Is The Reason That Mommybloggers Hedge About Money Because They Aren’t Actually Making Any? Yes And No.

by anna on January 14, 2011

Newcomers to the mommyblogosphere have a lot of questions about money. Specifically, they want to know about money. I know, because I had the same questions about money when I first got here: who is making money? How much money are they making? How are they making it? How can I make money? &c.

New bloggers go to industry conferences in search of the answers to these questions, they attend monetizing panels thinking that numbers will finally be given for how much they can hope to earn. But except for very rare circumstances, they are likely to get nothing like that.

Why? Is it because it’s rude to talk about money? Well, if you ask some of my critics, yes. (But if you go to Blog World Expo, you can hear mommybloggers talking about money in fairly concrete terms, so I don’t think that is the real problem.) It could also be that nobody is making any money, and that to talk about numbers would expose the facade. But I know this is not true — even if I have come to believe that the old saying about the gold rush (the people who got the richest were the ones who sold pick axes, not the ones panning for gold) is also somewhat applicable to social media in general. While there is a lot of hype about social media, I absolutely can confirm that there are people in the mommyblogosphere who are making money at this (and some of them are not the people you think of immediately, either).

I think the real reason mommybloggers hedge about money is context. We never know when it is safe to talk about money and when it is not, because we never know for sure who we are talking to.

The Mommyblogosphere is a mixed group, and nobody ever knows where anyone else’s priorities are for sure.

In some niches, things are straightforward, and people can talk about money and salaries and everything’s fine because everyone is there for the same reasons. Not so with the mommies. Some of us are hobby bloggers, some are professionals, some are people who want to be professionals but have not made any money (yet), some are people who are not sure what they want, some are people who would not mind making a little extra money now and then but have not worked out a formal plan or set of politics about how they want to receive compensation.

All of those people are being thrown into the same job market and, in effect, competing for positions — sort of. Not exactly. But a job market of sorts is being created from the pool of all of those people, and professionals from PR firms, advertising agencies, and CPG brands are viewing them as the group from which they can choose their next representatives.

This makes for a really strange environment that does not really exist in other industries. It would be like, say, you’re applying for a job as a publicist, and all of the various applicants have their respective talents and connections that have different market values. Some are far more valuable on the market than others, and it’s immediately apparent — I’ll refer to them as Tier 1 or Tier 2 applicants. These applicants get snatched up right away, and they are paid a lot of money. They get paid so much money, in fact, that they cannot really talk about the numbers involved because they are so far above what everybody else makes that it would cause problems for them, and probably everyone else, if they were to actually give numbers to people. And besides, there are so few of them, that giving out numbers would be pointless because it would be like, Do you want to know what Angelina Jolie is making? You know, so you can plan to see how much you’ll make one day? Not very useful really. Interesting, maybe, but not very useful.

But beneath that upper echelon, instead of being a bunch of lower tiers View definition in a new window, is just a huge vat of humanity. Technically, there are still a bunch of other tiers — tier 3 through infinity, but the tiers don’t really mean anything to anybody except for the people who are in them. To the people trying to determine who should get the jobs, all of these people look more or less the same, and as far as they are concerned, they won’t be around long anyway. So among those people, you’ve got a handful of possible jobs, some of which are paid, and some of which are not, and among the possible applicants you have:

  • People who don’t care about being paid;
  • People who won’t do anything without being paid;
  • People who want to be paid but will never ask;
  • People who want to be paid, will ask, but will ask too much;
  • People who want to be paid, will ask, but will ask too little;
  • People who will do anything as long as you give them a free pair of Crocs; and
  • so on ad nauseum.

But wait! It’s even more complicated than that! Because it’s not just that you’re applying for a job as a publicist. You’re applying for a job as a publicist that:

  • Might be offered a generous salary upfront;
  • Might be offered a not-so-generous salary upfront;
  • Might be offered a fair salary if you ask for it;
  • Might be offered a product upfront;
  • Might be offered a product to give to your readers;
  • Might be offered an invitation to a party;
  • Might be offered an invitation to host a party that you think might lead to a paid opportunity someday;
  • Might be offered an invitation to host a party that you are sure won’t lead to any kind of opportunity, ever, but you don’t care, because you like free razors; and
  • so on ad nauseum.

