Style

State of the Blog: The Business of Blogging

Four years ago this month, I sat on the big orange couch in my apartment writing the first posts for Capitol Hill Style.  Since that time, this blog has become more popular and more influential than I could have ever dreamed.  It has surpassed all of my goals and expectations many times over.  And while I have put in a lot of long hours and hard work, I know that without the generosity and support of my readers, Capitol Hill Style would not be where it is today.  

Writing this blog is easily the most rewarding and entertaining activity in my life.

Recently, a blogger who I respect very much encouraged other bloggers to be more up front about how we earn money from our endeavors.  Because, as writing fashion and lifestyle blogs has become profitable, some writers have blurred the lines between promoting an item they like and shilling for dollars.

If you’ve been reading for awhile, you know that it was several years before Capitol Hill Style generated any income.  But as the time commitment and the cost of maintaining the blog increased, I made the decision to monetize the site.  There are three ways CHS generates revenue:

1) The header and sidebar ads are run by Hearst Digital Media via a blog consortium called The Style Coalition.  I have little control over what appears in that space, but it’s a mix of curated ads chosen for this readership and other content. 

2) In the lower portion of the sidebar, there are two Google ads.  These ads generate content based on key words, so it’s always funny when an ad for Ugg boots or Vera Bradley pops up.  If only they knew.

3) Lastly, this blog’s primary source of revenue is affiliate links. Most of the links on this site are generated by Shopsense, and I earn a few pennies each time one of them is clicked.  A lesser number are generated using RewardStyle, a service that pays me a small commission (3-6% usually) if you buy a product I recommend.  

Even though I use these links, I always promote the best products that I can find, regardless of whether I can make money doing it. Every item that you see here is my first choice product or the product available that best fits my “vision.”  If I offer an alternative or promote a “similar” item, there is always a reason–the alternative is cheaper, available in more sizes or has some other feature that makes it worth suggesting.  

Alterations Needed has described earning money from affiliate links like being “a personal shopper,” and I think that’s an apt comparison.  

I spend 25+ hours per week writing posts, creating Polyvore sets, responding to e-mails and doing the other things that keep Capitol Hill Style alive because I love blogging and the community that has grown up around this site.  The primary goal of CHS is not to turn a profit, but when I can generate revenue without diminishing the quality of the content or the integrity of the brand, I take advantage of those opportunities.  

Often people ask me if I would ever want to blog full-time, and the answer is no.  I love Capitol Hill Style, but my first love will always be government and politics.  Through hard work, luck and your support, my hobby-blog has become a semi-professional endeavor.  But I think the fact that it’s not my primary job is what gives me the freedom to reject advertisers and partnerships that aren’t right for CHS and write honest product reviews.

I wrote this post because while I’m sure that most of you know that I make money from this site, I thought that being up front about how was the right the thing to do.  Have a great weekend, see you on Monday.

LEAVE A COMMENT

    17 comments

  1. Lydia Grayson says:

    @Liya- I thought Victoria's question was quite respectful, and I have wondered as well. Of course I understand, as does Victoria, if Belle doesn't want to reveal the information, but I think the only person demonstrating a lack of class here is you, with your hostile catty response.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  2. KH says:

    Love it. Thanks for being so candid.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  3. Cara says:

    Belle – I just saw your response. I wasn't referring to your readers and I hope no one was offended. Everyone is very supportive here, which is why this is one of the few blogs where I comment.

    I've seen people get very upset about bloggers earning money. Almost like it's a personal affront that they'd dare to do so. It's probably just sour grapes.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  4. Belle says:

    Cara: I wish the Internet captured emotion in text a bit better. I didn't think you were insinuating that, I was just clarifying that blogger outrage has never really been an issue for me. This was just a pre-emptive strike.

