currently running $150/month, or $1,800 a year (hosting was free on Blogger, but as you know, that service ran too slow for too long, so we upgraded to another host, which is much quicker, but now we pay monthly), and if traffic increases (hopefully) those costs will double to $300/month and higher.
Our entire redesign and move to a new host was relatively “cheap,” at around $1,700 (I got a great deal from a good friend).
But we have more work to do, including creating a mobile site to better optimize AMERICAblog for ipads, iphones, and other mobile devices, and other changes we want to make to the main site, such as incorporating additional sub-blogs. We envisage needing another $3,000 to $5,000 to upgrade the blog further in the near-term.
Then there are additional technology expenses, such as a new computer, which I need, but have been holding off on for about a year in order to save money – my only computer is a four and a half year old laptop I bought in 2008. I upgraded the RAM and hard-drive, on my own, a year ago in order to keep it alive longer, but I'm going to need a new desktop computer soon (then I'll continue using my nearly 5 year old laptop when I travel). A new desktop will cost me a few thousand dollars.
And finally, I had always planned that if we made enough money on AMERICAblog, I could start paying my writers a real salary. Currently, they donate their time for free (Chris, as an original co-founder, gets a share of our ad profits, but it's not much, especially the last few years). My goal would be to be able to pay our current writers, at least part-time, and hire additional experts in additional issue areas. The cost of that (I did a back of the envelope calculation), could be a minimum of $10,000 a year per writer – and that's simply hiring them as a contractor at a minimum payment per article. I'm not earning enough to be able to afford even one additional writer on contract, beyond Chris.
Finally, I've been asked if I'm paid for my TV appearances. Sadly, I'm not.
How You Can Help?
Join Our Email List
So we, like DailyKos and every other Netroots, and non-Netroots, media venture are working on other ways to generate revenue, including our email list. A quick word about our email list – we have two. One sends you an email every night, with the headline and link to every blog post that day. It's short and simple, and a good way to keep track of what's on the site without having to check in throughout the day. Our second list, which I need to update, is intended to be a weekly summary of the top post that week. Again, a short and sweet email to help you keep up with the blog when I know that you've all got busy lives and can't always drop by as much as you'd like.
The other way to help, is to donate. Even $5 helps, and is most welcome. But if the spirit moves you, you can also set up an ongoing monthly donation – even a few bucks a month, would be great. You can find both of those options via our contribution page.
Share Our Content on Social Media
And as I've mentioned before, a final way you can help us is to help get our content out there on the Net. Use Twitter (@aravosis, @AMERICAblog, @AMERICAblogGay), Facebook (Aravosis, AMERICAblog, AMERICAblog Gay), Reddit, Google+ (Aravosis, AMERICAblog), Tumblr, Pinterest – heck, use email – to share our best posts with friends. The more you help us get our content out there, the more readers we get, and the more revenue, even in the new-normal of depressed ad revenues.
I haven't done a fundraiser in a very long time. I don't like asking people for money. But the progressive Netroots needs your help. Most of your favorite blogs and news sites will have boxes on them to let you donate. Next time you drop by, whether it's DailyKos, Digby's Hullabaloo, Bilerico, or whomever – keep in mind that a lot of us work 14 hours days to provide you with free content and progressive activism, and we are struggling to keep our sites alive. We don't ask for much in return, but now we could all use your help and your generosity.
Thank you, as always, for reading AMERICAblog, and staying with us these past eight years. Here's to another eight, and beyond :) I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a relaxing holiday season.