Bil Browning

The End of the LGBT Blogosphere As We Know It?

Filed By Bil Browning | April 06, 2011 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, The Movement
Tags: BlogActive, LGBT blogosphere, Mike Rogers, Pam Spaulding, Pam's House Blend

When I give speeches about blogging, I always use this line: "Blogging is an ego sport. If you didn't think the world needed to hear what you have to say, you wouldn't be publishing your thoughts online for all to see."

Hanny on his laptop_MMVIIIIt's obviously not about the pay. 99.99% of all bloggers make a little extra cash from ad revenue, but not enough to keep the lights on. Unless you start to get quite a bit of traffic, ad sales aren't going to pay your bills; you do it for the love of it. Most of us work other jobs too.

I do quite a bit of consulting work to bring in a salary while still managing the day-to-day activities of Bilerico, Jerame works full-time, and Alex has worked in Paris while also pumping out at least three posts a day, editing everyone else's posts, and managing the the daily schedule involved in running Bilerico. It's grueling and tiresome.

Plus once you've gained a following, you also gain the crazies and haters. No matter what you say, there's always someone who thinks you're the biggest asshole in the world. If you don't get a thick skin early, you'll throw in the towel thanks to the constant attacks.

With all of this in mind, when I read last week that Mike Rogers of BlogActive has stopped writing for his blog, I couldn't help but nod my head and think, "I get it." I understand. I've often considered shutting down Bilerico Project too.

BlogActive is, of course, famous as one of the first gay blogs and Rogers exposed closeted Republican politicians who voted against LGBT issues. He garnered major media attention and helped shape American politics as well as the LGBT movement through his keyboard.

Rogers isn't the only one carefully considering whether or not blogging is worth his time. Pam Spaulding of the award winning Pam's House Blend recently told her readers that she was considering folding up shop too. The constant demands on her time leaves her no room to manage her illness, her home life, and her finances.

No matter how many awards you win, it doesn't put cash in your pocket. Since we're not independently wealthy, you gotta pay the rent. The only independent bloggers making a living off of their blogs that I can think of are Andy Towle and John Aravosis.

Bilerico has been nominated for a ton of awards and Pam's House Blend has too. While they help to increase the status of a site, they don't translate into a mortgage payment. Sure, they help give a blogger some validation and they can help to give a bump to the site's credibility which can lead to higher ad prices, but in the end a trophy sits on your shelf while the money continues to flow out of your pocket.

In our situation, most of the advertisers who place ads on gay blogs consider us a "political blog" and skip us. Political advertisers, however, think of us as a "gay blog," so they skip us too. Most of our advertisers end up either DVDs, books, or Gay Inc groups. Look at that blog ads section to the right. Nothing.

But Alex still needs to be paid and I have a much more expensive rent payment than my mortgage back in Indiana - and they both need paid since we haven't sold our house yet. In fact, we're currently a month behind in paying Alex; money is extremely tight right now.

We don't have a donate button on Bilerico. We've considered it, but I'm rather uncomfortable asking people to give us money for something we decided to do on our own. We've raised money for various causes or politicians, but never for ourselves except when we had a fundraiser to send some of our contributors to Denver for the Democratic National Convention.

While there's a ton of LGBT-owned businesses spanning the gamut of services and products, you don't see many of them advertising in the LGBT blogosphere. Hell, how many of our own contributors have something to sell but have never bought an ad here?

When you combine this with so many LGBT bookstores closing and newspapers shuttering, the only explanation I can come up with is that we - as a community - want to have our cake and eat it too. We want specialized services and we complain when they're not there, but we're not willing to support the very people we hold in such high esteem.

If we don't start standing up for own enterprises, no one else is going to do it for us. Without that support, you'll see more LGBT blogs shutting down as their owners move on to something that puts food on the table. There's nothing wrong with turnover in the media industry, of course, but there is something to be said for established content providers who already have connections, sources, and access.

