Rory Cellan-Jones

Can Brits make bucks from blogging?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 21 Aug 08, 12:58 GMT

The answer is no, according to the co-founder of one of Britain's biggest commercial blog networks Shiny Media. In a fascinating guest post on TechCrunch UK, Ashley Norris, who has just left the business he started in 2003, explains why it is so much harder to make a living from blogging in the UK than in the US.

He points out that in the US the likes of Gawker Media and the Huffington Post are showing that it's possible to make big bucks from blogging, then complains that he's struggled to turn Shiny - which has a stable of technology and fashion blogs - into a moneyspinner.

Amongst the main reasons he cites are the smaller UK market, a lack of imagination from the ad industry and the venture capital firms - and an omnipotent BBC.

I'm not best-placed to judge whether the corporation's excellent web operations are really crowding out investment in UK blogs - I'll leave that to you - but let's try to address two other questions. First, is it true that British bloggers aren't finding a route to commercial success, and, if that is so, what is holding them back?

When I posed the first question on Twitter, I quickly received a flurry of messages - some from bloggers - naming successful British blogs. People mentioned the political bloggers, Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes, technology blogs like smstextnews and TechCrunch UK, and a number of conultancies that earn money by advisiing big corporations on blogging. Hmmm, the trouble is those individual blogs do not seem to be building growing businesses - even if they're providing a new living for people who are often already professional journalists or commentators.

Ironically, it's Shiny Media which stands out as one of the few successes, and Ashley Norris appears to have upset some of his former colleagues by his musings. The current managing director Chris Price told me,"We're turning a small profit," though he admitted it was not on the scale of US blog networks.

And perhaps comparing Shiny with businesses like Gawker Media and Huffington Post tells us something about different ambitions on either side of the Atlantic. Patrick Altoft certainly thinks so. He gave up his job at an insurance firm when his blogs about the mobile phone world started making serious money, and he now runs a blogging consultancy. He thinks too many UK blogs are too focused on the UK with too much on their local market: "That's what the UK bloggers are missing - you've got to make it relevant around the world."

Arianna HuffingtonUS blog networks also seem more ruthless about their cost-base. Shiny Media has some rather shiny offices in Covent Garden where its bloggers can chew over ideas, Gawker Media lets its people do it from home - and only pays them according to the traffic they generate. And when Arianna Huffington visited the BBC recently, she seemed taken aback when I asked her what she paid her bloggers, indicating that the joy of blogging was sufficient reward.

But Mr Altoft says it is their use of social media like Digg and StumbleUpon to promote every post that gives the American blogs an edge, particularly those focusing on technology. "If you're on the front page of Digg, that guarantees 50,000 hits. The likes of TechCrunch and Gizmodo are there every day - you'll never see Shiny there." He says the American blogs are much more "professional" about manipulating sites like Digg so that their stories get plenty of votes.

But Mike Butcher of TechCrunch UK - another professional journalist making a decent living from blogging - thinks a lack of imagination in the UK advertising industry is part of the problem. "They're a bit lazy. it's easier to buy space on 50,000 Guardian online pages than to deal with hundreds of little blogs."

But Patrick Altoft's best point comes back to what is at the heart of good and successful blogging. "You have to develop your own niche, you need to break news, you need to write stuff that nobody else is writing." He's right. There is a huge amount of information out there - and little time to absorb it - so once readers judge that you are the destination for orginal stories and well-written analysis they will keep coming back, and advertising revenue will follow.

So, yes, just as it is still harder to find funding for a start-up in Shoreditch than in Silicon Valley, UK bloggers are not in the same commercial league as their American counterparts. But if they - and their potential backers - can begin to think big, then a country which punches above its weight in many areas of the media should be able to make a decent fist of commercial blogging.


Just to be clear, Chris Price, described here as the "current managing director" of Shiny Media is actually a co-founder of the business with Ashley Norris, and has been the MD since the launch. Sorry for any confusion.


  • Comment number 1.

    Yes you can and very easily too, it all depends on the scale you want to earn.

    We are renovating our house in France and are working hard on our blog with decent information and not just out "views" , so people are starting to come to the site for useful data and not opinion.

    At present we make about $10/$20 a day from AdWords, not a lot by many standards we know but as the site is growing up the charts and we are adding then the revenue rises. At the average rate of $15 a day we'll earn $450 and that's without increasing our traffic.

