Making Money From Your WordPress.com Blog is one of the most-visited posts on this WordPress.com blog. “Can I run ads?” is one of the questions most often asked on the WordPress.com forums. The short answer to that question has always been “No.” The longer answer involved an exception for certain high-traffic VIP blogs.

Enter WordAds, which exists to provide advertising representation to WordPress.com bloggers. It is a partnership between WordPress.com/Automattic and Federated Media. It is optional for bloggers. It is also optional for WordPress.com, in that bloggers need to apply. In order to do so, they must have custom domains (as this blog does). Even so, not all applications will be accepted.

The post announcing WordAds is rather curiously worded.

We’ve resisted advertising so far because most of it we had seen wasn’t terribly tasteful, and it seemed like Google’s AdSense was the state-of-the-art, which was sad. You pour a lot of time and effort into your blog and you deserve better than AdSense.

I find this curious, because WordPress.com has for years run AdSense on blogs it hosts. The quote seems like acknowledgement of a criticism I’ve often seemed leveled at WordPress.com: that it makes money by marring its bloggers’ content with ads that aren’t, well, terribly tasteful.” It also seems like an unnecessary swipe at Google.

The advent of WordAds raises several questions. Update, two days later: Jon Burke of Automattic/WordPress.com was kind enough to answer my questions via email; hence the italics following each question. See also Matt’s reply to my comment on the announcement post.

  1. What will the terms be? In particular, how much of the ad revenue will go to the blogger? It varies.
  2. Will WordAds replace AdSense on WordPress.com? In other words, if a blogger signs up for neither WordAds nor the No-Ads upgrade, WordPress.com may run ads on the blog: but will it use WordAds or AdSense to do so? AdWords is only for blogs accepted into the AdWords program.
  3. Will there be a plugin to allow self-hosted WordPress blogs to run WordAds? Not in the immediate future.
  4. Will it be possible to run WordAds on non-WordPress sites? No plans for this.

I am fairly confident that the answer to the plugin question (#3) will be “yes,” and rather less sure about answers to the other questions. (Turns out I was wrong, certainly about timing, and possibly about the plugin itself.) If you have answers, guesses, further questions, or other remarks about WordAds, please leave a comment.

Sponsorship in Web 2.0

June 20, 2008

There’s an interesting series of guest posts about monetization of web sites over at Mashable. The guest blogger is self-proclaimed “cranky old fart” Steve Hodson. Today’s post is about the “dark horse” of sponsorship.

It is from Steve’s post that I grabbed the AdSense skull graphic. If you get the idea that he doesn’t like AdSense, you’d be right. But his own blog does carry AdSense ads. The only reason I have stuck with them is because even thought the pay-outs are few and far between there is at least a little bit of income coming in.

In case you’re curious, Steve is interested in talking with sponsors. So am I, and my rates are far more reasonable! Mashable, like some of the other big tech blogs, already has sponsorship.

You might see AdSense at this blog, because, as I explained in a previous post, it’s one of the ways in which WordPress.com makes money. If you do see AdSense, please send me a screenshot including both the ads and the skull.

Anyway, my main purposes in posting were to show you the skull, and to recommend Steve’s posts at Mashable. I’ve now done both.

Mashable Kristen seems positively giddy over the news.

Even before Google acquired Feedburner last year, integration of Google ads into Feedburner feeds was an exploratory wonderment that many wanted to blossom into fruition.

I see ads as weeds rather than flowers. I won’t be planting any in my feeds. If I were the polling type, I would ask: what’s more annoying, a partial feed, or a feed with ads?

There is a new record-holder for most popular post at this blog: Making Money From WordPress.com. It is part of a series on how Automattic, which runs WordPress.com, can make money as a firm based on free/open source software.

Seen out of the context of that series, the title can and has suggest that the earlier post is about how bloggers can make money from their WordPress.com blogs. It isn’t, but this post is. To be more specific, the current post is mostly about affiliate programmes, with a few words on each of a couple of other ideas.

I should start pointing out that this post reflects my opinions and my opinions only, but that I hope to see other opinions in the comments. One of my most fundamental opinions on this subject is: if you want to make serious money blogging, then WordPress.com is not currently the best place for you. There are exceptions, such as those already so well positioned to make money blogging that they are a natural fit for VIP hosting (e.g., Om, Schill). Most of the rest of us can’t afford VIP hosting, and if you have to ask how much it costs, you are among those of us who can’t afford it.