I consider one of my jobs to be finding new contributors and other bloggers who should get more exposure for the work they're doing. Most queer bloggers have small sites and the best way to get their opinions and thoughts out to the world is to help lift them up. But what's the point of lifting people up for a venture that won't be sustainable? Why burn through some great activists and writers?

Since Queerty and AfterElton/AfterEllen have corporate masters, they continue to draw a paycheck independent of the month's advertising revenues. They have backing that the rest of us don't - money to redesign the site at a moment's notice, pay paychecks, and buy advertising. That's a huge bonus that us independents don't have.

If we don't find a way to put together a model that actually pays queer bloggers for their hard work and dedication, it will definitely be the end of the LGBT blogosphere as we know it. The only ones left will be the corporate owned behemoths who are more interested in lining the pockets of their board members than the blogger.

And that benefits them, but not the community.

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i for one wouldn't mind seeing a donate button on bilerico. i've been a reader for years and would be proud to support you.

Agreed. If people don't want to donate, they won't donate. Don't make it HUGE and OBNOXIOUS, but if I like NPR, I send them a few bucks every year as a token of my gratitude. the NPR producers chose to get into what they're doing, and chose what to cover, just like you and Jerame chose the blogging world.

AS SOON AS you put a donation button up, Bil, you KNOW you're going to get a few people bitching and moaning, writing nasty comments, or even blogging about how terrible you are on their OWN blogs. BUT. I BET you'll get FAR more people actually donating.

Jessie Bennett | April 7, 2011 10:22 AM

Add a donate button! I would definitely click on it and chip in a few bucks. And take a month to promote the button and toot your own horn once a year.

I totally agree. I would advertise, but I make NO money on my own blog and can't afford to advertise on someone else's, but I can slip $20 out of the budget once in a while. It isn't much, but it's something. I'd be willing to pay - a reasonable fee - for a yearly subscription. If my wife can pay for that rag of a paper we get, surely, I can pay for a blog I actually read!

Writers have become the most exploited workers in the USA. I used to be against paid content but as I see my husband and many other professional writers doing serious, hard, laborious work with no pay (thanks Arianna, dahlink.. continue to simultaneous warn about Third World America while creating new victims of the same). Real reporters need to be paid.

That said, I think you guys do very serious, real reporting. Belirico, JMG, Pam - you guys are important activists and we hope you will all remain with us.

And, YEAH- I'm unemployed but I'd donate. Put the button up!

That's been part of my reluctance right there, Little Bear. We don't pay our contributors either. We have the Huff Po style thing going. Putting up a donate button that would only go to me, Jerame and Alex doesn't seem right to me when there's so many other folks out there writing fantastic content for us. We already get the measly advertising dollars.

As a contributor, I don't care. Put a button up, bring in more money, and pay alex a little more to spend a little more time editing all the sh!t I screw up in my posts, and that will be reward enough for me!

I'm glad Bil has articulated his far more ethical position here. To those contributors who insist that they'd be fine with a donate button for the site, not the writers: perhaps there's a difference here between those of us who write for a living and those for whom writing is something done on the side. Regardless, it's incumbent upon all writers to remember that writing should be paid labour, in the best circumstances, not considered a "labour of love."

I admire everyone's desire to support TBP, and I also know that it was started and is sustained by the impulse to create a different kind of lgbtq blog, which it is. But I do hope we won't, in all our talk of support, forget that writing is labour. Sure, many of us post here regardless of pay because we understand the importance of exposure to our ideas on this platform. But that shouldn't make us forget that, to put it bluntly, the internet is just a large gaping hole without written content.

I don't think there are any easy answers here, in terms of sustaining genuinely alternative queer content on this blog, but forgetting that writing is work that should be paid first is not the way to go about it. Comparisons between TBP and NPR or MSNBC etc. are not effective because those are in fact giant corporations - and their sometimes unionised staff, including writers, would never work without pay, and should not.

These are thorny and difficult conversations to have, but they will be completely useless conversations, frankly, if we only think of the work done in editing, compiling, and writing as ethereal and invisible parts of the world around us.

