Clay Shirky Debunks WSJ’s Bloggers For Hire at Boing Boing

by Art Fag City on May 1, 2009 · 2 comments Events

Nathan Coley, There Will Be No Miracles Here, 2006. Image Via: Doggerfisher

Two weeks ago Mark Penn and E. Kinney Zalesne’s feature Bloggers For Hire in the Wall Street Journal described paid bloggers as a  “microtrend” worthy of discussion, going on to cite all kinds of ridiculous income statistics. For example, using the noteriously inaccurate data provided by Technorati, the writers described the advertising income of bloggers receiving 100,000 uniques a month as $75,000.  Had they talked to any blogger  hosting web ads, they would have known their data was completely inaccurate.  

Clay Shirky refutes the grossly misleading article over at boing boing.  An excerpt below, but click through to read the whole post.  It’s worth it.  


The Penn and Zalesne piece is worthless as a guide to the economics of blogging. For starters, it’s methodological garbage. They take their figures from “[t]he best studies we can find”, without noting whether these studies are the crème de la crème, or simply the least lousy parts of a bad lot. (Hint: Lousy.) They never note that their key figure — 2% of bloggers claim it’s their primary source of income — would be well below the margin of error for data collected by a serious polling organization, much less for self-reported data, making that figure useless as an input. (And Penn was a pollster, no less.)

Never mind the bad data — there’s a microtrend to invent! — and so they press onward, taking that 2% and multiplying it by a bigger self-reported number of bloggers making any money at all, concluding that 452,000 people blog as their primary source of income. (As Kevin Marks says “Any anecdote times a made-up number can be a big number.”)

Then come the weasel words. They write about people making serious money from “posting their opinions”, but later make it clear that many of these bloggers are flacks, paid only to post the opinions of the PR department, not their own. (The inclusion of employee-bloggers also complicates their later assertion that barriers to paid blogging are low. Where the barriers are low, the pay is minuscule, and where pay is high, the barriers are enormous.)


And my favorite,


Worst of all, they present completely atypical figures as normal. By focusing on blogs with 100,000 monthly unique readers, they are already excluding over 90% of blogs that generate revenue, and even reaching an audience of that considerable size doesn’t get you anywhere near $75K a year.

Penn and Zalesne are observing a power law distribution, normal in the blogosphere for years now, and either misunderstanding or misreporting the results. Because the few people making the most money from blogging are making so much more than anyone else, the average blogger’s revenue has no more descriptive power than if the average wealth on your block went up because Bill Gates moved in. What matters instead is the median revenue, which is to say the revenue made by someone in the middle of the distribution.

In fact, the very Technorati report they draw many of their numbers fromnotes that the median reported revenue for bloggers with 100K+ audiences is less than a third of the average revenue, and that number itself is dominated by employee-bloggers. Average revenue for bloggers in the top 10% of revenue is even lower than the 100K median, and the median income for all bloggers running ad-supported weblogs is (wait for it)…

…$200. A year.

To read the full post click here.


mike May 2, 2009 at 10:07 pm

“…using the noteriously inaccurate data” — notoriously, I think.

mike May 2, 2009 at 5:07 pm

“…using the noteriously inaccurate data” — notoriously, I think.

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