Oh, but wait! I’m not done yet! It can get even more complicated! Because after you get one of these offers — and let’s say it is a good one. It’s a generous salary offer. The terms might be:

  • Something that lasts a few weeks;
  • Something that lasts a day;
  • Something that lasts a few months;
  • Something that will pay your rent;
  • Something that would pay your rent if you lived somewhere else in the country; and
  • so on ad nauseum.

The possibilities for this kind of thing are endless. There are so many PR emails going out all of the time, so many ad campaigns going on, so many giveaway promotions, so many side deals, so many things going on behind the scenes, and so many different people involved that nobody knows how much anybody else is (or isn’t) making at any given time unless they are sharing their information. And if you throw in the freelancers who work as writers for several sites, or people like me who have a business that is attached to the blog in addition to advertising revenue, there’s another huge group of pool of people who have money coming into their blogs for which nobody has any kind of record keeping mechanism or frame of reference.

I would venture to guess it is difficult for many mommybloggers who actually are making money to say how much money they have made without just opening up Quicken and looking to see. At any given time, a professional blogger might have five or eight or ten different revenue streams coming in. And that’s if all of those PR/CPG deals are going to somebody who wants to turn them into money making opportunities — often they are not going to people with those kinds of priorities. Often, they are going to people who will take money when it is offered, but they are not aggressively negotiating for salary. All of this contributes to the confusion over how much anyone makes at this, and the context of mommyblogging conferences makes everyone feel like it is not the place to say, “This is how much I charge, and this is how much I make.”

So, put that all together, and nobody wants to get up and say, “I make $X per year as a mommyblogger.” Because nobody knows if it’s the right number, or if somebody is going to get mad at them for saying it, because that person isn’t making any money, because they didn’t ask for any. And in this community, somebody is always getting mad. (Usually at me.)

So when you ask, are they not talking about money because they aren’t making any? Sometimes the answer is yes — they really aren’t making anything. They are being paid in party invitations and boxes of deodorant. But just as often, it’s a more complex version of “not exactly.”

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{ 32 comments }

1
Mir January 14, 2011 at 6:37 am

Another perspective, that is really just a dovetail to what you’ve said here: Some of the hesitancy to talk about money comes from people/media wanting to assume it’s revenue from just personal blogging, which is then likened to a salary for existing. My little write-up on Babble on their 2010 list of top mom blogs says something about how it’s no wonder that Woulda Coulda Shoulda pays my bills. Which—sorry Babble—is just patently false. I do pay my bills via blogging, but my personal blog isn’t how it happens (not by a longshot). But the assumption is always there (even, apparently, with places that should know better).

Freelance writing via contract isn’t “sexy.” The mythical living-salary-via-navel-gazing is. (Okay, not totally mythical; a select few do live this way, but most do not.)

I am always hesitant to talk real number with the media because it is always, and I do mean always, twisted, taken out of context, and otherwise spun in a way that makes me itch. When I was badgered by the Today Show interviewer to reveal how much money I make, I deflected about four times and then finally admitted I make more as a blogger than I did as a software engineer. They cut it into a clip to make it look like I was being all coy (leaving out my clumsy attempts to dodge the question—what can I say, I was still a novice then), and for weeks afterward I got to read speculation all over the blogosphere that ranged from flat out “she’s lying” to “holy crap how much DOES she make??” to “she must’ve been a shitty engineer.” And that sucked.

On the other hand, I talk about the different mechanics of it and how to set rates and such on Cornered Office all the time, plus I’ll talk specifics and actual numbers with trusted colleagues and/or folks I’m mentoring when I’m sure it’s about learning/helping and not about “ZOMG GUESS HOW MUCH SHE MAKES.”

I was actually raised to believe it’s rude to ask how much money people make. I’m not sure why bloggers are supposed to be more tolerant of that than the general population. Want to have an honest, private discussion about it because you need help setting rates? If you’re someone I trust, sure. Want to just gawk? Yeah, no thanks.

