This morning, the Wall Street Journal features an article about professional blogging, a topic that is obviously very close to our hearts here at RWW. Mark Penn, the article’s author, even cites some of our own numbers, though the most astonishing number he arrives at is that America is now home to over 452,000 professional bloggers who use blogging as their primary source of income. If these numbers are indeed true, then that would mean that there are now almost as many bloggers in the U.S. as lawyers (550,000). We do, however, have our doubts.

Dubious Income Stats

Some of the numbers in this piece, however, seem more than far-fetched. Penn, for example, argues that it “takes about 100,000 unique visitors a month to generate an income of $75,000 a year.” Given that Technorati’s latest State of the Blogosphere, where Penn gets this number from, reports that the mean CPM (that is, the income per 1,000 ad impressions) that U.S. bloggers are getting from advertising is around $1.20.

Actually, once you read the Technorati post, you can see that Penn ignores the fact that this number is based on the average income of bloggers who had 100,000 or more unique visitors, and that the median annual income for pro bloggers was only about $22,000 (in comparison, the median income for U.S. households is about $50,000).

Penn also quotes some of our own statistics. Last October, we asked 20 top-tier tech bloggers and social media consultants about their income. While we indeed reported that these top tier bloggers can get $75 to $200 per post, we also mention that the average tech blogger who responded made about $25 per post.

We also wonder if the calculations that Penn uses to arrive at 452,000 pro bloggers aren’t a bit off. Penn, for example, says that 1.7 million bloggers ‘profit from their work.’ This number, however, comes from a statistic on the Blog World Expo site, which doesn’t even quote a source for this number, and which doesn’t even say that 1.7 million make money from their blogs, but that 1.7 million list making money as a reason to blog.

Some Good Questions

Penn does ask a number of good questions, though, even if they are clearly colored by the current state of journalism as a profession and business:

are they covered by unemployment insurance if tastes change and their sites go under? Are they considered journalists under shield laws? Are they subject to libel suits? Are there any limits to the opinions they churn out, or any standards to rein them in? Is there someone to complain to about false blogs or hidden conflicts? At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, Panasonic outfitted bloggers with free Panasonic equipment; did that affect their opinions about the companies they wrote about? There are more questions than answers about America’s Newest Profession.


But for how long can nearly 500,000 people who are gradually replacing whole swaths of journalists survive with no worker protections, no enforced ethics codes, limited standards, and, for most, no formal training?

These questions are indeed worth pondering (though some of them could also be asked about newspapers as well). Unlike Penn, however, we are quite optimistic that many journalists will see the light in the long run and that readers will quickly weed out the blogs that have no ethics codes and standards. As for formal training, Penn’s selective use of statistics in his piece seems to make that argument for him – and Penn, of course, isn’t even a journalist himself.

Illustration titled “Blogging Au Plein Air, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot” by Flickr user Mike Licht