First, some context...

Jay Rosen, in the "after matter" of his article on the New York Times purchase of About.com, posts an email response from Jakob Nielsen. Nielsen said:

"The real secret of About.com is that they have figured out a way to get 500 domain experts to work for peanuts, in return for the exalted status as "guides." But the NYTimes could probably have done that on its own by throwing a little prestige and a few thousand dollars at the top bloggers in each of the targeted areas they wanted to cover.

Somebody who already has a prestigious brand could duplicate About.com in a year for less than $50M. And anybody could do it in two years for $150M."

Giann Trotta, a "founding editor at About.com" responded:

"I was a founding editor at About.com back in 1997, and I agree wholeheartedly with Neilsen's take on this [...] Another company's whose SEO performance complemented the get 'em to write for peanuts approach was epinions.com -- enter any product name, and odds are they'll come up in the top three. They've since been bought by shopping.com in a very shrewd move."

About Branding

Now to the meat of this post...

As a writer whose goal is to (very soon) earn a decent living via blogging, I wonder how viable the 'work for peanuts' approach of About.com is nowadays.

About.com websites were/are successful because of the About.com brand-name and the generic design. And, to be frank, it's mostly all generic writing too - which is part of the whole About.com brand package.

The world of blogging, on the other hand, is one where individual writers with some flair and personality - let's call it a 'brand' - can build up a readership and maybe make a little money on the side. Why work for peanuts at About.com when you can earn peanuts off your own blog? :-)

But of course the point I'm driving at is that you can earn more than peanuts if you get the branding right. Seems to me there are two aspects to blog branding - building a 'personal' brand (a 'voice') and having a 'business' brand (or 'platform' may be a better description).

Kottke's Brand

Just today Jason Kottke announced that he will be running kottke.org as a full-time job from now on. If anyone is a good example of having a personal, unique 'brand' - it's Jason. It's not just the bright green-yellow logo (which burns into your eyes like a Plasma TV), it's his 'voice' as a blogger and the personal touch.

I reckon Jason has a great chance of earning just as much (if not more) money blogging full-time as he did as a web designer - because:

1. He has a very compelling personal brand/voice.

2. He also has an enviably good business brand to leverage off - a unique and professional design and a very large readership.

What, so you're not Kottke?

What if you don't have a decent business platform to leverage off? Are you consigned to selling yourself for peanuts to the likes of About.com? Not necessarily...

A generic business brand can still work if that brand conveys a network of personal, blog-like voices. weblogsinc and Gawker have this blog essence in their brands, whereas About.com doesn't. When I think of About.com, I (rightly or wrongly) think of the 1990's and website how-to guides. When I think of weblogsinc or Gawker, I associate those brands with blogs and tightly-focused content written by passionate people.

So will you earn more than peanuts at the likes of weblogsinc and gawker? You should, because at least half the value of the blog is from your 'personal' brand. Remember that About.com sites have very little 'personal' branding...

So if you don't have the large audience that Jason Kottke has (let's face it, very very few bloggers do), then you can still make money from your personal brand by either partnering with a blog company like weblogsinc or Gawker, or building your own business brand to complement your personal 'voice'.

Either way, to make a career out of personal blogging you need both a personal 'brand' and a business one.