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Blogging for a living

Ever since the first appearance of blogs over ten years ago, the question has been there whether these self-published media outlets can be taken seriously, whether they can survive and compete in an environment dominated by major publishing houses, and ultimately, whether they can make real money. Over the recent years, the relationship between blogging and business grew more sophisticated, and it has become clear that a well-written and well-built blog can add great value to any business. Blogging, in some cases, can also develop into a full-time job.

"If you know what you are doing and you are doing it in a self-conscious way, you can make a living blogging," says Ágnes Vida, a.k.a. „Gazdagmami” (translates to „wealthy mom”), author of http://www.kismamablog.hu and http://www.gazdagmami.hu, who managed to build her blogs into a thriving online business, selling online courses, info products and various other services. "In my experience, if someone launches a blog with a ‘we’ll see if it works or not’ attitude, in most cases it won’t. In order to build a financially successful blog, you need targeted efforts, perseverance and a well-founded business model," she says. According to her estimate, the number of Hungarian bloggers who make their livings solely with their blogs is somewhere in the neighbourhood of one thousand.

While the genre still has a reputation of being highly self-centered diaries of anonymous authors, blogs have changed hugely over the past years. Even those blogs that are not written with the intention of making money at all and grow popular simply because of their content are much more targeted and focused than in the early days of blogging. Zsuzsanna Várszegi, for one, is the author of Tánc, Zene, Rum, Kuba (Dance, Music, Rum, Cuba - http://tanc-zene-rum-kuba.blogspot.hu/) a diary she dedicated to her travels to Cuba, that can be both read as entertainment and as a trip advisor. When she made it in the Top 10 of this year’s Golden Blog Awards, she noticed a huge boost in her blog’s traffic. "I still can’t believe it!" she wrote in a Facebook status after her blog ended seventh at the award ceremony in the "Local value" category in the league of many professionally-written blogs.

But while most of the 1,200 nominations of Golden Blog are still hobby projects, not all blogs are diaries, and quite a few of them target business-related, niche subjects. And although the market a Hungarian language blog can reach is relatively little, a well-aimed and well-structured blog can still make a profit.

"Blogs are popular in Hungary and bloggers can become opinion leaders, but the online advertising market is still tiny, and the amount spent is still low," says Ildikó Bezselits, a former journalist and editor of Glamour’s Hungarian edition, author of gastro blog Két Cica Konyhája ("kitchen of the two kittens" http://ketcicakonyhaja.blog.hu/). According to her, this market structure means that there are only a few companies that want to advertise on blogs, and they want ads at really low prices. "Another problem is that the attitude of Hungarian companies towards these ads is still very conservative. Basically what companies want is that they pay you money and expect you to write about how great their product is," she opines. "I could make a lot of money writing about products I would never use in my kitchen, because I don’t regard them as ingredients of real food. On the other hand, if I wrote down that I’m using these products to make the meals I present, and that I think they’re great, I would lose most of my readers in a short period of time," she explains. "The problem is that most advertisers can not think of any other option."

Két Cica Konyhája has some 60,000 visitors a month, which means that if the ads could be sold at prices similar to those of English-language blogs, the author could make a living out of this blog alone. "Luckily, due to the popularity of my blog, I get additional assignments and can organize other projects. These, of course, mean extra work, but at least they are paid for," Bezselits concludes.

Revenue sources

Using blogs to promote the author’s other businesses is a general scheme of making money online, but more direct approaches can work, too. "A blog with a few hundred, or maybe a thousand visitors a day can make real money in all the ways English language blogs can, it’s just that the Hungarian market is smaller, and things are a bit more complicated," says Vida, who has trained hundreds of would-be entrepreneurs in the area. Hungary might not have the huge and easy-to-use affiliate networks, like Commission Junction, Clickbank, Share a Sale, or Google Affiliate Network available, but there are still affiliate programs on the market and the smaller the company is, the higher the commissions can be. While major book retailers, like Libri or Alexandra, offer 5%, the number at minor companies can be as high as 20% in some cases.

Advertising networks are also available. Google Adsense or its Hungarian competitor Etarget are both potential substitutes to selling advertising directly to companies, and with the new setting options in Adsense the revenue potentials are substancially higher, especially since Google introduced the "remarketing" function, which will show the same targeted ads to its users again and again. "I know of people who are building their houses from their Adsense revenue," Vida reveals. "However, it requires lots of fiddling around with keywords and other settings, and I personally think that there are better ways to make money from the very same amount of work," she adds.

It is also true that if blogs reach a certain critical mass, products and companies will reach out with potential cooperation offers, although most of these are barter deals. "I refuse to eat for free, I only review restaurants for money, but still a part of my life is managed via barters," says Bezselits, adding that she was lucky enough to be found by a few advertisers outside the gastro industry. "OTP Bank realized that my audience is a really valuable target group for them, and we have recently had regular cooperation, allowing me to make some money and maintain my credibility towards my readers at the same time."

The freemium content model or subscription-only content is also an option that could work in some cases. The difficulties here are mostly of technical nature, as there are currently no Hungarian banks who would allow charging recurring subscriptions via credit card. And while PayPal, which allows this payment form, might be a good workaround, its user base in Hungary is still very low. Although the ratio of PayPal payments is up, most of these transactions come from outside of Hungary. The service is particularly popular with Romanian Hungarians, because transaction fees in Romania are rather high for normal card payments.

E-books, online courses and other info products, on the other hand, work just as well as on the English language market. According to Gazdagmami.hu, Vida has written two books and authored 11 online courses, getting some 15 orders a day for these products. And considering that her basic course costs HUF 35,000, it is fair to say that making a comfortable living with a blog is possible even on the Hungarian market.