MAKING money for nothing and FINDING chicks for free

In the comments to my post about people who think that all I do is beg for money on the Internet, Fallingwater asked:

Do you think a single, low-expense person can actually, really make a living with a site such as yours in 2012? I'm talking referrals, sponsorships and such, not living off donations (not that I'd mind, but I think you'd need a Wikipedia-like amount of readers, and possibly Jimmy Wales' creepy face, to pull that off).

I think you definitely can, even without staring into the soul of everybody who visits one of the most popular Web sites ever.

(Should I decide to try that, I would of course use...

Daniel B. Nosemonster

...this picture.)

That doesn't mean it's easy to make money with a Web site these days, though.

The main problem is that there's no way for a review site or similar enterprise to make a decent amount of money from the beginning. If it's a review site, every review can make you a small but non-trivial amount of money for the first week or so of its life, and then long-tail off into cents per day. But if you've got a thousand pages each making you 15 cents a day, you'll be doing OK. When you've only made it to the 50-page mark, though, you could easily be grossing no more than 25 bucks a day, which ain't gonna pay the rent in most of the Western world.

If you're in Africa or eastern Europe or something then this could of course still be a very workable proposition, but making affiliate deals with local businesses, generally on a per-sale basis, is a major way for small sites to get going, and local businesses in Uganda have a lot less money to throw around. There may also be major obstacles to getting money from richer countries sent to you in a poor one; I don't know.

I have always had it very easy. This is partly because I was smarter with my money during the dot-com nonsense than some of my friends. (Shiny new car and inner-city apartment? Nope, I'll go with rusty used car and living with mum, thanks. I did blow a surprising amount of money on this toy, though - brushless motors were EXOTIC back then.)

My easy ride was also partly because I for some reason am good at writing, and at understanding computers.

(I think Michael Bywater was partly responsible for this. He wrote the computer column in Punch in the eighties, giving me the chance to read comedic writing about Lotus 1-2-3 when I was a small child with absolutely no understanding of what this software actually did, but he also anonymously wrote the gonzo-ish "Bargepole" column, which I also didn't really understand but which connected some of my neurons in quite novel ways.)

I've had it so easy mainly because I was lucky, in the abstract sense of being born white and male in a rich country, and in the less abstract sense of just having job opportunities fall in my lap. The small publisher that was my first gig turned out to be based walking distance from my house (or, more accurately, from my mum's house), and my fairly brief gig with the Dark Lord Murdoch came via a headhunter. I think I had to ask one or two magazines to let me write for them, but mainly they asked me.

You don't need this sort of implausible good fortune to make a Web site that makes a modest but live-on-able amount of money, but you do need a way to ride out the period of time while you make the site big and well-known enough for that income to build.

To do this, presuming you're not already wealthy or a kid living at home, you need to start the site as a hobby in parallel with a real job. Preferably the kind of real job that lets you sneakily work on your Web site while you're there, which can actually be done legitimately if you're a parking-station attendant or late-night petrol-station cashier or something, so a significant portion of your job description is "sit right there, and remain awake".

You also, of course, have to come up with some sort of idea for your site that can make money. The mass affiliate deals like Amazon or eBay are unlikely to be adequate, even if you do loathsome Sell Sell Sell stuff, as described in books that use the word "monetize". You need more direct deals with advertisers and retailers to make it work, as I did with Dan's Data and Aus PC Market. I made decent money when I reviewed Aus PC products; I made not much when I reviewed stuff from elsewhere. (And no, I didn't sell the free review product when I was done.)

Because of this, Dan's Data does not make me much money these days, because I burned out on reviewing computer gear years ago, and Aus PC gear reviews were my principal money source. If I were still writing about cases and CPU coolers and monitors all the time then Dan's Data would by itself still make me a passable living, but I just couldn't face another PSU or video card after a while, so now Dan's Data makes pocket-money only.

If you can start a site that covers some niche that (a) isn't already utterly saturated with high-quality journalism (or whatever you plan to do) already, and (b) lets you hook up with a business or three for mutual benefit, you absolutely can still start and run a Web site for a living.

Hell, if you're good enough you can even make adequate money from plain old ads; that's how the superlative Rock, Paper, Shotgun works. They accept donations as well, but I only now discovered that, since their donation page is harder to find than my cunning combined e-mail/donation scheme.

