Take special note of the fact that in addition to doing journalism, he provides services.
Ciampa says he got interested in blogging after reading a CNNMoney story about how blogging was “the next big thing.” He took it to heart, and started a blog about snowboarding. In the days before FCC disclosure regulations, he parlayed that site into a stay at Whistler Blackcomb for him and ten friends, with a heli-skiing outing thrown in, all in exchange for writing about the experience. He then became interested in search engine optimization after starting a fashion blog for his twelve-year-old niece. “FashionExpert.com” was taken, so he called it FashionExpertGirl.com. Now when you Google “fashion expert,” his niece’s blog and her critiques of Disney Channel actress’s red carpet outfits, as well as her take on New York Fashion Week looks, appears on the first page of results.
Three years ago, he started Bloggersschool.com (Tagline: You have a voice! We teach you how to use it), a Web resource full of podcasts and blogging tips on everything from how to use WordPress and keyword your site so it rises to the top of searches, to how businesses can take advantage of Facebook and Twitter and YouTube. Using the Bloggers School name, Ciampa and his business partner/fiancée, Carolina Frederico, consult with other businesses—including a Greek gyro shop in Astoria called BZ Grill and a florist in Ozone Park called A Little Shop of Flowers—on how to cultivate their Web presence, for a fee. They also hold a real-life class each month to teach mid-career types, business owners, and hobbyists how to create an online reputation that promotes their brand or expertise.
Turns out Forbes has actually had a service similar to the Economist Intelligence Unit since 2008:
In news organizations’ efforts to diversify their revenue streams, one idea — custom research — is catching on. Global Post offers businesses “our global network of credentialed journalists to find authoritative answers to your urgent questions.” We recently wrote about Iraq Oil Report, a startup that provides paying clients on-the-ground answers to their Iraq questions — and which now generates 30 percent of its revenue from those research operations.
To launch that service, Iraq Oil Report hired a veteran of the bigger player in the space, the Economist Intelligence Unit. That’s also the path chosen by Forbes, which hired an Intelligence Unit veteran, Christiaan Rizy — at the time director of business development of EIU — to launch its own custom research operation in June 2008.
The Forbes Insights division, a 13-person operation spread throughout offices in New York, Austria, and India, is already profitable, Rizy told me. Its major product is a form of tailored journalism for high-paying corporate clients. (Rizy wouldn’t get into specifics on how much a project typically runs.) The program fits with Forbes’ broader strategy of expanding into products well beyond magazines and the ads that run in them; we recently profiled their corporate “reputation tracker,” another money-maker outside of ads.
Get past advertising. It’s a commodity — and who wants to buy a commodity? But a service — that’s a different story.
That’s how Bruce Rogers, chief brand officer for Forbes, says the magazine is thinking these days. Even though circulation has remained relatively stable, Forbes sees an opportunity in thinking beyond selling advertising and diving into broader service areas for clients. […]
In conversations with chief marketing officers at major financial institutions, like Bank of America, it became clear that many of these companies were dealing with a serious corporate image problem. Rogers said those conversations led to Forbes’ latest service: a reputation tracker, which gives a company an understanding of how its corporate image is perceived by both the general public and by Forbes readers. The idea is to help companies get a benchmark for their relative strength or weakness. And the tracker will specifically test how that reputation changes after an ad campaign run in Forbes — a way to bring some of the measurability of web advertising into the more staid (and more profitable) world of print advertising.
I’ve been quite direct about the fact that blogs are not businesses. I believe that so many bloggers get so hung up on their medium that they haven’t stepped back to look at the big picture. A blog is a promotional medium and a communications platform. And in order to really monetize a blog, you have to ask the question: To what end?
What is your real product? What is the thing that you can provide to others in exchange for some of their money? […]
Most bloggers today operate in a dream world of made-up business rules. They try to make money with their blogs when they have nothing to sell. They’ll try to monetize the eyeballs only by littering the blog up with banner ads to sell other people’s stuff. It doesn’t take long for most bloggers to realize what a freaking difficult way to monetize a blog that is!
So many bloggers seem to think of their blog as a newspaper. Newspapers are monetized by ads. Guess what? Newspapers are disappearing left and right last time I checked. The model is limited and broken. So, why try to perpetuate it in a completely different medium?
No, the REAL answer to full-time incomes from blogs is to answer that question: What is my product? And if you don’t have one, you need to create one.
This sounds about right. It’s possible to make money from advertising on a blog – maybe even a living (in the journalism world, The West Seattle Blog is apparently doing well). But it’s damn hard. Selling a product or service is also very hard, but it’s far more realistic than selling advertising.
By the looks of it, Risley is in the “info product” business. Technically, this means selling any non-fiction or instructional content be a book, DVD, or e-book. Generally this means selling short high priced e-books (say, $100 for a 10 page PDF). I’m certainly not accusing Risley of this (the free e-book on his site is quite good, though I can’t speak to his paid products), but be warned: if you start to go down the “info product” rabbit hole, you’re going to find a greasey business full of hucksters who despise their marks. Not everyone in this business is sleazey, and there are plenty of good products out there.. But I can sum up at least 80% of the info products out there: they’re just explanations about how you can make money selling info products. But you’ll have to buy the next, more expensive info product to find out more. Hit up a torrent site, and you can find gigs of this trash.
ANYWAY. Info products are ultimately content, and I’m cynical right now about the future of selling content as a business model. But there’s probably good, honest money to be made here. Think about it – everything from The Economist special reports to Vice guides are “info products.” (That’s not an endorsement of either organization or their products, just examples).
I’m slightly more bullish on the prospects of selling services. That’s what I’ll be doing here at Mediapunk. (Though I do hope to come up with some “info products” [*gag*] to sell). There’s even potential for news organizations to move into this business in the future. To use The Economist as an example again, they have their Intelligence Unit that does business intelligence research for corporations. (See Future journalism business models: research and explanation services).
There’s plenty of other things you can sell – physical products, software, subscription services. But although “starting a business and using your blog to promote it” is fine advice, it’s far easier said than done.