Bingo. It seems almost disrespectful to put up a donate button that would only go to Alex, Jerame, and me. Our contributors put in a LOT of work for Bilerico for absolutely nothing but smiles and goodwill.

That shouldn't be.

So, perhaps I should have expanded the scope of my article a bit to include a way to pay all of our writers at least a pittance for their work.

I think a lot of people miss how much work it is to put out all of these posts every day for years. Since starting the site, I've written over 5k posts alone. That doesn't even begin to include the other 100 writers and all of their posts.

Well that's a good point. You could structure it so that editors and writers (who may be editors as well) receive some relatively small amount from what comes in, based on the likely gross income of the blog. You could also add a bonus in the case that the blog income exceeds that amount. But keep in mind that editors are a primary need, because if the editors leave to obtain gainful employment, the blog ends.

What if each writer could have a virtual tip jar? And we could donate to them specifically? Or to the site overall?

The Fab.com PIVOT could go down as a significant event with respect to gay media properties (and gay businesses in general).

The declaration by Fab.com that, more or less, there is simply not the kind of money in GAY that can provide a significant return to corporate investors could prove to be the final nail in the coffin of "the failed business strategy" that lured big corporations into the gay market.

In short, the huge corporations in Gay right now are not making the kind of money they need to make from Gay to justify their being in the gay market.

Also, I think some of the CORE ADVERTISERS currently supporting most of Gay Media can be PERSUADED (if approached DIRECTLY, not through media buyers) to spread their advertising money around to smaller more community responsive gay media properties. I know for a fact that I** is rather "approachable" and that it could possibly be convinced of Bilerico's value to the gay community vs A Drag Show Contest.

thanks for this, Bil. It puts a lot in perspective

Anthony in Nashville | April 6, 2011 11:15 PM

This is an issue I have been concerned about for the last few years.

It seems everyone is increasingly looking to blogs for news coverage, analysis, and promotion, yet nobody can think of a sustainable economic model.

Because blogs are part of the "free culture/information" movement of the internet, I don't think most people are willing to pay for access. But while blogs are free for the person reading it, hosting, writing and maintaining one requires a lot of time.

As a struggling/aspiring writer myself, I don't write as often as I would like simply because I have a 9 to 5 and between other life responsibilities and needing to sleep, there's not a lot of time left over to spend on an activity that increasingly has no economic value.

I guess writers now know how musicians felt when the idea of "free music" took over.

Like Bil said, it becomes more about ego than hoping for any kind of financial compensation.

Blogging may turn out somewhat similar to a lot of volunteer work or philanthropy - dominated by people with enough financial independence to devote the time to it.

That would change the content and tone of the blogosphere, but it's like an old song says - if it don't make dollars, it don't make sense.

I'm happy to write for Bilerico at no cost because my purpose here is deeper than a paycheck and I know Bil understands that purpose more than most.

I don't feel comfortable writing for other sites that I used to write for because their purpose is profit without the opportunity to share in the rewards.

Bil, as a writer here I would fully support your decision to put a donate button to help keep Bilerico up and running. I would not expect you to pay me for my contribution (that is until someone buys the site for $12 million or you raise a couple million bucks. Then maybe some love is in order).

I'm with Joe. I don't write in the hope of receiving money. I love the exchange of ideas and putting out information and presenting varying perspectives.

I certainly do not oppose adding a donate button if it helps keep Bilerico up and running. Blogging does take time and commitment as I know all too well from running my own blog.

But the rewards of blogging can be wonderful even if not in monetary form - e.g., receiving an e-mail from someone struggling in the closet or coming out after marrying and having children who finds comfort in knowing that others have traveled a similar journey and survived the ordeal.

P.S. I just bought a purple pair of boxer briefs from Adrian Bartol (one of your advertisers). I followed up my purchase with an email telling them that the conversion was a result of their ad on Bilerico.

Supporting businesses that support our community is fun! I made a statement about my values, and I get a pair new pair of undies.

