Saturday, October 09, 2010 |
Soccer blogging is a fool's game, plain and simple. There is little money to be made through the traditional advertising model, and short of getting picked up by Yahoo! (screw you, Brooks Peck...only kidding), the "game" becomes a desperate effort to attract page views through whatever means necessary. Sure, there are a few out there who see their blogging as "just a hobby" and have little expectation of a financial return, but most of us would like to get paid at some point. A little bit of success is often all it takes for "monetization" to become a goal; blogging is work, no matter how much we enjoy it, and there are few people in the world who would be happy working for free. For lack of a better term, blogging is a "hustle."
Speaking of hustles, Fake Sigi (we know who he is now, by the way, but I suppose you are your persona after a point) has taken an end run around the digital age-old problem of how to make a little money doing this blogging thing; he's selling subscriptions at $36.52/year, promising a handful of minor benefits for the purchase but really just hoping he has fans out there willing to underwrite his efforts. There is no paywall. Essentially, FS is soliciting for donations on the premise that what he does is worth something in direct monetary terms. If you visit his site regularly, you should buy a subscription, well, because he'd like you to.
From a practical standpoint, I can't see how this has any real chance of success. Short of a few of Fake Sigi's most breathless sycophants, there's no real incentive for his readers to buy in; even those who might understand why he has gone to a subscription model and agree with him that he should be compensated for his work will be reluctant to pay. Sympathy for his situation doesn't change the blood-from-a-stone reality; a belief that FS is "unique" in some particular way doesn't change the fact that the market is flooded with content from people who aren't asking for money, or that FS isn't restricting access to only those that have paid.
Maybe I'm wrong, and FS is already racking up the subscriptions. I doubt we'll ever know for sure if the model is a success; FS is under no obligation to disclose his subscription numbers, nor would I have reason to trust such a disclosure if he did.
But while I believe strongly that FS is reaching, I'm intrigued at the concept. To spin this back to my own blogging experience, I understand where FS is coming from; a writer has to believe his work has worth to keep going, and without a tangible reward, burnout is almost inevitable. Even the best of us hit the wall because of that fact, as FS noted in a post on the current condition of the award-winning Pitch Invasion. Without the ability to climb into Tom Dunmore's head, but interpreting recent events (Tom's joining Big Soccer) and correspondence I've had with him, it appears as though he's become disillusioned with the prospects of turning PI into a revenue-generating enterprise. I don't for one second blame him.
I've struggled with my own approach for nearly all of the almost-two years MFUSA has been in existence. Initially, I wrote for my own edification (ideas threatening to explode my brain) while working to build an audience; my goal wasn't to turn MFUSA into a hit machine in order to make money directly from it, it was to use this space as a platform to launch a writing career elsewhere. I put myself on display, hoping to land a real job covering soccer. I did throw up a Paypal donation button (which, to this day, has yielded a grand total of zero dollars), on the off chance that a few readers might be willing to throw me something for the effort, and I placed ads because it seemed to be the thing to do, but I never really thought of MFUSA as a potential moneymaker.
It doesn't take long to realize that independent blogs relying on a pay per click advertising model aren't in a position to make much, if any, money. Enough to buy a six pack a week, if you're lucky. And none of the premium stuff. We're talking straight mass produced American swill.
Over time, it became clear that landing paid writing work was going to be extremely unlikely. As one of the big boys of the soccer world once told me, there are only so many jobs to go around; the ones that aren't already taken will inevitably go to someone who has been doing this longer than I have, or has the requisite degree in journalism. Sure, I could make a run at freelancing, but there's no guarantee of income there, and I have a family to support. A change of tact was clearly needed if I was going to see anything for my efforts. Perhaps chasing page views was the only way to go.
Of course, doing so means risking the danger of "selling out" and turning the blog into something it wasn't before and was never intended to be. "Breaking news" posts, the latest gratuitous videos, posting just to post; for some sites/blogs, all of that is par for the course and acceptable to their readership because they never presented themselves as anything else. For MFUSA, it would be a major shift in tone and focus, "betraying" the original vision, and possibly alienating those of you who have developed expectations for this place. The conundrum is obvious: do what it takes to get more traffic or stay true to the roots and make it all the more difficult to make any money?
In the end, I hedged. I signed MFUSA up with the excellent Football Media blog network and left the business of selling ads to someone else. This is why ads reappeared here after a period of there being none; for what it's worth, the site does pull in a little more money now than it did before, but it's hardly what you would call "significant." Ultimately, it still comes down to traffic, and finding ways to generate hits and make the blog stand out is difficult. I'm a writer, not an internet entrepreneur; I'd prefer not to have to wonder if what I'm writing is the most popular topic, will land at the top of a Google search, or has all of the elements of good SEO (that's Search Engine Optimization for those of you that don't know). Becoming a slave to stats creates the dangerous temptation to do things you might not otherwise, or trade any measure of credibility earned for a chance at more visits.
Hopefully all of that explains why I sympathize with Fake Sigi. Nevertheless, I'm a bit turned off by his solicitation; as much as I would love to get paid for what I do here, I've never been comfortable coming out and asking my readers for money. There are a lot of writers better than FS (and no, I don't mean me) slogging away making little or no money who don't feel it appropriate to say "I'm special, give me cash." I'll admit the system is broken, or was never operational to begin with, but I'm also a product of that system. If I call it "unseemly", I hope you'll understand why.
I realize my take might be a bit irrational considering I called blogging a "hustle" above; hustling means getting what you can, be damned the way everyone else operates. Maybe FS didn't cross a line, and if people are willing to pay I suppose there's no harm done. But that doesn't mean I have to like it. I'll even admit that envy could be a factor, and the perhaps I wish I had it in me to be more shameless.
There are other ways to try to squeeze something out of this gig, and all of them have inherent problems. The ad-based revenue system is seriously flawed as I discussed above, and asking for donations is a difficult sell. Signing up with a collective like SB Nation is fine for some because it guarantees a small return through the power of the brand; unfortunately, it also means a loss of true independence. What works for some won't work for everyone, and I can't shake the sense that a select few are profiting off the hard work of others. Hopefully my SBN friends will forgive me that viewpoint and not take offense.
Having taken all of this in, I'm back to considering my own approach, and the broader issue at hand. I suspect that I love writing about soccer and am proud enough of this particular place that I'm unlikely to ever give it up short of full-time employment in the industry, but that doesn't mean there aren't some frustrations with which to contend. Would it be okay for me to try something in the vein of Fake Sigi's subscription model? Should I just suck it up and forge ahead, content with the few dollars I make from ads and links, because, well, that's just how it works? What about the other writers I've brought in, people who contribute to the discourse but don't own the domain? Is it fair of me to profit from the blog while paying them nothing?
Do I even have a right to expect a return, and where is the line on how far I can go in search of it?
This is has gone on long enough. Please forgive the navel-gazing on his particular issue; I thought it was worth the discussion, and it's almost impossible for me to address with without including personal experience.
If you have comments, share them below. Keep in mind that they'll be moderated. If you have thoughts on this as it relates directly to MFUSA and would prefer to keep them out of the public discussion, don't hesitate to email me at email@example.com.
Might as well update this with a link to Fake Sigi's response. I only have issue with the final paragraph, because I'm not sure I "confirmed" anything in regards to Pitch Invasion.