    The sole idea was for the blog to pay for it's own hosting charges for the year which we have already achieved. Our next aim is for it to pay for the solar heater we are currently researching.

    The write ups that we are doing for items we are researching are actively starting to contribute towards the items we are starting to buy, this then has the knock on effect as product research turns into a product install and usage.

    It's the information age and content is king.. "Build it and they will come"..

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    WOW, sorry I should have read that through before I posted. Sorry for the typos, but you get the point :)

  • Comment number 4.

    I can make money, but as my UK audience all get directed to the BBC first, and as the BBC NEVER links to the likes of me, I make money, but I have to still do my "day job" too, no matter how many visitors I get!

    Would be nice if you could - please - link to UK bloggers and sites from your pages, dearest Auntie.

  • Comment number 5.

    smstextnews - linky no worky

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    #6 It is easy enough to set up the pay-per-click accounts, the problem is that you can't, as you can in the US, make an actual living out of it.

  • Comment number 8.

    To be fair, Patrick Altoft doesn't really hit the spot when he says "If you're on the front page of Digg, that guarantees 50,000 hits. The likes of TechCrunch and Gizmodo are there every day - you'll never see Shiny there."

    When I worked at Shiny Media (for three years), each and every writer was abusing not only Digg, but also StumbleUpon and every other social tool we could lay our hands on. Bearing in mind we quite often wrote about new social tools on Tech Digest, where I was editor, we certainly knew which tool to use, and when.

    Yet, Digg never sent traffic our way, I remember doing a top ten on a subject, digging it, and getting maybe 17 diggs in total. Gizmodo did a top five a week later, and got hundreds of diggs - even though all their five points were listed in my top ten, they were propelled to the front of Digg.

    I've pretty much given up using Digg as a means of generating traffic, as unless your blog is based in the US, you won't be seeing much traffic at all.

    As for the issue regarding bloggers' pay, well, I think the fact that I left full-time blogging to go work at a publishing house on their flagship web title says it all really.

  • Comment number 9.

    KatherineHannaford I launched a new UK focussed blog last year and got half a million visitors in 4 months using social networks like Digg.

    The key is to write your content in a social media friendly manner and then know how to promote it. Gizmodo has hundreds of fans to promote their content for them, Shiny doesn't have the benefit of this which is why their content only got 17 diggs.

  • Comment number 10.

    I run a UK-based tech news blog purely as a pastime and would like to make two points:

    1. The BBC DO LINK to UK blogs. They linked to mine! I got thousands of hits as a direct result, many of whom kept coming back!

    2. I already get enough traffic to make money from my blog. It's only 3 months old and I only spend an hour or so a day on it, running it as a hobby.

    I have no idea why 'professional bloggers' seem to struggle; when they have all day to market their blogs?

    Provide great content and you will get traffic.

    Provide great content and TELL PEOPLE and you will get as much traffic as you can handle.

  • Comment number 11.

    I think the article is mis titled. The article talks about 'can UK bloggers make money from selling ads on their site.' That is a fundamentally different question to 'can UK bloggers make money'.

    Shiny Media claim to not have made much money in the UK from advertising. That may not be related to the same question. As Director of one of the UK's largest digital ad agencies, I had never heard of Shiny Media so that may be a problem in itself.

    Bloggers seeking to make money from selling advertising against their content and traffic need to gain exceptional volumes to make any form of real money. The market in the UK for paid advertising, in terms of advertising rates being paid is very low. For advertisers this is good, for site owners it is not so good. If a site was achieving £5 per thousand page views they would be doing well. [Yes, some niche and wonderful blogs will achieve far higher yield] so there needs to be substantial traffic to touch the sides.

    There are a wave of UK bloggers who are making money from their profession, but the income is not coming purely from sales of advertising, instead it is coming from a range of skills combining social influence and blogging skills [not just writing skills] - working for brands and services looking to harness their skills to write and promote. Remember the succesful bloggers in this arena are flagging any commercial investment so it is not underhand.

    So if we turn the question around, the answer would be yes, there a number of bloggers or 'active social media contributors' that are paying the bills. There aren't many making money from selling ads on their blog.

  • Comment number 12.

