acebauer (acebauer) wrote,

What's a blog worth?

Recently, in the comment thread to one of his posts, John Scalzi stated that his blog did not provide him with any substantial financial gain. He explained:

When I started my blog I was working as a corporate consultant and charging clients lawyer rates for my time; my blog didn’t bring me any work (I got that from previous work and client referral) and cut into the amount of time I could devote to consulting. My first book was not sold because of my blog, it was sold because of my work as a consultant in the financial services field, and that first book sold several other non-fiction books. Old Man’s War sold because I had posted it here, but there’s the question of whether I could have gotten more for it had I submitted it to agents who would have then upped the amount I could have extracted from Tor (or whomever it might have sold to). In retrospect it seems likely that I could have sold OMW the old fashioned way had I not been lazy, and might have been better off doing so.

OMW sold well but the main push for that came initially from Instapundit and Boing Boing, not from my own site, and then once early runs sold quickly, Tor’s marketing folks pushed it hard the rest of the way; many if not most of my fiction readers didn’t know this site existed until they read the author bio note. Additional novels have been sold on the success of previous novels, starting with OMW and moving forward. Other substantial financial opportunities that have presented themselves in the last couple of years have been due to the books, not the Web site.

At this point my career as a book writer is not at all dependent on my blog, and I can say pretty authoritatively that if I took the time I spent writing on the blog and spent it writing novels or other writing projects instead, I’d be making rather more money than make now. Likewise, there’s quite a lot of stuff I write here that I could very easily sell to magazines, newspapers or paid sites, if I had bothered to send them to those places first rather than posting them here; I know this because from time to time I’ll write something for here, go “hey, I bet I could sell that instead,” and do, usually from hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

His conclusion:

So in a very real sense, no, I don’t get a “substantial financial gain” from the site, and indeed can argue to you quite persuasively that in many ways blathering on here represents a significant lost opportunity cost for me.


Granted he doesn't make any revenue from the blog, and granted it takes him time and effort to keep the blog going. But the statement that he'd be making more money without the existence of Whatever made me raise my eyebrows.

Let's first parcel out corporate consulting from writing science fiction and nonfiction for a public market. The first makes more money almost all of the time. What Scalzi is doing now is writing for a public market, which generally makes less money. The two markets are not the same, even if working for one or the other is still writing and uses the same set of writing skills. But being successful in the corporate market in no way insures that you'll be successful in the public one.

So let's talk about the public market.

For better or worse, a huge part of any author's success in the public market, particularly in fiction, is the publicity his/her work garners. Yes, yes. Unknowns who write something brilliant occasionally do well. But in this age of  "BUY ME! NOW! HURRY, HURRY!", a book needs more than a few nice reviews to sell.

To be clear, Scalzi is a talented writer who understands what it takes to write good copy for articles about popular culture, as well as how to write compelling, readable science fiction stories. He makes money on those talents, no question. And deservedly. But let's also be clear that Whatever is an unbelievable publicity platform. And publicity is worth money. Real money.

By Scalzi's own count, Whatever gets between 20,000 to 40,000 readers each day. And these are folks who not only like bacon, cats, dogs, and funny/touching family situations. They tend to read. And they tend to appreciate science. And a fair number of them are rather fond of science fiction. And, most important, after spending sometime reading his blog, these folks like him. The blog is all about him. So when he says, "Look here. I made this shiny new thing," you bet a whole lot of his blog readers will respond.

Then, from a publisher's point of view, they know Scalzi has this platform. The initial success of his books might not have been due to Whatever, but the flourishing of his continued public market career has been partially fueled by it. I can't help but think that his success with has been helped by his weekly mention of it on his blog. (Although, to be fair, Scalzi had a track record as a journalist/critic beforehand.)

Is any of this a bad thing? Heck no. Scalzi is really entertaining -- and so comes the rewards for doing his job well. But the work he puts into his blog is a job, even if it's one that he enjoys and mostly doesn't feel work-like to him, and even if dollars don't flow directly from the blog itself. I doubt they would flow as well without it.

Tags: blogging, links, on writing, publishing

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