452k People Make A Living At Blogging? Get Serious!

In what may be the single most inaccurate article ever to appear in the Wall Street Journal unrelated to illegal immigration, Mark Penn claimed there are actually — are you ready for this — 452,000 people making a living at blogging,

In America today, there are almost as many people making their living as bloggers as there are lawyers. Already more Americans are making their primary income from posting their opinions than Americans working as computer programmers or firefighters.

Paid bloggers fit just about every definition of a microtrend: Their ranks have grown dramatically over the years, blogging is an important social and cultural movement that people care passionately about, and the number of people doing it for at least some income is approaching 1% of American adults.

The best studies we can find say we are a nation of over 20 million bloggers, with 1.7 million profiting from the work, and 452,000 of those using blogging as their primary source of income. That’s almost 2 million Americans getting paid by the word, the post, or the click — whether on their site or someone else’s. And that’s nearly half a million of whom it can be said, as Bob Dylan did of Hurricane Carter: “It’s my work he’d say, I do it for pay.”

…The barriers to entry couldn’t be lower. Most bloggers for hire pay $80 to get started, do it for about 35 months, and make a few hundred dollars. But a subgroup of these bloggers are the true professionals who work at corporations, serve as highly paid blogging consultants or write for sites with substantial traffic.

…People have raised questions about the calculations on the numbers of bloggers for hire. First, I was surprised at how few studies there are on this and I believe there definitely should be more. So perhaps in the future I will do some original research, but for this piece we took the best we could find and referenced every number so people would know where they came from.

There is no question that the blogosphere, fast-growing as it is, has yet to nail down one way to measure itself or gauge its activity. But the most comprehensive sources we could find, conducted by reputable professionals, say there are over 22 million bloggers out there; and that 2% of bloggers are making their living blogging. Do the math, and you get roughly 450,000. It’s a fast-growing group and we ignore their needs, and influence, at our peril.

…Here are some further details on the sources and calculations:

The Technorati Poll — The methodology stipulates that in order to qualify for the survey, Technorati “state of the blogosphere” respondents needed to be bloggers over 18 years old. The survey was hosted by Decipher Inc., was in the field from July 28, 2008 through August 4, 2008, and received 1,290 completed responses from 66 countries.

…The 2% of bloggers making a living comes straight from the Technorati Poll. The total number of bloggers–22.6 million–is supported by a research report from eMarketer (2% of 22,6 million is 452,000)….”

“In America today, there are almost as many people making their living as bloggers as there are lawyers.”

This isn’t just utter bullsh*t, it’s utter bullsh*t on stilts. It’s also a fantastic example of that old saying, “There are three types of lies – lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

Where Penn goes wrong is taking the total number of people who have created a blog and multiplying it times the number of people who say they make a living blogging.

First of all, the vast majority of people who create a blog, create it, post once or twice, and abandon it. From Media Bistro,

Technorati has indexed 133 million blogs since 2002, but only 7.4 million of those blogs have been updated in the last 120 days.

So, just going by that number, you’re down from Penn’s number of blogs, 22.6 million to 7.4 million — and it’s worth noting that calling someone who updated once in 120 days an “active blogger” would be a huge reach.

If you used a more realistic measure, say an average of a post per day over the last three months, you might even get down to 1-2 million people — and even that isn’t going to be enough to make you successful.

Then there’s that 2% who supposedly make their primary living through blogging number: not a chance in hell — and it’s not just me saying this.

I wrote Henry Copeland, the big cheese over at Blogads, a man who probably knows more about blogger income than anyone alive and asked him what he thought of the article. Here is the reply he tweeted me,

Accurate: “Most bloggers… do it for about 35 months, and make a few hundred dollars.” The rest is crap.

So, how many bloggers “are making their living blogging?” That’s incredibly difficult to estimate for a variety of reasons.

Just to give you an example of why, let’s put three names out there: Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, Michelle Malkin, and Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report.

Reynolds undoubtedly pulls in six figures worth of income from blogging each year, but he still works as a university professor. Could he make a living as a blogger? Probably. Does he? Well, since he was a university professor before he started and still is, I’d still have to say his primary profession is university professor, not blogger.

Then there’s Michelle Malkin. She made a living off of columns, books, and speeches before she ever started blogging. Although she probably pulls in 6 figures worth of gross revenue blogging, does she make more than she does off of her books, speeches, and column? That’s unknown, so could she fairly be called a professional blogger?

Next up is Matt Drudge. He probably makes a high six figure income off his website — but, he doesn’t consider it to be a blog. Neither do most other people.

See what I mean about the difficulty of figuring out how many people make a living primarily off of their blogging?

That being said, let’s do some wild guesstimating that is probably much closer to reality than Penn’s musings, but will still be very difficult to prove one way or the other.

First off, just to give you an idea of how rare professional bloggers are, off the top of my head — I can think of exactly, myself included — four independent right-of-center bloggers who could be fairly said to make their living primarily off of blogging. Let’s say that’s a dramatic 100% underestimate. It would still mean there are only 8 people in a fairly large chunk of blogdom making a living off of their blogging.

There are liberal and conservative bloggers, gossip bloggers, mommy bloggers, tech bloggers, gay bloggers, TV bloggers, sports bloggers, pet bloggers, hip hop bloggers, and a few other select niches. Even if every niche had 20 people making a living in it — and most of them don’t, it would still add up to a relatively small number of people.

So, if you screen out the people selling merchandise, porn sites, spammers, etc., and just focus on the independent bloggers, I would be very surprised if there are 500 independent bloggers who make a living off their blogs and I would be shocked if there are 2000.

Then we move on to professional bloggers: people who are employed by corporations, newspapers, think tanks, etc.

Certainly those people exist, but again, you get into a categorization problem: is their primary job really blogging or is it just one duty out of many?

For example, in the political field, how many people at National Review primarily get paid to blog at The Corner? Probably not many, if any.

Still, my guess would have to be that there are significantly more people making a living blogging for organizations than blogging independently for a simple reason: companies, government agencies, think tanks, magazines, etc., have deep pockets. They can afford to hire someone to blog.

So, let’s guesstimate 1,000 to 3,000 people are making a living blogging for organizations — and I have to think that estimate is more likely to be high, than low given the very small number of people I know of who make a living this way, the tiny number of help wanted ads I come across for this sort of thing, etc.

That would give us a grand total of somewhere between 1500 (or less) to 5000 professional bloggers vs. Penn’s estimate of 452,000.

So, who’s closer to the truth? Well, here’s one clue. Penn thinks there are as many professional bloggers as there are lawyers in the United States. With than in mind, how many professional bloggers do you personally know and how many lawyers do you know? How many lawyers have you heard of and how many professional bloggers have you heard of? How often do you hear news about lawyers and how often do you hear news about professional bloggers? Yeah, I thought so…

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