Repeat After Me: Blogging is a Hobby

After my last post went viral on Christmas Eve, I heard lots of bad advice from lots of well-meaning people. The Jetsons Kitchen Renovation and Vintage Stove Appalachian Odyssey brought more attention to my little corner of the internet than it deserved when one of my favorite websites, RetroRenovation.com, picked up the post (thanks, Pam and Kate!), kicking off a wave of reposts and thousands of hits that continue to this day. My kitchen got all kinds of love from the people of the internet, and my contractor-artist got the accolades he deserved.

I should capitalize on the momentum, friends and family told me. Keep posting, get lots of followers! Put up some ads! Then, well, who knows what could happen?

I know what could happen.

Once you try to monetize a blog, to make it more than a hobby, you doom yourself to failure and turn something that’s supposed to be fun into a grind, all in one fell swoop.

And that is why I let the momentum run out. I didn’t pick up my iPad again until now, many months later. I didn’t even try to capitalize on the surge of interest. Blogging is a hobby. And I had other things to do.

This is a concept that, 20 years after the advent of blogs, continues to elude most bloggers and would-be bloggers. Personally, I thought we were all wise to this by now. But since it has become apparent that we are not, I thought this a fit topic for, well, a blog.

Blogging is, repeat after me, a hobby. Or a marketing tool for your main gig. But nine times out of ten, it is a hobby. That is all the future holds for your blog. You cannot. Cannot. Cannot. Cannot make enough money to live off your blog. Or even enough to call it moonlighting. Not the way you want to. Typically, income from blogging=zero.

What? You read all about how to monetize a blog? On another blog? Well, that blogger is probably trying to monetize her own blog by drawing enough readers who want to believe her advice. And it is not going to end well.

Let’s take my experience as a case in point.

When I went to South America in 2008, I started a travel blog, and an AdSense account. I thought the blog would defray some of my travel expenses. I really did. Before I left, a smart and witty friend told me it would not.

“It’s not 1998,” she said, “And you’re not Google.”

I encountered more excitement on my trip than I thought I would. Protests, dynamite, political intrigue. I blogged about it. It was fun. Lots of people read the blog, and not just friends and family. People from all over the world. It made money.

It made about $2.

I never collected. Google won’t send you a check unless the figure is respectable enough to print on paper.

Luckily, beer was cheap in Bolivia. I survived without blog income (because, guess what, that’s not really a thing).

So now it’s 2014, six years later. It is not 2005. And I am not Arianna Huffington, who, for that matter, does not pay her bloggers.

Having dipped a toe in shallow water with my Jetsons kitchen renovation post, I had an opportunity to capitalize on my momentum. I could put up some ads, keep blogging on kitchen renovations, build my audience, and then, with hard work and dedication, who knows?

I knew.

Some of my friends and family were more persistent. Kitchen renovations have more commercial potential than travel blogs, they tell me. Astute and unfortunate, but yes, this is true. From a business perspective, the internet loves kitchen renovations. It loves them more than the things it should love, like revelations of corruption, injustice or hypocrisy; watchdog reporting on public institutions, or a well-told narrative that sheds light on the human condition. I am as guilty as anyone else of fueling this phenomenon with my own low-browsing habits. The internet loves a laserlike focus on minutae. To be commercially successful, a blog should focus on just one thing. Not just renovations. Kitchen renovations. Not just kitchen renovations. Vintage kitchen renovations. Vintage kitchen renovations in the South. But only in blue. If your blog is the absolute authority on blue renovations of kitchens built in the 1950s south of Atlanta, if you post with clocklike regularity, if you faithfully optimize for search engines, you could make enough money to call it moonlighting.

(The Times ran a great feature on this last month: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/25/garden/when-blogging-becomes-a-slog.html).

Except you would be up all night feeding the search engines. So you wouldn’t actually be sleeping. Or exercising. Or seeing your friends and family. Or doing any of the home improvement projects you needed to do to feed the blog. Or writing about anything else.

You would be so, so sick of kitchen renovations. But you would have to keep writing about them.

For a very small audience. For a very small income, with no chance of earning more because you are one person limited to 24 hours in one day.

But you are a bona-fide working blogger!

And that is something I do not aspire to be.

So, thank you very much for the advice and the flattery. And yes, it was thrilling to have all the attention. But — barring a game-changing swivel of the economics of the internet in favor of “content providers” — the words I post in this space will remain just a hobby.

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