I'm now starting the time clock on an experiment illustrating the brutal economics of online journalism. Based on the long odds, I'll probably fail -- pushing Gannett Blog closer to its demise, and showing on a micro level why Gannett's survival is so threatened.
I'm looking for ways to earn about $24,000 a year from several sources to supplement my income, now that USA Today's severance checks are ending. A logical place to start: this blog, which in the past year has become a leading source of news and networking for more than 10,000 GCI employees and other readers each month.
My experiment opens a window on the reality of today's journalism finance: Can this blog generate enough revenue to support its continued publication? We're going to find out! Relying on two revenue streams -- ads, and a voluntary subscription fee -- I'll share embarrassing details of how much I earn in the months ahead. Starting today, you've got front-row seats to the launch of a 51-year-old journalist's second career.
Gannett Blog's big chill?
This is an imperfect test. There are no immediate negative consequences if you don't patronize my advertisers or pay for a subscription. I'm committed to editing this blog through Dec. 31.
But, I'm afraid all bets are off if I don't find sufficient income potential here by year's end. That might sound harsh, but it's true. At some point, I gotta start making money again. That could mean work that allows less time for Gannett blogging.
Over the weekend, I added two things: advertising, and a voluntary subscription fee of $5 per quarter. The advertising is Google-served text and image ads. Revenue accumulates automatically as readers click on ads. (Beware of click fraud.)
I'm collecting subscription money through the online payment system, PayPal. Please see the new "Donate" tool in the green sidebar, right. At the beginning of each quarter, I'll run a three-week pledge drive. I'm starting the first one today; it ends Nov. 2. My goal is to raise as much as $6,000 in subscription money.
Why odds are long
Compared to many blogs, I've got good traffic. My readers are well-educated and engaged; look at all the comments you write! Plus, I've basically got zero competition. All that suggests a blog primed for financial success.
Yet, publishers rarely sell enough advertising online to pay the full cost of putting out a news website with its own staff. In my case, I took in about $69 from advertising sales in the first 24 hours after I started publishing ads. True, do the math, and that clocks in at $25,000 a year. But the first 24 hours' sales must have been inflated by a one-time curiosity factor.
And as for subscriptions? Doesn't happen in the real world. Publishers have had a nearly impossible time charging readers for online news. One of the few: The Wall Street Journal, which now has nearly one million online-only subscribers, paying $119 a year for full access.
I met my editorial goals during the first year of publication. Now, I'm adding financial goals at a time when many better-resourced sites (perhaps including yours) are failing, putting so many newspaper jobs at risk.
But I enjoy blogging, and I've especially enjoyed watching this Gannett community come together here in the past year. I'd like to keep this chapter of my career going a while longer in my life, on Internet time.
Related: Why recessions are actually good times to start a business
[Image: my original USA Today employee ID badge and press card. It was made on my first day: May 1, 2000]