The social consequences of the financial problems of independent blogs

My article „The blogger as the intellectual of the network society“contains the theoretical background of this article but leaves the leading question, if the blogger is the intellectual of the network society, open. This article has to be seen as a part of the answer. Additionally this article shows several possibilities to finance the operation of a blog. At the end of the article a survey dealing with the economic conditions of bloggers is added.

Introduction: Does a German independent and intellectual blog scene exist?

At the end of the article – beside the still living classical intellectual of the age of mass media – three types of knowledge workers are presented, who operate blogs and may although be categorised as intellectuals. These three types are the blogging journalist, the blogging scientist and the “real” blogger. While the blogging journalist and the blogging scientist may although fit the criteria of the intellectual, like reflecting on society, they can´t be categorised as real bloggers. The reason behind this is quite simple. They mainly didn´t write for the blog. They just use it for the reutilisation of their work, they have presented elsewhere. Because these two types of blogging knowledge workers seems to dominate the German intellectual blog scene, the “real” blogging intellectual exist, but is a species hard to find. So crucial for the survival, growth and the social structure of an independent intellectual blog scene is the question, how the work of the blogging intellectual can be financed. This question is discussed by presenting the losses and profits and the possible sources of profit of the famous German net political blog netzpolitik.org, operated by Markus Bekedahl and his companion Andre Meister. Aside from sociological aspects, this article shows several possibilities to refinance a blog. Although this article deals with the situation in Germany, most of the sources of profit, who are presented here, can be used worldwide.

The losses, profits and possible sources of profit of the blog netzpolitik.org

Markus Bekedahl, a member of the rare species of the blogging intellectual, operates the very successful blog netzpolitik.org. In his presentationUnser blog soll schöner werden” (Our blog should become more beautiful) he outlined the profits and losses of his blog.

Einnahmen und Ausgaben netzpolitik.org: Lizenz Creative Commons BY-NC-SA, Markus Bekedahl
Einnahmen und Ausgaben netzpolitik.org: Lizenz Creative Commons BY-NC-SA, Markus Bekedahl

On the side of the looses stand 6900 € per month, while on the side of the profits stand only 2950 € per month. This means, that the blog runs a monthly deficit of 3950 €.

The monthly losses arise from 5200 € for the personnel costs for two 30 hour occupations, the monthly costs for the infrastructure of 1200 € and 500 € for warnings and legal expanses.

The monthly profits arise from 2000 € cash flow through the marketing of the blog by the German newspaper and publishing house Die Zeit, 600 € through public lectures, 300 € through the micro donation service Flattr and 50 € through Amazon Affiliate Links, which work like an advertisement and redirects the reader to an Amazon product page.

Because of the high monthly deficit and because of there wish to extend the portfolio of the blog, Markus Bekedahl and his companion Andre Meister started to search for additional sources of profits. At the end of his presentation Bekedahl evaluates the existing sources of profit and presents and evaluates additional ones. This is summarised in the two following tables. To complete the list of possible sources of profit, two additional ones of my own blog digital realism are presented in a third table. The evaluation is based on the criteria additional workload, current or expected income and the influence on the independence and the credibility of the blog. Especially the last criterion is very important for the categorisation of an author and his work as intellectual. The evaluation is mainly based on Bekedahls opinion with additional information given by me. The expected monthly cash flow is mainly based on my guess.

Table 1: Existing sources of profit of netzpolitik.org and monthly cash flow with a description and an evaluation

Existing source of profit

Monthly cash flow

Description and evaluation

Marketing by Die Zeit

2000 €

Biggest source of profit, but no real marketing by the publishing house.

Public lectures

600 €

Not very profitable and decreases the time for the operation of the blog.

Flattr

300 €

Just a little additional workload is needed to run this micro donation system, but it works much better for podcasts than for blogs.

Amazon Affiliate Links

50 €

Just a little additional workload is needed to run this advertisement system, but only a little income is generated and the independence and the credibility of the blog can be reduced. For example, when very well reviewed book is linked by a affiliate link, the independence of the review might be doubt.

Organisation of the web 2.0 conference re:publica

Not acknowledged

It is more a just for fun project, which doesn´t generates any benefits.

Table 2: Possible sources of profit of netzpolitik.org and monthly cash flow with a description and an evaluation

Possible sources of profit

Expected monthly cash flow (low, middle, high)

Evaluation

Sponsoring through a big company

Middle up to high

Similar to the Amazon Affiliate Links and independent from a real influence on the content or opinion of the author, the independence and the credibility of the author might be reduced.

Increasing Advertisement

Low

Might although reduce credibility and independence and generates only a low-income, because of the usage of add blockers by the readers. An additional problem is to find products, which fit to the topics of the blog.

Changing the topics to more popular ones

Low up to middle

More popular topics would generate more clicks and simultaneously increase the attractiveness for advertisement companies, which would increase the cash flow through advertisement. But this change would run against the identity of the blog and the interests of the authors. Additional a loss of credibility is risked.

Merchandising

Low

Both operators of the blog have no design skills. Aside from this the attractiveness of the products is doubt.