2
anna January 19, 2011 at 8:14 am

It might be rude to talk about how much individuals make, but I do think this is a social norm that is perpetuated in particular amongst women because it is convenient. Don’t let women talk about money because then they won’t compare notes. And if they don’t compare notes, then we can keep short changing them. I get not wanting to talk about individual salaries, on a personal level. But I do think we should be able to say, something like, “Blogger, with personal blog of approximately 50,000 pageviews per month, in X niche, should be able to command $X dollars for a freelance gig.” And I think that info is best when it is publicly accessed, available somewhere that everyone can see it, even the newest of newbies, because you never know who is looking at these deals and when and why they’re going to need this information. Some of these people are getting deals offered very very early (you would be very surprised, trust me). And they are not necessarily going to feel comfortable emailing everyone to ask, or even knowing WHO to email to ask. As I do more consulting work I’m finding this out more and more.

3
Elita January 14, 2011 at 7:26 am

While I do think it’s rude to ask how much money someone makes in the most general sense, I think that most people have an idea of what the earning potential is in a particular profession, which we just don’t have for blogging. For example, if you emailed me as a stranger and said you were interested in becoming a librarian at a university and wanted to know what you might earn the first year living in Florida, I’d be able to tell you, “About $40,000.” And I wouldn’t feel like it was rude of you to ask. But it’s very difficult for bloggers to set rates when everyone is so secretive about everything. It has never been about gawking for me, but more just the simple, “What is the earning potential for this job?” Some folks will always be better negotiators than others, or more attractive for a position on paper, but I can’t think of another industry where people with the same qualifications would be earning vastly different amounts, based purely on what they ask for.

4
anna January 19, 2011 at 8:15 am

Totally agree, and I think the only way is if there’s some kind of database with this information.

5
Reid January 14, 2011 at 9:03 am

This is a terrific can of worms to open, and thank you, Anna, for doing so! I think your analogy of blogging to acting (what Angelina Jolie makes per movie) is apt. Another might be novelist. I thought this very detailed answer on Yahoo! Answers was useful in discussing what a first-time novelist can make on a book:
http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080710005800AA7Qjru
(I’m sure Ginger could equally expand on that analogy.)
The answer writer notes that 5 percent of novelists make a living at it; most fiction writers have “day jobs.”
But, as Anna points out, beyond all the variables inherent in bloggers applying for the hypothetical “publicist” job, many bloggers are de facto applying for jobs with other titles: fiction writer, creative nonfiction writer, ghost writer, memoirist, event planner, interior designer, stylist… and on and on.
And, as Mir notes, most of us (blogger or not) wouldn’t necessarily reveal our income to just anyone who asks–but we might if we were having a one-on-one conversation with someone we were mentoring and wanted to help.
So much of the gray area seems to exist because many bloggers “fall into” the job/hobby and then decide later that maybe they’d like to make money at it. That’s also true of many writers…

6
Ginger January 14, 2011 at 1:36 pm

That Yahoo answer is pretty spot on–though I have a few quibbles with some of the particulars, the basics are there. Most authors aren’t making their LIVING as authors, even if they’re making money. And to add to the analogy, most of the money authors make off their books needs to be put back into their book (via marketing, publicity, traveling, or living expenses while they finish the book and/or write their next book)–just like I think most bloggers who are making money are having to funnel that money right back into their blog (via marketing, site designs, conferences, etc.).

7
Lindsay Dianne January 14, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Very great points and questions raised in this article.

I’m going to blog regardless of whether someone else deems it valuable.

8
monkey January 14, 2011 at 1:09 pm

You should start a GlassDoor for bloggers, Anna!

9
anna January 19, 2011 at 8:16 am

Yes, I think that’s becoming clearer. It sounds like a headache to do, though.

10
agirlandaboy January 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Great post. I hope it becomes a touchstone for the community every time people try to make blogging and money a one-size-fits-all concept (which is something that will happen forever and ever, no matter what).