(I think the excellence of Rock, Paper, Shotgun and numerous other big game-review sites qualifies that market as "utterly saturated with high-quality journalism"; I wouldn't pin too much hope on a new game-review site making its owner much money these days. If you write good stuff, though, you can at least count on sites like Rock, Paper, Shotgun and news sites like the extremely venerable Blue's News to link to you fairly often. Starting a site that competes with Blue's News, Slashdot and other news sites that've all been taking body blows just from direct review-site RSS feeds a while ago, then Digg and now Reddit is, needless to say, not likely to be an express train to boundless wealth.)

4 Responses to “MAKING money for nothing and FINDING chicks for free”

  1. Matthew Says:

    So how do you make your money now, if dansdata isn't raking in the bucks? (if that's not too personal a question, of course)

  2. Otara Says:

    So good timing has a fair bit to do with it.

    Shame the reviewing burned out for you Dan, what I tended to enjoy most about them was you sharing a useful philosophy on how to approach buying technogear, which isnt so prevalent in the genre. But the curve isnt what it used to be, and things like videocards are more of a commodity item now I guess.

  3. Fallingwater Says:

    I'm proud to say that I've become able to read your mind. After a few days without an answer to that post a normal person would have thought "it was too personal and/or he's got better things to do". I thought "I bet he's making a whole blog post out of it". :P

    Thanks for the much-appreciated reply; it's given me some hope of actually doing something with the site.

    Some information for completeness:

    1) I'm situated in Italy (for now, anyway; I don't plan on spending much more of my life here). As you may know we're not currently the most well-off European country, but we've still got plenty of people who can afford electronics both useful and not, so getting into that niche is not quite a dead-end. Yet. Problem is, Italian stores are likely to want Italian reviews, and while I'm fully capable of writing in Italian quite well I don't enjoy it - whereas I love writing in English, for some reason. I went to a university for translators, though, so I might just write in English, translate and then do dual-language pages. I'll consider that option.

    2) I'm not, sadly, rich, but I have money in the bank that can tide me over for a while. I'd like it much better for it to tide me over from unemployed to running a review site than from unemployed to broke, anyway.

    3) Finding a job around here is emphatically not easy in this time of economic turmoil - there are people more qualified than me that are holding tight to jobs nobody would have even considered accepting a decade ago, and most of my friends and acquaintances jump from one precarious low-paying job to the next. Me, I've been making some money fixing computers (mostly for students). I could upscale it to a full-time activity if the alternative was to sleep under a bridge, which is why I'm not as worried as others about getting traditional employment; however, my boredom at reinstalling Windows over and over again and dealing with the users (no, I can't disinfect your computer with 101 instances of malware; no, you didn't get it from visiting YouTube; yes, I can see your porn searches in your history) is becoming more mind-grating every passing day.

    4) my site is here if you're interested. It looks horrible and doesn't have much content. The first issue is going to be fixed as soon as I WordPress it; the second if I can scare up some sort of deal and get reviewin'. Actually I'm likely to write some more just for fun after I WordPress it; I haven't done much writing lately because I got discouraged at the site's constant state of half-brokenness. I should probably mention that if you go back to the old articles you may notice lots of ripping off of slight similarities to, uh, some other person's writing style, decreasing as time went on. Also a lot of general styling issues, most of which I hope I corrected by now - those first articles are old.

    5) I don't really know if the hardware reviewing/hacking/tinkering niche is saturated with high-quality journalism; Dan's Data is by far the best I know, with everything else being either personal blogs, submission-type sites à la Hack-a-day, or corporate-looking behemoths like Tom's Hardware that most definitely aren't ran from a single writer's workshop. For all of those sites quality varies widely, and I'm sorry to say none of them have the sort of multi-themed information available on yours. Where else do you start reading a review of, I dunno, a flashlight, and end up learning interesting stuff about catapults, old PDAs and grenade launchers as you read on?

  4. pipTheGeek Says:

    Its a shame you have stopped doing normal hardware reviews. I have not managed to find any where else that provides such fun to read and useful reviews. Can't you just go back to doing some case / cooler reviews?

    (I'd also like to be nosey and ask what you do now to support your undoubtedly lavish lifestyle?)

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