    I have seen what you're talking about on some other sites, I'm not sure what spawns it.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  5. Genny says:

    This is a fantastic post and this is the best sentence : “But I think the fact that it's not my primary job is what gives me the freedom to reject advertisers and partnerships that aren't right for CHS and write honest product reviews.” I have seen so many bloggers leave their day jobs and have to rely 100% on the income from their blogs to support themselves. That's when a lot of the time the quality starts to slip and the author's voice begins to disappear. CHS is definitely in my top 5 blogs I love to read each day – keep doing what you're doing!! ­čÖé

    August 4, 2012/Reply
  6. babbs says:

    Honesty in a world of pandering…how refreshing! Positvely critical fashion advise based on real bodies, real incomes with varied taste and preferences. Thanks Belle for all of it.

    August 4, 2012/Reply
  7. Cara says:

    Thank you for the explanation. I also appreciate the recent regulation that required transparency from bloggers receiving free items and I think you do an especially good job of making sure you're promoting items you truly like.

    That being said, I've never understood the furor over bloggers earning money from their blogs. You provide a service – a place where we can learn, interact with one another, and read interesting posts. All for free! Why shouldn't someone profit from their hard work? If they're not providing quality material, readership will fall off – just like any other business.

    August 4, 2012/Reply
  8. Belle says:

    Cara: I don't think anyone objects to my making money. I certainly don't object to other bloggers making money. But I think it's better to be transparent than to have people speculate in the comments about whether a post is an honest perspective.

    August 4, 2012/Reply
  9. Kay says:

    Thank you for this post! I recently began reading and I love finding a blog that features professional clothing that aligns with my taste. I also really appreciate knowing your recs are based on your actual experience with items and aren't influenced by sponsorships!

    I would love to see what you wear to work. I read your post on why you don't take photos of your daily outfits, but I was wondering if you would consider doing polyvores of some outfits or photographs of your clothing laid out (apologies if you've already covered this or if there's some obvious logistical issue why you don't – I've never used polyvore). I know this isn't an OOTD blog, but if you wanted to do a feature on what you wear or items in your closet, you have another reader who would be interested!

    August 4, 2012/Reply
  10. Belle says:

    Kay: I've actually been thinking about doing photos of the clothes (not me) on Instagram. I bought a ridiculously large piece of white core board to display them on, so I'll try that in the future.

    August 4, 2012/Reply
  11. Victoria says:

    This is totally not my business, so feel free to ignore this question, but I've always wondered how MUCH money bloggers make. Is it a few hundred or dollars and some freebies (in which case, I'm not too worried about how it affects their honesty), or is it like a legit part-time job – thousands or tens or thousands of dollars?

    August 5, 2012/Reply
  12. Delmy says:

    Dear Belle:
    Thanks for this post. It is really inspirational and has given me a lot of enthusiasm. I started a blog almost a year ago and I haven't put too much into it because of several reasons. For instance, I work for a non-profit organization and my salary is not enough to invest in buying beauty products to review. So, I found it difficult to come up with ideas for my blog. And I do not understand how I can get ads for my blog.
    But, what's really nice to me is when I post something and I get responses from my readers. It makes me feel good that somebody else shares my same interestes. I definitely don't have my blog to make money, but I love the friendships that I have developed with a few of my readers. And I think that is rewarding. And if in the future I get to make extra money, that will be an extra bonus.

    August 5, 2012/Reply
  13. Liya says:

    Really classy, Victoria. Do you often ask complete strangers how much they earn? Perhaps Belle should just cough up a bank statement?

    And Belle, thanks for this. Too many bloggers don't disclose affiliate links.

    August 5, 2012/Reply
  14. HH says:

    Thank you, Belle!

    While I think you've been consistently transparent, I appreciate that you laid it all out for us, your readers.

    August 6, 2012/Reply
  15. Jenny says:

    Love this blog to death and appreciate the transparency. I sometimes don't read it for two days so I can “save up” posts to read, but usually I end up cracking and checking every day. Glad to know the clicks are helping you get paid (a little).

    August 7, 2012/Reply
  16. GoGoGo says:

    A+ as always for transparency and constituent services, Belle.

    August 8, 2012/Reply
  17. Belle says:

    GOGOGO: Constituent services? Nerd high-five.

    August 8, 2012/Reply