To Elita’s point, part of the problem is that in blogging there’s really no such thing as “the same qualifications.” There are great writers who are paid nothing and there are terrible writers who are paid tons, and then there are people who are everywhere in between. If anything’s a “qualification,” it’s popularity, not necessarily talent, and I think that’s why jealousy (or at least accusations of jealousy) are such a thorn. We want to believe that someone with a particular set of skills can make it big in this industry, but that’s unfortunately not how it works (and hence the amount of frustration you see over who gets the big deals and who doesn’t).

11
Kerry January 15, 2011 at 5:50 am

That’s true in every business I’ve ever worked in. In fact, the only difference between blogging and every other business is that in blogging, a far greater percentage of people still rail against the lack of meritocracy. In corporate life, for the most part, people accept that that’s just how the world works.

12
Brittany January 14, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Oh I simply LOVE listening in on these conversations.

I will say, in my experience, the ones usually talking about HOW MUCH OMG they make are usually the ones not making as much as the ones NOT talking about it.

Blogging, right now, is my business. One I am cultivating to other outlets, but my current business, none the less. It affords me the ability to exercise my passions, which are writing and comedy.

I don’t discuss money. But it has nothing to do with being a mommy blogger.

If I ran a fruit stand, I was be equally secretive in divulging my income to the person with the fruit stand next to me.

Competition is high. We can all hold hands and be a community all we want, but bottom line, it’s a business of talent and influence, and we gotta keep whatever edge we can.

13
Sundry January 14, 2011 at 1:28 pm

A while ago I was offered a personal blog column gig and they asked what I’d want per post. I named a number based on what I’d been getting paid elsewhere, they accepted. I then asked another blogger what she was getting paid, and I had lowballed myself by, like, $200 per post. Granted, she has more readership than I do and I took that into account, but whoah, right?

I don’t think there can be such a thing as a universal pay structure because there’s so much variety in what’s out there jobwise, the qualifications an individual has, etc, but my one small piece of advice for anyone considering a gig would be to go ahead and ask the other writers/participants/whoever. Get yourself an idea of what the company is willing to pay, because believe me, if you name a ridiculously low price that company will TAKE IT AND RUN.

(Basically, what Mir said.)

14
Ginger January 14, 2011 at 1:45 pm

This whole conversation is just making me think of ALL salary negotiations that happen across all industries.
Companies don’t want to say how much they’re willing to pay. Job seekers don’t want to name a number to companies lest they lowballed themselves, and they don’t want to tell others in the industry unless they find that they’ve been underpaid all along. If you started off in your field getting crappy pay, it makes it that much harder to get bigger salaries later. Those who were able to negotiate better in the beginning will always have bigger paychecks. Etc.
I think the difference is, yes while I may not tell someone “hey I make exactly $XX.XX per hour” or whatever, you can find salary RANGES for my field. Same goes for authors–perhaps a better connection to bloggers. What authors get for their books varies INCREDIBLY, for many of the same reasons that agirlandaboy mentioned–but you can get a general sense of what those ranges are. Almost all deals are posted, and you may not see that an author got $50,000, but you’ll see they got a “good deal” vs. someone else’s “very good deal”. You can see the tiers.
With blogging, we can’t even seem to see the tiers.

15
Elita January 18, 2011 at 10:30 am

This was basically my point. In pretty much every industry, you have some idea of what the pay is. If I were to leave my current position and apply for another, no matter my qualifications and experience, if I asked for $100K I would get laughed out of the building. It’s just not what librarians earn (with very, very few exceptions). Might I be able to negotiate $60K with a great resume and interview? Sure. Might someone else with my same qualifications lowball themselves and only get $50K? Yeah, happens all the time. But that person wouldn’t offer to work for $25K, which is what bloggers end up doing. I think Sundry’s suggestion is good, but as Brittany illustrates, how many bloggers are going to be willing to divulge what they are being paid, even if you are working on the same campaign?

16
Cherie Beyond January 14, 2011 at 5:50 pm

So, Anna, how much do you make?

Heh. Sorry. Had to.

17
Kim Tracy Prince January 18, 2011 at 5:55 pm

What she said. You are strangely silent in these comments, hmm?

