An online revenue model for independent content producers

12 April 2010

Independent online publishers, content producers, and bloggers, who are looking for a way to earn an income, or make money online, could do worse than take a few cues from Daring Fireball, the website of John Gruber, who lives and breathes all things Apple.

Daring Fireball serves over two million page views, and generates an estimated revenue of US$15-20,000 each month, making Gruber’s methods well worth scrutinising. Let’s find out how we, as independent content producers, can do likewise.

Become a member of a private advertising network

Daring Fireball is part of The Deck, a private ad network created by Jim Coudal. Collectively, member websites have a very large audience made up mainly of creative, web and design professionals.

Members, who are admitted by invitation only, are required to display an image 120 by 90 pixels in size, and cannot carry any other forms of advertising on their website.

When you consider that 26 advertisers pay US$7900 per month, to advertise across 43 member sites though, the return, even allowing for The Deck’s cut, is going be very worthwhile.

Sell weekly sponsorship slots on your RSS feed

Gruber estimates that in excess of 150,000 readers (though the actual number is probably far higher) subscribe to Daring Fireball’s RSS feed, and this level of interest has allowed him to offer exclusive weekly sponsorship at US$3,500 a slot.

Do the maths there, that’s an income of US14,000 every four weeks, not bad at all for a one person operation.

A number of other high profile bloggers have attempted to monetise their RSS feeds, many of whom incidentally are members of “The Deck”, though very few have emulated Daring Fireball’s success.

A recent discussion with Jason Kottke on The Pipeline, Dan Benjamin’s online radio show, both conceded that Gruber is one the few people to make RSS feed sponsorship work.

Sell merchandise and website memberships

Daring Fireball offers readers the chance to become members for a cost of US$19 annually.

While membership isn’t worth much in itself though, aside from gaining access to a separate RSS feed which apparently includes a few extra items not published to the main feed, it is really a way for supporters of the site to make a contribution should they wish to.

T-shirts are also sold, they are usually made available once a year, and with a purchase comes an automatic one year membership.

The income from t-shirt sales and memberships, while handy, would be far less than that generated by “The Deck” membership and RSS sponsorships though.

Leverage your online profile to earn income offline

Someone with the high profile of John Gruber could probably do well on the speaking and appearance circuit, so there are definitely opportunities in that regard.

Don’t charge your readers a cent to access your website

Despite publishing one of the most highly regarded news and information resources of all things Apple and Mac, Daring Fireball does not charge the casual reader anything to visit the site.

Sure, the super-motivated can take out a US$19 annual membership, or buy a t-shirt, but there is no compulsion whatsoever to do so.

I want a piece of the action, what do I do next?

Who wouldn’t want to be an independent online content producer earning in the region of $20,000 a month? I’d happily settle for a quarter of that amount.

Without telling you how to go about it, I can say that there are two important things you need to do, and that both require inordinate amounts of time and effort.

One is always to work on boosting your profile (marketing and promotion), the other is producing quality, useful, content.

While nowhere near the traffic levels of Daring Fireball, it’s my thought that an independent online publisher could make a reasonable, self supporting, income from around 30,000 unique visitors a day.

At least it’s a nice round number to aim for.

Originally published Monday 12 April 2010.