Are LGBT Blogs Sustainable as a Business?

When blogs first arrived as a medium, they were seen as the democratization of media where anyone could put up a blog and join the conversation. The question no one asked, however, is whether the conversation is sustainable and affordable beyond just a few voices, and how can the medium be monetized.

Bil Browning, of Bilerico Project, has taken this question and run with it in a post titled: The End of the LGBT Blogosphere As We Know It?

With all of this in mind, when I read last week that Mike Rogers of BlogActive has stopped writing for his blog, I couldn’t help but nod my head and think, “I get it.” I understand. I’ve often considered shutting down Bilerico Project too.

BlogActive is, of course, famous as one of the first gay blogs and Rogers exposed closeted Republican politicians who voted against LGBT issues. He garnered major media attention and helped shape American politics as well as the LGBT movement through his keyboard.

Rogers isn’t the only one carefully considering whether or not blogging is worth his time. Pam Spaulding of the award winning Pam’s House Blend recently told her readers that she was considering folding up shop too. The constant demands on her time leaves her no room to manage her illness, her home life, and her finances.

No matter how many awards you win, it doesn’t put cash in your pocket. Since we’re not independently wealthy, you gotta pay the rent. The only independent bloggers making a living off of their blogs that I can think of are Andy Towle and John Aravosis.

Browning says that part of the problem is that few people have figured out how to make money from blogging. Some–like Queerty and AfterElton–are owned by larger corporate owners. Dan Savage has his blogging hosted on The Stranger and Andrew Sullivan has bounced around from independent, to The Atlantic, and now Daily Beast.

Bilerico’s readers–and contributors–appear to imply that a donation system would work at Bilerico, but I don’t know of any blog that has made that approach successful. And Browning acknowledges that his reluctance to take donations is that he doesn’t pay contributors so the donations would only go to a few people.

This is not a new story, of course. The collapse of Window Media in 2009 and uncertainties at Here Media mean that even the big LGBT corporate media have their own struggles. But, as local publishers in Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco pointed out, it is possible to make LGBT media work on the local level (and maybe even national level) if there are good management decisions.

The challenge, as Browning pointed out, is that there hasn’t been a strong advertising base for blogs.  Like so many online journalism ventures, figuring out how to monetize the efforts–whether you are a one-person operation or the New York Times–is they key.

Another option may be for bloggers to “go corporate” and be bought or operated by larger efforts.  Equality Matters could be a centerpiece for various bloggers, although there is a problem with mission creep.  Change.org and the Center for American Progress are also possible (well-funded) behemoths that could provide a network and funding base.   It seems unlikely that the national LGBT organizations would be interested in going into the blog business since blogs can potentially undermine their larger missions.

So what is the answer? It’s possible that this is just another survival of the fittest situation–like so much of the media–where some survive and most won’t?  But the promise of blogging–bringing diverse and unique voices to the conversation–is harmed by this thinking.

8 Responses

  1. I think LGBT blogs will exist. But, our society won’t allow the same about of equally celebrated mainstream blogs and LGBT blogs to be popular at the same time.

  2. I don’t know a lot about marketing, but anyone who has a large audience of LGBTs ought to be very attractive to certain advertisers. Feast of Fun seems to be able to make it work.

    I suspect that part of the problem is that a lot of blogs, like me, don’t have a lot of advertising expertise. As a result, they’re missing out on the revenue opportunities that are right in front of them.

  3. There is somewhat of a belief that some bloggers are stopping because of money. While that is true, it’s not always the case. At BlogActive I was content for 7 years to do it mostly as volunteer work. Who volunteers for anything for 7 years?

    I do have a business (a site with over 1.5 million unique visitors per month) that pays the bills and keeps me working full time.

    Incidentally, I met my business partner there, John, through my blog.

    • The first thing you notice when you go to Michael’s business–http://www.rawstory.com/–is the amount of national advertising there is (and a big staff). So there is a model that works

  4. Part of the problem is critical mass. Part is personal burnout. These are distinct issues, but both have the same outcome- blog goes away.

    I blog about lesbian-themed Japanese animation and comics. In that teeny niche, I have a pretty big chunk of the audience….but I don’t get all LGBT readers and I don’t get all anime/manga readers and they are niches themselves.

    Critical mass of 100s of thousands means your advertising pays more bills. But it’s critical mass of millions of readers that keep bloggers making a living. As long as we work in a small niche, with small companies, small press, small media and focused topics, that critical mass is elusive.

    Sharing blogging duties is one way to stave off burnout, but it dilutes your focus and means managing someone – still without a payoff. More work, no more pay. Burnout gets worse.

    Blogging, like all LGBT media is also subject to the whim of fashion. You’re hot today, but next summer, no one cares.

    The nutshell right now it, you’d better blog because you love it. ^_^

  5. Of course LGBT blogs are sustainable as a business.

    Look at towleroad.com, for example. That blog employs a small number of people, less than a handful as far as I can tell, and it appears to be attracting some significant advertisers. I cannot speak to towleroad’s revenues, but it appears to be supporting its founders.

    The problem with the blogs — and the reason they are successful — is that most of them rarely produce original content. (It is expensive to produce original content.) Some of their original content is quite good, but more often it is dreadful. So what is their function other than collecting content produced by others and allowing small communities of readers who post on those blogs to hold debates and discussions on that content? What happens to the LGBT blogs as we see producers of original content cutting back or going out of business? What will the LGBT blogs give us? Endless postings of the latest inane statement by some right winger and press releases from leading gay groups?

    I believe that it is valuable to have outlets where the community can examine itself, hold debates, and publish or broadcast community news that is not being covered in the mainstream press. I do not believe that the LGBT blogs, or almost any blog, can fulfill that function because the blog business model relies almost entirely on the content produced by others.

    Obviously, there are exceptions and Mike Rogers’ blog was one of those. And now he’s out of the business.

  6. […] news of Queerty’s fall surfaced.  Problems with Queerty’s owners also suggest that there are problems with even that model of […]

  7. I am much too ‘young’ as a blogger to comment on this issue but I feel it is vital to use blogs to spread the LGBT voice, I come from India and very few people yet speak about what happens in our country within the LGBT community. I enjoy talking about issues and experiences, it gives me a space to make myself heard and I see more and more people coming out and sharing their views with me. My blog does not itself aim to generate money but I certainly want it to supplement my LGBT travel business.

    I hope that LGBT blogs, much more larger then mine should thrive – I know for sure that LGBT communities in countries like India have not yet been heard!

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