In this episode of the Digital Publishing Podcast (which you can find a full transcript of below), I continue talking about blog monetization strategies that I’ve personally had experiences with in my 10+ years of blogging.

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  • 1:29 – Blog monetization strategy #3: eBooks
  • 10:17 – Blog monetization strategy #4: Sponsored Content
  • 14:23 – Pick of the week

DPP035: Blog Monetization Strategies (Part 2): eBooks and Sponsored Content

Hey, I’m Tristan Higbee, and this podcast is all about the things I see and would like to see in the world of digital publishing, including blogging, ebook and video creation, podcasting, and other things relating to internet business and online marketing. You can find a full transcript of each episode of this show at DigitalPublishingPodcast.com.

I’d really appreciate it if you rated this show in iTunes. Just go to itunes.digitalpublishingpodcast.com and then click the blue “View in iTunes” button in the sidebar to rate and review the podcast in iTunes.

Announcements, etc.

Before we get started, I wanted to thank everyone for their patience during the podcast hiatus of the last few weeks. I was in Georgia the last time I recorded the show and since then have traveled through Armenia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Romania, and I have now settled down in Sofia, Bulgaria, for a few weeks of stability and, hopefully, productivity. So again, thanks for your patience.

In this episode we’re continuing along the blog monetization strategies series (that started last episode) with two more strategies.

Strategy #3: eBooks

One of my ebooks.

One of my ebooks.

These days, ebooks are a tried-and-true way for bloggers to make money, and they’re one of the main ways that I currently make money online.

There are a bunch of different types and formats of ebooks and a bunch of different ways to sell them, but here’s an overview of the way it works: You write an ebook and put it up for sale, then people pay for and download the digital file, and you get the money. The concept is simple.

What exactly your ebook is about will, of course, depend on what your blog is about and what you have experience with. Your ebook could be a collection of your best blog posts, a compendium of content that you haven’t yet published, or any of about a million other things. The idea is that you write and publish your ebook and then advertise it, link to it, and talk about it on your blog. People come to your blog, see that you have an ebook for sale, and then buy it.

As I mentioned earlier, ebooks can take a variety of different shapes and forms. One popular type of ebook format is the Kindle format. This is Amazon’s proprietary format, and you can read Kindle books on a Kindle e-reader, Kindle tablet, any iOS device like an iPhone or iPad, any Android device, and in any web browser, to name a few, and Amazon’s Kindle ebook store is the biggest and most popular ebook store around.

Most of the ebooks I’ve written, especially recently, have been Kindle ebooks, and I’ve written and published more than 40 of them in the last year and a half or so. There are two main reasons I love publishing ebooks on Amazon:

1. I don’t have to worry about payment processing or hosting the file or anything like that. I just upload the file to Amazon and get a chunk of money deposited into my bank account every month. I really like the simplicity there.

2. Amazon has a ton of built-in buying traffic. A ton of people search for books and ebooks on Amazon, and they’re there to buy. It’s not like they’re on Amazon expecting free information. Amazon gets more traffic than any of my blogs ever will, and so people I otherwise wouldn’t have any contact with or ability to access find and buy my ebooks.

Amazon does take a cut of your profits. If your ebook is priced below $2.99 or above $9.99, Amazon takes 70% of the sale price. If your ebook is between or inclusive of those numbers, Amazon takes 30% and you get to keep 70%. That’s fine by me, because I think that 30% is made up by the fact that I will sell more copies on Amazon than I would otherwise, but your mileage may vary.

I really like both writing and reading Kindle ebooks, but they’re definitely not the only kind of ebook out there. PDF ebooks are arguably the most common kind of ebook and can be read on nearly any device pretty easily. If you’re listening to this, you’re tech-savvy enough to know what a PDF is. You can take just about any file with text in it and turn it into a PDF document, and then use a service like Gumroad or e-Junkie to host the file, deal with the payment processing, take care of sending buyers the download link and stuff like that. If you use those services, you’ll be able to pocket nearly all of the money you make from ebook sales. It will most likely be more than 70%, anyway.