Bil these are hard times economically. You strike me as somewhat naive in capitalistic ventures. I am not trying to be insulting just calling it the way I sense it. You need a model that works. Pose it to your readers. Here are a few thoughts for you.

If every living person in the United States sent you 10 cents tomorrow then you would bank 30 million dollars but that is not going to happen. Why not? Because you don't reach them and you offer nothing worth a dime to most of them. Ah, but you do have over 6,000 people who have befriended the site in the last year. If they each supported the site at 10 dollars a year that is $60,000. And maybe 1,000 of them would contribute $50 per year for some special designation or private interaction arena. That would up the total to 100,000.

Bil you are going to need some capitalism coupled with healthy geek to scale the next mountain and my ideas are probably not the best. Put it out there to all your readers. Help wanted, need viable web business plan for Bilerico.

Bil - as one of your guest contributors, I too would be more than happy to see a donate button on the site. Though you all have a selection process for what gets posted I don't always agree with, I believe you are providing a great service to our community. You are building a forum where we the people can share ideas, news, information, etc. Sure, the negative comments come along with it, because online communicating is an approximation at best to the real thing - but overall, you should be looking to diversity your revenue stream.

The thought of Bilerico shuttering its domain name is truly horrifying to me. I understand your concerns about asking people for money, but as my mother used to say, if you don't ask, you don't get. Plus, money isn't evil. It's our medium of exchange for value. There's a difference between begging and pricing. I like NPR and I endure their near-constant asking for money because I understand that without money, there's no NPR. I like MSNBC, and I endure their 5 minutes of commercials every 15 minutes because I understand that without money, there's no MSNBC.

I like Bilerico, and I and billions like me will still come to the site even if you ask for money. As far as contributors getting money -- when Bilerico starts generating enough to pay a fair wage to yourself and to Alex and Jerame, then you can start thinking about paying contributors.

While naive is the last thing I would call you, I agree with Deena. Unless you suddenly acquire a rich uncle, my thought is that you are going to have to come to grips with your fear of asking for money or else Bilerico will likely not survive. And that would truly be a shame.

Bill,
I am an older womyn with a trans history and a body that while quite vital is begining to fail. I really can no longer work thus I live on quite little but if there were a mechanism, I would find a way to kick in $3.00 - $5.00 every month to keep Bilerico Bilerico. I love you guys and your work for us all is so very important.

Besides to enjoy my morning coffee at what is sort of a "Salon" attended by intelligent outspoken writers brings joy to my life and keeps me connected to US.

Please put up a button so I can help keep the "Salon" open.

The fate of LGBT media is definitely an issue, especially when reading about those corporate dogs being accused of defrauding nearly $100 million from their businesses!

It seems that the independents struggle to make it, while the corporate-backed media outlets have enough money to squander it away! Makes me sick.

Nick V

I run two relatively popular Harry Potter fan fiction/slash sites without the use of ads, and also have MS and live on disability. The only way I am able to keep these sites running is through posting a donations button, as well as running donation drives periodically. My last drive netted enough to keep us on our dedicated server for two more years.

Of course, running a fiction site is much easier than running a blog, and with the kind of traffic that you get it would be remiss of you not to use a donations button. You are providing a valuable service. What I enjoy most about the blog is the fact that it is not all political, there are POV pieces that explore gay life and I enjoy that balance. Do you get money per click on the ads, or are they just there for visibility? If I knew that you would be getting paid (what ever tiny amount) for each click, I would certainly do you the favour of clicking each one daily to help generate you revenue. I understand that this is a labour of love for you, but you have to be able to pay your help and keep a roof over your head as well. And if this means you post a prominent donations button, then so be it. I would hate for you to have to close down for lack of funding.

I actually had this conversation on my blog a few days ago. The truth of the matter is that it isn't just gay blogs that don't pay, it's any social justice blog that is committed to calling out privilege. Our sites are viewed as controversial or overly political despite the number of readers that visit it everyday. If a sustainable model is not found soon only corporate entities will be found on the internet and this once again hands power right back to dominant bodies. I don't know the answers but I am sure glad to see another blogger talking about this.