As I write this, I have in mind a reader who: wants to cover the costs of the WordPress.com extras they buy and use (e.g., CSS, domain); wouldn’t mind also covering the cost of the Flickr Pro account where they keep their photos; but doesn’t see making money as the purpose of their WordPress blog. If you’re still reading, then thank you, and it is just for you that I identify and explain three things you might do with you WordPress.com blog.

  • Use affiliate programmes, such as Amazon Associates.
  • Link to other sites from which you can make money: your Etsy store, your self-hosted WordPress blog which carries ads,…
  • Promote your consulting or other services.

I’m not going to write a lot here about “problogging” itself. There’s a lot of good stuff about that on the web already. I’d start with Darren Rowse’s page for beginners: Make Money Blogging. Darren’s top income stream is Google AdSense.

But, as the WordPress.com FAQ tells us, Adsense, Yahoo, Chitika, TextLinkAds and other ads are not permitted to be added by users. Change to this policy has been under consideration for a long time, and I presume it’s still under consideration.

If you read on down the above-quoted FAQ page, you’ll find a link to another page: Types of Blogs. That page explicitly states that things like linking your book review post to Amazon are allowed. It implies, to me at least, that some affiliate links are allowed. I’d self-servingly classify my post on The World is Flat as a respectable example: here’s my take on the book, following this link will give you, not only a chance to buy this book, but also further information to help you make the decision.

That said, much of the code generated by affiliate programs such as Amazon Associates will not work at WordPress.com. That’s not so much because of the ads/affiliates policy as it is because of security issues. Javascript is not allowed at WordPress.com, and much affiliate code uses Javascript.

For this reason, one of my criteria for using an affiliate program on a WordPress.com blog is: will the program give me plain enough html code that WordPress.com won’t spit it back at me? But before it gets that far, affiliate links have to pass the following tests.

  • Is it likely that some readers will find the link helpful? Amazon links do well on this test, because the provide user reviews, further recommendations, etc.
  • Is it likely that other readers will find the link annoying?
  • Do I use the stuff myself? For example, do I wear Threadless tshirts? Yes, and I feel a sense of affiliation with Threadless that goes beyond getting a free shirt every few times someone orders using m “street team” code. Do I stream music using Rhapsody? Yes, almost every day, and so I am confident that some of my dear readers will be interested to know that they can get a 14-Day free trial to Rhapsody Unlimited then pay only $12.99 per month.

I’ve set up a site to keep track of affiliate programs for bloggers. There are probably existing directories, but I don’t know of any that tag programs that generate plain enough html to be acceptable to WordPress.com. The first five programs I added do so, and so are tagged html.

If you’re wondering when we’re going to get on to the topic after affiliate programs, and link to an external site revenue-generating: we just did. BricaBox, the tool I used to set up the directory of affiliate programs mentioned in the last paragraph, allows ads. By the way, BricaBox is a “social content platform” about which I’ve previously posted.

Finally, there are lots of examples of WordPress.com bloggers who make their readers aware that they do more than blog. For example, Lorelle is a consultant, photographer, and teacher as well as a blogger and writer.

I hope that this has been helpful. Due to technical problems, I had to retype some the last few paragraphs, and re-edit the whole post. I hope that I caught everything.

If I’ve made errors with respect to WordPress.com policies, or to anything else, please let me know by email or commemt. Talking of comments, I see as I do the final edit (again) that we have a comment already.

WordPress.com is free: that’s free as in beer, as in gratis, as in at a price of zero. This post is a look at WordPress.com in the light of Chris Anderson’s Wired article Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business. It is the second part of my series of posts addressing the question: How is Automattic going to make money?. (Hence this post is not about how bloggers can make money: but see the update note at the end).

There’s a particularly good fit between Chris’s article and WordPress.com. Chris identifies six business models. As we will see, Automattic uses each of the six in making money from WordPress.com.

The first model (following Chris’ order) is freemium: basic service is free, but there are extras for which you pay a premium. WordPress.com offers free hosted blogging; it also offers premium features under the heading of advanced services. One such feature is domain mapping: since I pay for domain mapping, this blog shows up as changingway.org (rather than just as changingway.wordpress.com).