To me, the biggest downside to PDF files is that while they can be read on most devices with a screen, they aren’t optimized for every screen size. What will be easily readable in a PDF on my laptop screen will require a lot of zooming and scrolling around on my phone. You can’t just make the font bigger if you’re reading a PDF—you have to zoom in if you want the text bigger, and that can get annoying as a reader.With the Kindle and EPUB formats (and I’ll talk about EPUB in a minute), the text flows to fit the screen you’re reading on. If there are 12 words on a line when you read the Kindle book on your computer, there might only be 5 words per line when you read it on your phone, but the text size stays large enough to be readable without having to zoom in. On the other hand, if your ebook has a ton of tables, charts, graphs, and images, a PDF ebook—where you can essentially freeze the formatting of everything to look exactly how you want on the page—might be a better option.

There are some other ebook formats and marketplaces, too, like the popular EPUB format that is sold in Barnes and Nobles’ Nook ebook store and Apple’s iBookstore. I don’t have much personal experience with EPUB and have zero personal experience with publishing in the Nook or iBookstore stores, so I can’t say much about them. But from everything I’ve heard from authors who do go through the trouble of putting their books in those and other marketplaces is that they barely ever sell anything. I don’t think it’s worth it for the niche kind of stuff that I write and for the audiences that I have.

Some of you might be thinking about offering a bundle that combines the best of all worlds. For example, people come to your blog, pay to download a zipped folder, and in that folder are EPUB, Kindle, and PDF versions of your book, plus you get to keep the majority of the money. That sounds perfect, right? Well, yes, *if* your blog already has traffic. If you already have a ton of people coming to your blog, you don’t need all of the virtual foot traffic that a marketplace like Amazon can provide. But if your blog is new or if you don’t have much traffic or much of an audience, Amazon can potentially help you start making money right away. Don’t underestimate how difficult it is to drive traffic to your blog and convert that traffic into buyers.

The great news here is that you can, of course, do both. Upload your book to Amazon AND create a PDF to sell on your blog. Self-publishing on most platforms is easy enough these days that you can try different things and see what works best for you and your readership.

Finally, I want to say a few quick words about ebook formats and pricing. Put simply, you can charge more for PDF ebooks. Self-published Kindle books that cost more than $9.99 are extremely rare on Amazon, and ebooks over $20 and even $15 in any ebookstore are also pretty rare and considered expensive. If you have really valuable material and want to charge $20, $30, $50, or whatever for it, it won’t go over well on Amazon. A PDF ebook sold from your blog is definitely your best bet there.

There’s a lot, lot, lot more to talk about here regarding ebooks that goes beyond the scope of an overview for bloggers, so I’m going to leave it here for now, but let me know if you have any specific questions. As for my personal experiences, I’ve written a ton of both PDF and Kindle ebooks, and my Kindle ebooks have always sold significantly better. PDFs are great for giving away to drive traffic or to increase signups, and I have sold a good amount of PDF ebooks in the past, but these days I’m pretty much exclusively a Kindle ebook author.

That’s it for ebooks, so that brings us to this episode’s second monetization strategy, which is…

Strategy #4: Sponsored content

The sponsored content concept is pretty simple. A person or company pays you to link to their site from an article on your blog. They usually want this link for SEO purposes, but it can also be to increase awareness of their brand or traffic to their website.

Beyond that, the particulars here can vary. Maybe the company supplies you with a completed article and then you publish the thing. Maybe you write an article around the topic or idea that they give you, and then link to their site from specific keywords in the article. Maybe you publish an article that is wholly your own and then include a “This post was sponsored by” blurb at the end of it. The one thing these have in common is that you’re getting paid for publishing an article and/or the link in the article.

This kind of thing works a lot better in some niches than others. I used to have a blog all about Amazon and was approached many times by companies willing to pay surprisingly good amounts of money for a link back to their site. If you’re in a niche with a lot of money in it, you could potentially make a lot of money this way as a blogger. You’re probably going to get more money for sponsored posts on your popular real estate blog than you would on a popular blog about funny YouTube videos, for example.

The big downside here is that both sponsoring companies and bloggers are becoming more and more afraid that publishing sponsored posts will cause the sites of all of the parties involved to be penalized by Google. I’ve seen several bloggers mention in the past six months or so that they’re getting approached less and less by advertising companies because those companies are afraid of getting punished by Google, and the result is that this income stream seems to be drying up a little bit. It’s definitely still around and there’s still money to be made, but who knows how long it’ll last.

One thing you need to keep in mind regarding sponsored content is that you need to disclose it, or in other words say that you were paid to write or publish what you wrote or published. Not only is this a good thing as far as the relationship between you and your audience is concerned, but it’s required by the FTC in the United States. You can learn more about that by Googling “disclose sponsored posts”, and I’ll also include links in the show notes to a couple particularly helpful articles.