I love writing for Bilerico. I wish I could do it more, but given that I have a day job and attend school at night, it's hard to squeeze in the extra time. It takes me about 6-8 hours to pump out a well-written post.

Like many contributors mention above, I don't do this for the money, although, I would never discourage the idea if it ever came to pass. I do it because it gives me exposure I would never have on my own. More people comment and share my posts on Bilerico than they do my own personal site. Most of my gratification from blogging comes from the comments and seeing how many share my post on Facebook and Twitter.

I would be bummed to see opportunities like Bilerico fizzle away. Mashable covers gay social media but not in the way that I do and not to the extent that I do. They simply regurgutate whatever Facebook's PR team sent out. I knew I wanted to cover the topic in more detail. We need someone in the community to cover it in more detail. The Bilerico Project provides me with a platform to do this.

Bil, I would implement the donate button. As Phil notes above, NPR does this as well. You never know who's reading this blog and in which ways they could help. You may be surprised.

Boy, this is a tough one. As a professional writer, I agree with Yasmin that writing should be paid labor. But she and I are running smack up against the new realities thrust upon us by the Internet.

Leslie, I think the only new realities of the internet are understanding the new business model. The problem is not that it's impossible to do, but that it requires a very difficult transition period.

By this I mean that you can be a writer (or a website of writers, like Bilerico) and make money. Lots of people do it, and make good money. But to get to that point, you have to be willing to work for months, perhaps a year or more, transitioning between your current day job and your new job of running a website. In that time, you effectively have to work two jobs. But once you've made that transition, you have to work your new writing job as a full time job.

From Huffington, to Dooce, to ProBlogger Darren Rowse, all these people started small and then transitioned to a full-time job of writing. It requires you to manage multiple channels (Twitter, Blog, etc.) and really do a job 8 hours a day.

As someone else said, if you're not willing to ask, you're not going to get. Bil needs to understand how running a business works: you get paid and keep the job if you bring in your salary and some profit. If you can't do that, you don't get paid. I'm sure lots of the contributors here who only post once a week or every few days would be okay with not getting paid, or getting paid a small amount for each article. It's the people who bring in the hits and keep the lights on who are paid staff.

Bil needs a little tough love: as the owner/operator of the site, he only has himself to blame if he can't monetize the site. It's not impossible, and there are plenty of people making a good living off writing and the web.

You mean we can make money at this? :D

Seriously, I've blogged enough to know the kind of work that goes into it, can guess what it would take to administer it 24/7, and know how minimal the payback is. I can't speak for everyone else, but I suspect many of us would understand perfectly if you had a couple things like a donate button (provided it didn't all go over-the-top). If that meant selling ad space to unethical or anti-LGBT entities, that might be a different issue, but that's not really what we're talking about here.

If you're worried about contributors -- and if you have the contacts who owe you the favour -- there may be other non-monetary things that could happen, such as occasionally passing on advice about things like finding writers' agents, self-publishing, etc which have a value beyond dollars (and possibly already do a bit of that without thinking about it).

But in the meantime, from our own efforts, we probably have a pretty good idea what it would take to do what you do, and wouldn't fault you for wanting to make it reasonably worth your while.

I value Bilerico, and I'm sorry it's such a struggle to keep it going.

I'm not sure how much of the problem is LGBT-specific. I think a lot of it is simply the result of open web culture. I recently read Jaron Lanier's "You Are Not a Gadget" - (highly recommend.) Don't know if I agree with- or understand- everything he's saying, but I am afraid he may be right that unless we change the culture and rules of the road of the web , so that people begin to pay in some way for content, pretty soon no one will be able to afford to create content in any medium.

I wonder if Bilerico could experiment with asking readers voluntarily to subscribe, paying any monthly amount of their own choosing that they feel comfortable with and able to do. But without requiring anyone to pay anything, since many , whom you might most want to reach, may not be in a position to do so. If some readers did subscribe, it might create a more reliable revenue stream than a donate button . And it would not be framed as competing with giving to LGBT causes, but would instead honor the principle of paying projectors for their labor.

