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 , 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.”