Helpful links

My experiences with sponsored content in the past have all been initiated by companies that have approached me, and not the other way around, so I can’t give you too much advice regarding how to find people to pay for sponsored content on your blog. You could have a Sponsor This Blog link in your navigation menu on your blog. Maybe take a look around at other blogs in your niche and see if there are any sponsored posts there. If so, you could approach those companies directly and see if they want to sponsor something on your blog. You could also contact SEO agencies and say that you’re willing to host sponsored content on your blog. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are marketplaces out there that connect companies with willing bloggers. PayPerPost.com is the closest thing that I know of.

Pick of the week

We’ll save the rest of the blog monetization methods for next episode, which will be the third and probably final installment in the series, so that brings us now to my pick of the week. This is where I pick one useful thing to share, and it can be an app, a website, a podcast, or anything else I find valuable.

The Reddit Alien logo

The Reddit Alien logo

My pick of the week this time is Reddit [reddit.com]. Reddit is a website that is essentially a vast collection of niche forums on just about anything imaginable. But in addition to just being able to post a regular new thread in each niche forum or subreddit, as they’re called, you can post images, videos, and links. So in a sense, Reddit is kind of like Facebook in that you can share photos, videos, and links for other people to look at, but instead of sharing them from your user profile, you share them on the appropriate subreddit. With one Reddit account, you can post things to any of the thousands of publically available subreddits.

The great thing about Reddit is that people can upvote or downvote whatever you post, so the best stuff generally rises to the top and can be seen by thousands or even millions of people (depending on the size of the subreddit), where the bad stuff will be ignored and not seen by anyone.

So that’s Reddit in a nutshell, but how is it useful for digital publishers? Well, let’s look at an example, and I’ll use rock climbing as my example, as I so often do. There are several climbing-related subreddits on Reddit. (And by the way, the URL structure for subreddits is reddit.com/r/ and then the name of the subreddit.) So there’s reddit.com/r/climbing, which is the biggest and most popular subreddit, but there’s also /r/climbingvids (which is where people post new climbing videos) and /r/climbingporn, which is not pornographic but just a place to look at cool climbing photos.

As a digital publisher in the climbing space, the big way to use subreddits and Reddit in general is as a source of content ideas. People are always asking questions in the /r/climbing subreddit, and those are questions that I could answer in blog posts, ebooks, videos, podcast episodes, or whatever mediums I’m working in. And if I read the comments on the posts, I’ll find a bunch more questions that people have and additional tips and other things that should give me even more ideas.

And if you have a Tumblr blog or just want some “filler content” to share on Twitter or Facebook, Reddit can be a great place to find interesting images, videos, and links to share.

Another way to use these subreddits is for self-promotion. If I came out with a great new blog post or awesome new climbing video, I could post a link and hopefully get some traffic or views. You could potentially get thousands of new visitors, though again, it will depend on how many viewers and subscribers the subreddit has. One thing about Reddit that you need to keep in mind is that it is NOT a place for wanton shameless self-promotion. The site’s community as a whole is very anti-corporate, and that extends down into most forms of self-promotion. If you submit links to 10 of your articles at a time, the submissions will be marked as spam and you might even be banned from the subreddit. But if you occasionally do create something that is spectacular that you think people will legitimately enjoy or get value from, submit it and see what happens.

Those are the main ways that I use Reddit these days from a digital publishing perspective. Mostly, it’s a really great place to find content ideas. There are subreddits for just about every little obscure niche and interest out there, so head on over to Reddit.com, do some browsing and searching for keywords related to your niche, and see what you can find. One final tip is that if you find a good subreddit for your niche, look in the right sidebar. The subreddit moderators will often have listed there related subreddits that you might also be interested in.

Final words

And that’s all for episode 35 of the Digital Publishing Podcast. Be sure to check out digitalpublishingpodcast.com for complete transcriptions and other blog posts there at the blog.

Please don’t hesitate to email me any question you might have regarding digital publishing. I love talking about this stuff, and I’d love to help you out. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.digitalpublishingpodcast.com. That will redirect you to my Twitter account, since my name is a bit tricky to spell. If you do follow me there, be sure to say hi. And again and as always, I’d really appreciate it if you went into iTunes and rated and reviewed this podcast, and thanks for listening.