Darren Rowse began making a full-time living out of blogging in 2005. Photo: Supplied
Blogging. Monetising. Branding. These were three words that dominated last week's Problogger Training Event, a national conference for bloggers held at Melbourne's Etihad Stadium. These are people who live their lives online – sharing everything from craft patterns and cartoons to stories about their children, sport or business.
One thing's for sure, blogging is no longer just a part-time hobby for oversharers. It's an industry. And at the heart of this industry is the man who is indisputably one of the most influential bloggers in the world. Certainly, the most influential in Australia.
Darren Rowse started blogging in 2002 and began making a full-time income from it in 2005. While he has been involved in blogs focusing on a diverse range of topics over the years, his main blogs are now Problogger (321,000 readers) and Digital Photography School (around 986,000 readers). He earns money from blogging through advertising, affiliate links and selling products such as ebooks. When Rowse released his ebook 31 Days to a Better Blog in 2009, he says it generated more than $70,000 in eight days. The conference, now in its third year, is Rowse's initiative.
While Rowse is clearly an outlier (you certainly don't come across people with his level of blogging success every day), others are following in his footsteps, albeit on a smaller scale.
From business to blog – and back again
Nikki Parkinson fell into blogging when she asked a website designer to create a website for her personal styling business, which she founded in July 2008 after leaving her job as a senior journalist at a regional daily newspaper on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. "At the time, I didn't even know what a blog was," says Parkinson. "I just wanted a website that I could update myself."
Initially, Parkinson used her blog as a marketing tool for her styling business. However, her Styling You blog grew in popularity and she began to accept small amounts of sponsorship and advertising. "I saw that there was a whole community around blogging," she says.
This "community" comprises the readers who visit her blog for styling tips and advice on fashion and beauty. Parkinson has gained such a following (around 37,000 unique visitors per month) that she has effectively become her own media channel. At the start of this year, she decided to concentrate on full-time blogging, and secured a talent agent that specialises in representing bloggers. She now earns more than she did as a salaried journalist, mainly through sponsored posts, advertising and affiliate sales.
Turning personal into business
While the ATO may not yet understand the power, reach and income-earning potential of bloggers, savvy brands and businesses have.
Parkinson is not the only blogger who has turned their blog into a business. Personal blogger Eden Riley also earns money through sponsored posts and advertising. Riley's posts about her life have garnered her a smaller, but highly loyal readership. She is also a sought after speaker and is featured at all major blogging events around Australia.
Riley is also represented by a blogger talent agency but says she has had to fight to be recognised as a "blogger" by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). She had an ABN which she had previously used for freelance writing. However, it was cancelled because she no longer earned money this way. Then her blog took off.
"I honestly never set out to monetise my blog. It's only since I signed up with Lorraine [who runs blogger talent agency The Remarkables], that I've started to treat my blog as a business."
Riley says she has earned more in the last four months as a blogger than in the last financial year, hence she asked the ATO to reinstate her ABN. Although this is usually a straightforward process, Riley was met with a roadblock. She says a representative from the ATO informed her that it did not recognise "blogging". The ATO said it would not comment on individual cases.
"I explained what I do, that I have an agent; I had to send my blog URL and explain that, these days, you can earn money from blogging.
"Eventually, I supplied some invoices for some freelance writing work I did for a website. The ATO accepted that and only reinstated my ABN last week – but that was because of 'freelance writing', not 'blogging'."
A spokesperson for the ATO said: "As a general principle to apply for an ABN/ABR you must meet an enterprise test; this is irrespective of industry."
According to the ATO website: "An enterprise includes a business" but "It doesn't not include private recreational pursuits and hobbies" or "activities carried on by individuals … without a reasonable expectation of profit".
While the ATO may not yet understand the power, reach and income-earning potential of bloggers, savvy brands and businesses have. Riley says she has already been approached by three publishers keen to talk about a book deal. When it comes to dealing with bloggers, publishers not only see ready-made evidence of a strong writing voice, but also a community of fans who are likely to buy the book.
In a room full of a diverse range of bloggers at the Problogger Training Event, Riley and Parkinson are just two bloggers who are successfully turning what is essentially an online journal into a viable business. It's the result of creating compelling content, nurturing a community of readers, and forming the kind of partnerships that are likely to generate revenue. "This year has been huge in the online world," says Riley. "Everyone knows what a blog is these days – and I think it's only a matter of time until the ATO catch up."
As I am heavily involved in the blogging world, here are a list of disclosures: