This week my indy media class hosted Cornell law professor William Jacobson as a guest speaker. Jacobson is the founder of the conservative political blog Legal Insurrection. Our class conversation focused on how to create a blog and grow it over the years — hopefully all without losing money. I walked away with a greater understanding of what a financial undertaking a blog really can be.
Jacobson told our class with a chuckle that, in the seven years the blog has been live, he’s never had a business plan for Legal Insurrection because he never intended to start it. He also admitted that he probably isn’t doing everything he could to optimize his funding and readership. But the fact that shocked me the most is that he makes no money personally from the blog, even though he puts in a lot of his personal time to make it happen. Instead, all profit is turned into paying more writers and more content producers, to building the blog. Jacobson may not have the business plan perfected but he does have the serious commitment to and passion for the project — one that trumps personal gain. Jacobson seems committed to doing everything he can, with the free time he has, to keep the blog alive. I wish I had asked him this during discussion: what makes him keep going?
Financially, he has a number of funding streams to keep the blog going. He detailed to my class the myriad of funding methods he utilizes: from Amazon Associates, to Google advertising, to issue-based advertising, to donations. Each of these sources bring in a trickle of money that forms a stream of funding strong enough to sustain a daily blog with two full time writers and multiple other contributors, he said.
Jacobson also told us, that beyond funding, a blog cannot survive without others driving traffic to the site. He said this has become increasingly rare, as more conservative blogs are bought by corporate giants who keep traffic within their own site and do not link to other sources. When a more famous blogger links to his site, it can drive a leap of traffic to him for days (which often means more money in advertising). But this sense of community between conservative bloggers in disappearing, he said.
When it comes to the smaller community involved in his blog specifically though, Jacobson said he feels that has remained strong. He said his site’s comment section has been successful mostly because commenters must make a Legal Insurrection account to be involved in discussion, which means most people commenting are committed community members who add meaningful content to the conversation. This point made me consider that camaraderie is just as important a commodity as capital when it comes to launching a successful blog.