    Jamie Riddell is absolutely right. At Talking Voices, we make money from pro blogging, we just don't use the models you quote, because they aren't appropriate in the UK. And we all come from blog writing, not journalism college.

    I quickly abandoned the Google ads I had on my personal (4.5m visitors in 2007) "little blog" because they detracted from the integrity of the content. Instead, I chose to trade my blog writing skills on the open market - a far more profitable enterprise.

  • Comment number 13.

    When we took funding we decided we wanted to run Shiny like a magazine publishing company and that meant renting a reasonable office. We felt this was an important step in our development in order to be taken seriously by the 'industry' (advertisers, PRs etc), many of whom still thought of bloggers as working out of their bedrooms. It was also done in order to build a creative atmosphere where people could work together and have fun. And in part to provide a slightly more attractive backdrop to film video! We haven't gone overboard though - they are just regular offices similar to those of Dennis Publishing etc. Chris, MD, Shiny Media

  • Comment number 14.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the blogger named "arseblogger" on, a hugely popular and in fact award winning blog about arsenal football club written by one man in his house in Ireland, is now a full time employed blogger.

  • Comment number 15.

    I have been running a UK based Nintendo Wii based blog since October 2006.

    What started out as a hobby ended up as something that paid very well.

    I was lucky, as hitting the right content in the a niche area has been very key to the success of the blog.

    From my experience though now, I would seriously consider giving up my day job as a pharmacist to concentrate on blogging full-time.

  • Comment number 16.

    If they can it is in part because of articles like this. You say that Patrick Altoft (who I have never heard of) 'gave up his job at an insurance firm when his blogs about the mobile phone world started making serious money, and he now runs a blogging consultancy.' I don't know who Mr Altoft is, and I hope he is making a living, and hats off to him for trying, but did you check to see if what he told you was spin? Yuri Geller can thank David Dimbleby and the BBC for setting off his lucrative spoon bending career and I wonder if you are doing the same for Mr Altoft by endorsing someone who may not be all he claims to be. If his blogs on mobile phones were making serious money why not do more of that, why set up a blogging consultancy? It doesn't look on Google Trends for Websites as if he is making money from blogging. Just one of Shiny's 40 blogs has higher traffic than his blogwhatever blog. His mobile phone site barely registers so how is it making 'serious money'? Please update.

  • Comment number 17.

    wait... make money from blogging? Isn't a web-log supposed to be an online diary, where you post your thoughts? Now it's a business? I think people are blurring the lines between regularly website with RSS feed and blog methinks.

  • Comment number 18.


    Hi. I'm interested in 'Owner building' and solar. Can you please post your blogs name or a link.


    Some people have thoughts, experiences, have done research etc that other people want to read/hear about.

    The third group of people will pay to hve their advertise next to good thoughts, experience and research on a relevant subject.

    The fourth group figure out how the mix the above groups and make billions too. Google, come on down! ;)

    'blurring the lines', for sure, just as long as there is still enough value that people will read it!

  • Comment number 19.

    Is Gnoll110 the same person as DSushee? Bit of a conicidence that someone is reading a tech blog and is so interested in a comment on a completely unrelated topic that s/he has to ask for the URL to be posted.

  • Comment number 20.

    I like the assumption that just because he struggles to make money that all blogs are doomed to fail.

    I think it's all a matter of approach, the US are great at creating the huge blog hubs, covering everything from pop culture to tech news...

    And that is the problem with Shiny media, they are just repeating the same news as techCrunch etc.

    But to be a successful Brit you have to stop trying to compete.

    My comic site, makes money for me. It's small scale but at least it works, I rely on exporting my Britishness far more than trying to copy any US 'rival'.

  • Comment number 21.

    andrewmmartin if you haven't heard of me then a quick Google search for "Patrick Altoft" should tell you everything you need to know about me and my company, Branded3.

  • Comment number 22.


  • Comment number 23.

    I live in London and run a blog called Hecklerspray, which makes money, employs full time staff and wants a spangly office with a pool table but doesn’t yet have one. We’ve never sought out any VC funding, mainly because we believe in bootstrapping.

    A few points:

    - We launched three and a bit years ago, have accumulated 26m+ page impressions since then. Last month we were visited by 800,000 unique users.