18
anna January 19, 2011 at 8:09 am

I *would* actually be willing to contribute my income information to some kind of database or publicly accessible source for other bloggers to reference, and would (and do) help people who email me on this kind of stuff or hire me for consulting. But the days of me putting myself out there by myself for the good of this community for some kind of principle have, sadly, passed. I learned that lesson the hard way.

19
cagey January 15, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Full disclosure: I gave up long, long ago on ever making money via blogging (not that I tried too hard, to be fair)

Recently, I received a professional contractor offer that equals easily 2 months of blogging income for ONE hour of work via this contract. So, for someone like me, blogging will always be a hobby and nothing more (obviously, right? Hee!)

20
Kim/hormone-colored days January 19, 2011 at 8:42 pm

This is part of the issue. Reading this is like an algebraic equation that consists of almost all variables:
HPC = 2(MB)
1 Hour of Professional Contracting pays as much as 2 Months Blogging

Do I read this as you making $30 a month blogging and $60 in the contract position?
$10 blogging for two months and $20 for the contract hour? $100 and $200?

I have no idea in this case. I’m also unsure of whether the contract position came about because of your blog. If so, many would consider that “blogging income.”

21
cagey January 20, 2011 at 2:38 pm

The contract has nothing to do with blogging and came about from a former manager with whom I worked in data security and IT risk management activities. I should have commented anonymously so that I could name exact $ amounts. I will say that I am making much, much more than $20 an hour.

Regardless of the actual $ amounts, for me, it was not worth trying to make money in blogging. Obviously, others are doing very well in blogging, but in my experience, it was not worth it. I had to accept the fact that my blog is not very engaging, I had never had a particular schtick/story and that I was quite simply, never going to be a high-traffic blogger. There were no diamond-encrusted couches in my future. Acceptance was key. :-)

22
cagey January 20, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Also, I am not comfortable saying $ amounts, not because of the blogging but rather due to my current employer. Again, I should have commented anonymously – it was totally my mistake and I realize now that I did not add value to this conversation. Yikes.

23
Deb January 16, 2011 at 3:39 am

There are some things I find very strange that people don’t discuss, that are linked to income but not the whole income. I can completely understand not telling people exactly what you are earning, but the complete lack of an industry standard has got to be working against us as a whole.

I was trying to set advertising rates a little while ago and wanted to check out other blogs to see if I was in line, but none of them had rates up. Seeing I don’t know their stats it wouldn’t have been definitive but it would have helped see if I was in the right ball park. I find that very strange – if I want to advertise in print I can just look up what people charge, it’s a product they are selling so they tell you the price. But blogs don’t?

I find it strange that at the same time there is so much floating around that ‘Mummy bloggers should be paid!’ bloggers are contributing to keeping the prices low. Because if you aren’t sure what is the standard most people will aim low to make sure they don’t miss out altogether.

24
Kristen January 17, 2011 at 4:40 pm

“I find it strange that at the same time there is so much floating around that ‘Mummy bloggers should be paid!’ bloggers are contributing to keeping the prices low. Because if you aren’t sure what is the standard most people will aim low to make sure they don’t miss out altogether.”

I agree completely.

25
Deb January 19, 2011 at 3:14 pm

I find it strange what happens to my language when I comment at 2am ;)

26
Cat Davis January 17, 2011 at 2:08 pm

This is such a tough subject that from what I’ve seen, can bring up a lot of animosity between bloggers. While I use to think it was okay to talk about payment, history has shown me that doing so conjures up negative feelings and issues with self worth. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut, pay my bills and work on my own goals privately.

27
Melanie January 17, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Awesome post and entirely true. I’d love to learn more about the tiers and who comprises them. Fascinating stuff that nobody is writing about.