Crowd funding

Low

Crowd funding seems to work quite good for small projects. But netzpolitik.org is with its 30 000 clicks per day to big for this source of profit. An additional problem is, that no reasonable additional offers for the crowd funders seems to be possible.

Writing more articles for other blogs or online newspapers

Low

Decreases the time for the operation of the blog and generates only small additional benefits.

Increasing the numbers of public lectures

Low

Decreases the time for the operation of the blog and generates only small additional benefits.

Freemium

Low up to middle

Similar to the crowd funding concept the freemium concept would divide the content into a free and a paid part. The problem is, when all contents should be accessible for all readers, the premium contents have to be grafted. This means additional efforts.

Voluntary paywall

Low up to middle

This concept is in an experimental phase.

Selling the blog to a big media company

High

This is no opportunity, because the loss of the independence is quite sure.

Job market

Low up to middle

The concept behind this is to get gratifications for every Job witch was arranged by a job advertisement on netzpolitik.org. This concept is still in the discussion.

Donations

Middle up to high

Netzpolitik.org started at the beginning of April 2013 a donation campaign. After five weeks 25007,52 € were donated. The average donation was 22,16 €. While the first five weeks can be judged as very successful, the long time profits are very doubtful. No influence on the content and the opinion of the blog is expected.

Table 3: Existing sources of profit of digital realism and monthly cash flow with a description and an evaluation

Existing sources of profit

Expected Monthly cash flow

Description and Evaluation

VG-Wort Zählmarken

The Verwertungsgesellschaft Wort (VG-Wort) is the counterpart for literary products to the German GEMA. A Zählmarke (counting mark) sends the number of clicks of an article to the VG-Wort. For every click a small amount of money is credited. The VG-Wort didn´t take any influence on the content of the blog. For the implementation of a Zählmarke a professional blog account with additional costs is needed. Because of this and that application process needs quite a lot of time. This is only useful for blogs with a high number of clicks.

Re-Publication of articles as an Amazon e-book

low

On Amazon kindle, articles can be re-published as an e-book. The additional workload is quite acceptable. And the price of the articles can although reflect a donation aspect. Amazon didn´t seem to take any influence on the content of the e-book.

summarising the results of the tables, there are quite a lot of possibilities to gain some profits for operating a popular blog like netzpolitik.org. A problem with most of this sources is, that this means a lot of additional workload, which only generates little profits. A second problem is, that the sources, which promise higher rates of profit, might reduce the degrees of independence and credibility, what can although have a bad influence on the number of clicks and simultaneously on the profit rate. The best solution is to find a good partner, who finances the blog and doesn´t want to take any influence on the published contents and opinions. This could be, like in the example netzpolitik.org, a major publishing house or a private patron. But such a partner is hard to find and for this project a good reputation and a lot of public attention is needed. Meanwhile there are only a view sources of profit, which have a good balance between the additional workload, the generated profits and didn´t lower the real degrees of independence. These are flattr, Amazon e-books and Amazon Affiliate-Links. Problematical with the two Amazon options is, that, although the real influence on the blog is negligible, the readers may have a different opinion based on prejudice. I think the best solution for this problem is to use these options carefully and to write articles which show the independence of the author.

Conclusion: The dominance of the old élite of the industrial age and their sons and daughters

Although this article focuses on the financial aspects of an independent German intellectual blog scene and the major sociological aspects are discussed in my article “The blogger as the intellectual of the network society” some additional sociological conclusions about the living conditions and the social structure of the independent intellectual blog scene in Germany, which have although an influence on the structure of the public, the press system and the political culture in Germany can be drawn.

The financial problems of the popular blog netzpolitik.org shows, that it is very difficult to gain enough profit from an intellectual and political blog to run a living standard, equivalent to the living standard of a permanent employed journalist of a major national newspaper like Die Zeit or Der Spiegel. Although the effort of writing an article is same and the operation and the financing of blog needs additional resources, the economic status of bloggers is much lower than of these permanent employed journalists. In this way the blogging intellectual is a good example for a member of the highly educated precariat, who is unable to transform his cultural capital into economic capital. This precarian situation is not just a problem for the intellectual bloggers, it is although a problem for the public and for democracy. Under the circumstances of the current newspaper crises, nearly every newspaper has to fight for its existence. In this Situation, the presented solution of the financial problem to focus only on popular topics which generate higher advertisement profits and the other sources of profit, which are a risk for the independence of journalism, becomes more and more attractive. In this situation independent political blogs are a real alternative and a competitor to the major newspapers, which forces them to fight for their own independence. One additional problem is concerning the question of representation. In 1997 the Dutch media scientist Gert Lovink argues, that in the age of cyberspace every one can speak for himself and because of this, representation is not needed any more. But as the bad financial situation of the popular political and intellectual blog netzpolitik.org shows, the economic circumstances privilege the members and the sons and daughters of the élite of the industrial age, who have the financial background to endure the long and maybe never-ending phase of a blog as a machine for burning time and money. So even if the low costs have democratised the access to the internet and to free information, the production of the content is still in the hand of the old élite of the industrial age and their sons and daughters.

© Philipp Adamik 2013

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