    - Up to 70% of our readers live in the US. In this respect we are no different to the major UK publishers. It’s just about timing and targeting. We target US ads to US readers, and likewise for the UK. We publish UK stories in the morning (GMT) and US ones in the afternoon / evening, to coincide with spikes.

    - Digg doesn’t hate UK blogs! Around half a million Digg users have visited Hecklerspray since the beginning of last month. Yahoo Buzz and StumbleUpon can also deliver quality traffic.

    - Fact: media buyers are lazy and stuck in their ways. So are we. Let’s do lunch.

    - Ashley Norris’ post has been blown out of all proportion. He makes some valid points about the differences between the US and UK. Shiny Media took VC money and is going for scale – these things take time, and surely it is still a work in progress?

    - Patrick Altoft says you need to break exclusives, which isn’t necessary. It may help, but really you just need a clear voice and some subject focus.

    - To sum up: it IS possible to make money from blogging, and it doesn’t much matter where you are based. It's just about focus, timing, targeting and having a voice.

  • Comment number 24.

    Apologies - my apostrophes are showing up as question marks.

  • Comment number 25.

    Mr Altoft, I looked at a phone site called mad4mobilephones which I guess is the site you say makes 'serious money' (or you may have several and I'm looking at the wrong one, in which case apologies). You make a lot of claims for your site, for instance you say that 'as well as a useful and popular forum the main section of our website is the news pages which are updated many times per day and received over 3 million page views during 2006. Our team of 3 lead editors covers different stories and is also responsible for reviewing new products when they become available in the UK.'

    Where is the forum? News was last updated on 7th August, in fact the site does not appear to deliver any of the things you claim for it. It looks as if you treat your visitors with very little regard for their intelligence. As I say, as our economy slides into recession, if you are making money on the internet then fantastic but what came to mind when I looked at your website and read the claims you make was Mr Geller.

  • Comment number 26.

    @andrewmartin - I don't work for Patrick, have never worked with Patrick but am aware of him through our work in the same sector. Anyway, with the issue of impartiality out of the way I just thought that I'd stand up for him.

    If you read the article you'll notice that it says "he now runs a blogging consultancy": whilst I don't know Patrick's history inside out, I would imagine that Patrick now concentrates on helping others utilise blogging (as well as offering SEO services) rather than keeping the mobile blog you mention up to date.

    With regards to Uri Geller, Patrick has been well known in our sector for some time now (he started blogging on e-consultancy back in January and they're not the types to give space to any sort of huckster)

    I realise that you can't be expected to know any of this but feel that the tone of your comments deserved a response from someone with no ties to Patrick other than those of professional respect.

  • Comment number 27.

    If UK bloggers target their posts at the UK (which is of course natural - they are writing about what they know to be relevant to their audience) then of course that is an audience a fifth of what a US blogger could capture.

    I think that in the UK we are quite subconsciously tolerant of other national terminology and phrasing. We know where the sidewalk is or where the trunk is on a car even though we don't have them or that gas can be a liquid and we know how much $100 is without having a pound conversion in brackets. The US is a different culture and I don't think the reverse is true.

    You could always just write any old rubbish and hope for the best - like does - which often works alright too.

  • Comment number 28.

    The answer is yes - I made 9p from my site last month.

  • Comment number 29.

    Directly making money is possible through contextual advertising. It depends on the amount you consider to be a decent amount... 9p probably isn't; and how clever you are with the contextual advertising element.

    There are a number of sites out there who claim to be independent reviews, but are actually blogs focusing on very niche content and hence have associated contextual ads. This is then accompanied by very clever SEO techniques to achieve high visibility for the associated search terms. It's playing Google with Google if that makes sense...of course these sites always rank high for the specific search terms and phrases as Google coin it in as well.

    A lot more money can be made ethically by bloggers, even if not fact you can make a business from it!

  • Comment number 30.

    Write about what you know.

    Host your blog on an IP that is in the USA e.g. use hostgator.

    Pay a few people to digg and stumble your blog.

    Find people who are interested in the things you blog about and ask them to blog as well.

    Dont pay for an office. You dont need it.

    Write an ebook or use some other technique to create a mailing list.

    Offer something in the mailing list that is relevant to what you blog about. Maybe 1% will buy.

    Make money.

    Rinse and repeat.

    Adsense CTRs are notoriously low on blogs. So stay away from it.


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