Anyway, cheers and thanks for all you do!

Thank you for calling out the smaller blogs for notice. I started writing Gay Married Californian because I wanted to give voice to my experience as one of the 18,000 married pre-prop8. I may not get more than 50 readers a day, but I know many of them wouldn't hear what's going on otherwise.

Gaytorguy | April 8, 2011 7:53 PM

I am a great beliver in voluntary donations.
I have them with my meetup.com groups I organize. I did it because I am on disability. And the payments haven't kept up with the increases imposed on my home insurance and governmental fees and tax increases.
So, the donations are there to assist me in paying my organizer fees. They pay what they want, up to the maximum per annum I list, when and if they are inclined. No pressure.
Look at all your readers. Some will donate a dollar, some might donate $10, $25, or nothing. But you are asking for a donation, NOT a subscription. No one would feel obligated or required to pay anything.
Sure, there will be the detractors. They won't pay. They might leave. ut I think that would be their loss, not the other members loss. The other members would donate or just read and not donate.

I recommend putting the button to donate in. On the side, below the adverts. Just a Donate button and maybe a link in the are as to why you would like a donation and what it would be used for. If someone wanted to read, they could. But most of us are inclined to donate something to help.
If the advertisers are afraid to place ads here. This is the only other way to go beyond going corporate.

Bil, I know exactly where you're coming from. Having recently closed the door on my site after seven and a half years (one of the first Black gay blogs online, I might add), things just got to a point where I needed to focus on my business and the rest of my life, and BGB just wasn't in that niche anymore. Granted, the focus of my site was always personal and never about politics or LGBT issues or hot boys, but that's where the money is in terms of advertisements because that's what the gay blogosphere writes about for the most part (from my perspective, that is).

I think you should add a donate button though; you may be surprised at how much your readers will come through for you financially. While that is happening, think about a business model that will help keep your blog sustainable throughout the future, such as partnering with local organizations for sponsored posts or something like that. I'd be glad to talk more with you about this because I think it's important to keep independent gay voices on the web alive.

John Gagon | April 10, 2011 4:15 AM

A donate button can never hurt. Don't expect huge numbers but visibility and a call out for support could augment it. You'll have a contrarian or nay sayer who is just nay saying but I think as long as it doesn't displace critical content, it could go above all the ad space as the main advert.

Bottom line, people who want to read will read whether there's a donate button or not. From the perspective of readers, it's nothing new but from a publishing perspective, it's a kind of "fear of begging". But it's not, it's simply one other way besides adverts to raise operation funds. Adverts, to be honest, seem more obnoxious to me than a donate request. That seems quite acceptable.

I know editing, like art, can have a brutal effort to compensation ratio. I think if people know there's a need, they'll be supportive.

Leigh Anne | April 10, 2011 2:11 PM

Writers deserve to get paid? What a great -- and foolish -- idea! While it would be awesome to be paid for writing, most people who do it never will be.

Just as with most actors, most musicians, most people with a passion for anything, those of us who write rarely make money at it. Deserving or not.

The issue of keeping TBP open for business, and as a showcase for good writing, is another matter!
Raising money for that worthy cause -- even if it means slipping a little money into the cookie jar -- keeping the doors open is important beyond personal gain. And I'd like to see the management getting enough cash, one way or another, to keep it going.

Bil I have written stories and posted them on sites with donate buttons. For me it wasn't about making money it was about contributing to a site with a shared interest.The money that went to the site owner was earned and deserved.Like you they didn't have big advertisers what they had was a desire to provide a service to a select group of people.As for the writers that feel they are getting shorted why haven't they moved to mass media or the associated press? I see Bilerico as an information source and a chance to communicate my feelings to those who claim to represent me. You provide a service and you should be paid for it. Yes the writers provide a service but they should be looking at this as a chance to refine their craft and to share their opinions with others. I think you should put in a donate button and if any writers leave you will find they will be easily replaced by writers with equal or better skills.