By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Like many bloggers, Tim Flight started a Web log two years ago just to share his passion about something -- in his case, global positioning devices.
Over time, traffic to his site, http://gpsreview.net, started to grow, and by placing Google's text ads on his blog, he started to earn some extra cash, usually about $10 a month. But as traffic soared, he began to discover that there were ways to earn bigger dollars from his blog.
Today, those earnings amount to about $45,000 a year, he said.
"At first, I never saw it as a way to pay the bills," said Flight, who runs his blog from Carrabassett Valley, Maine. "Really, it wasn't until I started to recognize this is making a little more money than I ever thought it might. . . . [I had] to start thinking about how to plan for its future."
Over the past few years, a number of businesses have been connecting bloggers with advertisers who recognize how the cross-linking that goes on in the blogosphere can be a good way to spread the word about their products. Some advertisers have covertly tried to generate buzz with bloggers with under-the-table payments. But newer firms are starting to move their online marketing into the mainstream, with full disclosure from bloggers and a willingness among advertisers to accept that not all reviews or buzz will be favorable.
And the potential is there for these blogger-advertiser relationships to keep growing is there. There are 63.2 million blogs on the Internet, with 175,000 new ones every day, according to Technorati, an Internet firm that serves as a search engine for blogs. But the vast majority of bloggers -- 85 percent, according to a 2006 survey by Pew Internet & American Life Project -- don't tap out their thoughts and opinions to make money.
Chitika (pronounced CHIT-i-ka) is one of the companies connecting the two sides, paying people who feature images of products on their blog. Bloggers select the products they want to place on their sites and are paid a few cents each time someone clicks on an image, which links to another Web site about the product.
The site works well for blogs that review or discuss consumer electronics products, for example, but Chitika executives say it is branching into other popular online shopping areas, such as clothing, food and beauty products.
"We are all about blog dollars," said Chitika's chief executive, Venkat Kolluri. "Bloggers just love this model. They recognize that rather than blast the name of an advertiser, they can add value by presenting a product they're [already] endorsing."
Longtime bloggers say the new advertising methods take advantage of the Internet's democratization of expertise. Now that anyone with an Internet connection can start a blog, it has become easier to espouse one's knowledge and share it among people who are seeking it.
"What we're seeing is still a significant growth in both the number of people who are creating blogs as well as the number of people who make blogs a part of their regular media consumption," said David L. Sifry, chief executive of Technorati. "There's a perception that this is some elite group [of bloggers] and there's no way I could break into it, it's too late. That's absolutely untrue."
Data on the top moneymaking bloggers are difficult to find. According to Sifry, several hundred bloggers earn enough to make it their full-time job. He said about 10,000 bloggers are earning money as a secondary source of income and about 100,000 others, such as authors and speakers, use their blogs as marketing tools to generate income indirectly.
But there's still a gray area when it comes to incorporating advertising into a blog. After being criticized by bloggers, PayPerPost.com created a policy requiring bloggers to disclose that they were being paid. Before, disclosure was voluntary.
ReviewMe.com, a two-month-old firm, connects bloggers with companies looking to buy online reviews of their products and services. It also requires bloggers to disclose that they were paid for the reviews. Patrick Gavin, who owns the company, said some advertisers have decided not to use the service again after receiving an unenthusiastic write-up.
Rob Lenderman, the search engine optimization architect at LendingTree.com, said his company understands that not every review will be a good one. But marketing by blog "allows us to expose new products that we have to audiences that are not really mainstream," he said. "Rather than wait for buzz, we can go create it ourselves."