28
Kim @ Beautiful Wreck January 17, 2011 at 9:40 pm

I’ve been writing on the net since 1998/99 and no one for many years ever made any money or cared to make any money. I knew a few online diary keepers who got book deals, a few went on to work for About and Ask and one that got all kinds of freebies for reviewing wedding planning books and makeup before the age of the blog.
After taking a break for two years from blogging it seemed like when I came back it was a whole new world. There was talk of money, book deals, advertising, and branding. People would say “What’s your brand?” Hell if I know! My head was spinning from it all and I too wondered “Is anyone making real money doing this?” I asked a few people I knew and they were vague. Sure some were making some money, but mostly they were getting freebies and swag items. In the past few months I have had the opportunity to get to know and make friends with two popular mommy bloggers and finally I asked because I really wanted to know if they were making any money from writing their blogs. I was floored the amount of money one made was not enough to cover running her site. Sure she got some freebies, but actual money – she could have had a garage sale and walked away with more. The second one wasn’t all that much better. She made more than enough to cover the expenses of running her blog and enough to get her a nice meal out each month.
I would never encourage anyone to blog for the money because it is likely they will never make any. Just my 2 cents.
(Never made any money, have received some freebies)

29
Jessica McFadden - A Parent in Silver Spring January 18, 2011 at 8:57 am

Another thing that is tough to talk about is those of us that are hired by companies to write without a byline, as an employee. Not for placement on our own sites. And not banking on our personalities or “brand”. That still counts as the goal of “getting hired from your blog” right? But talking about that is like telling a room full of people at a cocktail party your salary. Ewww.

30
LittleMissKnowitAll January 18, 2011 at 9:40 am

Your analogy is apt, especially when you mention that the people making money often aren’t the ones you think that are. In my experience many making money at blogging often aren’t making money from blogging or writing per se, but as a ‘personality’ for brands, or as a teacher, selling what they’ve learned to others. There also is no one-size-fits-all pay scale either, no matter what anyone tells you. However, as a professional blogger and “personality” I can tell you most mommybloggers are WAY underselling themselves, while others think they’re much bigger in scale and reach than they really are. The scale is considerably different based on audience and reach, and knowing the context of who is getting paid what could really help. It also would help for them to stop focusing on national brands and begin focusing on local businesses, which often have a good advertising budget that would pay them a lot more than the national companies ever will. I made a healthy living on my own site, mostly from good advertising integration. But now as I blog professionally for a company, on the exact same topic with a similar reach, I find that local companies are willing to pay MUCH more than even what I would have imagined.

31
RookieMom Whitney January 20, 2011 at 9:07 pm

I think there’s another issue here that has to do with the diverse backgrounds of the moms engaging in this new wild west profession, which is that “making money” is relative to one’s expectations. If your previous or alternative profession commanded $100/hr of work, you will think differently than someone whose previous profession commanded $10/hr. More specifically, a mom who is thinking, “Well I can make $500 month from ad impressions and affiliate revenue on my blog, which is the same thing I made teaching preschool when I subtract the childcare required to allow me to do that job,” may feel like the opportunity is amazing. The one who used to make $500 in a day and now has to spend time dealing with $200 from Amazon and $89 from BlogHer and $50 from that sponsored post… well it’s a lot more work to reach that $500.

So when someone asks “Are you making any money doing that?” It’s impossible to answer. Unless they are in my own real life social circle, I don’t know what they mean by “any money.”

The solution? Getting specific. “Yes, I made $x last month, but 50% was from one particular opportunity which may never show up again.” Or, “I work with x brand who retains me for $x per month.”

I would like to share numbers when I have developed a trusted relationship with another blogger, but it’s always a little scary to me because I have no idea if a dollar (or a hundred) means the same thing to me as it does to her. I don’t want to seem like an a-hole by scoffing off what seems like a small amount to me.

32
Kim/momimpact January 20, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Whitney, your comment is right on. That is part of the reason there will never be set standards. A few other bloggers and I are doing a monetization panel at the upcoming Blissdom conference and didn’t want to shy away from sharing “real numbers,” with our eager audience, but as we talked, it was clear that we had different perceptions of who got paid what amount for various tasks, like sponsored posts or hosting a Twitter party. So we put together a survey http://momimpact.com/?p=513 and are asking people to chime in (anonymously).

So far, the responses indicate what I expected, there are vast differences between what bloggers get paid.

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