I provided more details on WordPress.com premium features in a previous post. That post compares WordPress.com with its competitor TypePad in terms of feature pricing and packaging.

The “most premium” and least free option at WordPress.com is the VIP Hosting package.

The second business model relies on advertising. Automattic has run Google Adsense ads on blogs at WordPress.com since mid-2006. It has considered for at least that long offering bloggers control over the ads at their blogs. Currently, however, the only bloggers who can run their own ads or run their blogs ad-free are those paying for VIP Hosting.

WordPress.com uses the third business model, cross-subsidies, less directly than it uses some of the others. The essence of this model is that the free product entices you to buy another product. The different product is usually a complement to the free product, Gillette giving away razors in order to sell blades being the prime example (and indeed the example with which Chris opens his article).

One type of blade for your free WordPress.com razor is the Sonific SongSpot. An earlier post provides a description and an example. I just “snapped” the song in to the post.

The cross-subsidy model applies rather indirectly because I didn’t buy the song/blade from Automattic: I got it, free of charge, from Sonific. Sonific makes money from ads and affiliate transactions related to the music being played (e.g., the reader may buy music from Amazon).

I won’t discuss here the question of whether Automattic makes money from these “blades.” It may be doing so by charging Sonific for the prominent placement of the SongSpot service. I am not aware of any public statement from Automattic or Sonific on the terms of their relationship.

WordPress.com provides a very straightforward example of the fourth model: taking on a new blogger represents a near zero marginal cost for Automattic, since servers and other infrastructure are already in place to support the two and half million blogs currently hosted.

The fifth model is labor exchange: “the act of using the service creates something of value.” The main use of WordPress.com to create content, in the form of blog posts. There are many ways in which this content may be valuable. It may, for example, constitute pearls of wisdom that enrich the life of those who read it. Of more direct relevance here is that the content is also a source of economic value for Automattic when it is accompanied by AdSense.

The sixth and final model is the gift economy. I read Chris’s use of this term as an implicit reference to Eric Raymond’s assertion that the society of open-source hackers is in fact a gift culture. In this context, the free/open-source WordPress software was and is a gift from Matt Mullenweg and his fellow hackers to the wider hacker community.

It’s not much of stretch to view the free blogging service WordPress.com as the gift from Matt and his fellow Automatticians that seeded the WordPress.com community. That Automattic makes money, or will make money, from gift-giving is in no way counter to the ethos of free/open-source software.

We can relate the gift economy model back to the freemium model and note that the freemium model allows Automattic to receive gifts from bloggers. If, for example, I am unsure whether to pay for a premium service (e.g., CSS upgrade) for a further year, I may decide that even if I don’t really need the premium service, I feel good about paying Automattic the money, thus reciprocating the gift-giving Automattic initiated by giving me the free blog in the first place.

It is to this kind of gift-giving that the web-based photo-editing service Picnik appeals when it includes among the reasons for upgrading to its Premium Service “the warm fuzzies” you’d get for supporting Picnik.

Thus the sixth of Chris’s models (gift economy) brings us full circle to the first (freemium). It also points on to the next post in this series, which will be about making money from WordPress, the open source software. While the current post is about Automattic profiting from a free (as in beer, as in gratis) service, the next will be about the firm profiting from free (as in freedom, as in libre) software.

Before moving on to that next post, this one merits a couple of closing points. The first is about the post itself. It’s more about identifying and classifying than it is about evaluating. I haven’t attempted to estimate amounts of money, or percentages of profits, made by WordPress.com from each of the business models. Neither have I expressed opinions as to how well Automattic is executing each of the models.

The second point relates to affiliate programs. With respect to Chris’s list of business models, it’s not clear to me where such programs fit: somewhere between ads and cross-subsidies? Although WordPress.com bloggers (other than VIPs) may not use advertising programs such as AdSense on their blogs, we are permitted to use of affilfiate programs such as Amazon Associates.

I can’t think of any affiliate program used by Automattic at WordPress.com. I can think of one used at WordPress.org, but that really does bring us to the next post in the series on Automattic profits.

Update: If you’re a WordPress.com blogger who arrived here hoping to find a post about how you can make money, you’re in the wrong place. Or at least, at the wrong post: but see my post on how bloggers can make money. At the same time as I added this note, I made a few edits, but nothing major.

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