Want to profit from internet journalism? Here are three golden rules

In Practice by Tim Dawson.

For the past six months, I have been teaching a course entitled Making Internet Journalism Pay.  After the last session that I delivered, I received some of the most complimentary notes of thanks of my professional career – and they came from over half the people taking the course.  It makes me think that I must have got something right.

It is a full day’s course, of practical instruction and looking at successful self-publishing examples in some detail.  There are, however, a few simple principles that I thought might be worth sharing here.  So, for the benefit of those of you who are unable to spend a day in a training suite in central London, here are my three top tips.

If you are relying on advertising for revenue, then there must be a close fit between content and purchasing decisions.

As many people know, it is childishly simple to add Google ads, or other affiliate advertising to a website.  However, unless readers are either drawn to the website in spectacular numbers, or there is a close connection between what you are writing about and imminent outlays of cash – the publisher will make almost nothing.

Sites that cover tech developments, for example, are generally read by people who like to buy tech.  If the stories are surrounded by attractive retail propositions, then at least some are likely to respond. 

By contrast, a website devoted to the history of medieval churches in Suffolk might be a work of brilliant scholarship that introduces a whole new world to knapped flintwork and the perpendicular tradition.  It is unlikely, however to make a bean from advertising, unless the publisher can think of some common buying interests shared by their readership.

Devoted as most journalists are to the brilliance of their stories, unless they give a little consideration to the web audience that they are able to deliver to advertisers, they will be giving their expertise away for free.

For a web site to fulfil its potential, at least as much time and resources must be devoted to promotion as to the editorial package

This is a nostrum that is as true today, as it was in the days when the press was king.  Journalists, by professional inclination, love the product but hate acting as salespeople.  Deep within them lies the belief that a brilliant product will sell itself. 

There is no better demonstration of this that Beehive City.  The media site bumped along, being read by friends and those who accidentally alighted upon their stories – until they adopted a programme of highly active promotion.  They have spilled the beans about just how they did it here.

If you want to make a living from self-published internet journalism, you need to develop a brand that can deliver multiple income streams

Advertising and subscriptions are grand – but both are vulnerable to factors wholly beyond your control.  The more ways that you can exploit your content and the brand that it creates, the more secure you will be. 

Those streams might be enormously diverse, from Guido Fawkes selling his best stories to the tabloids, to Indus Delta organising conferences for which readers pay to attend.  Some sites sell merchandise, others package premium content into pay-for products. Unless you are willing sweat your work for all that its worth, your sweat will be worth very little.

There endeth my moment as Samuel Smiles.  Suffice to say, if I were much good at taking my own advice, I would have retired to the Bahamas years ago.