Making money from digital content is notoriously tricky. Blogger and podcaster Zac J. Szewczyk incurs a monthly net loss from his website, but he's not interested in common options like ugly side banners. "I would rather write hosting costs off as part of an ongoing hobby and continue losing money than pollute my carefully crafted design with these abominations," Szewczyk writes. However, he does want his website to be profitable in a "respectful and attractive way" and he lays out several compelling strategies to do so.
His revenue model is largely based on increasing unique views. As traffic climbs, Szewczyk will adjust his monetization scheme accordingly. When he hits 2,000 monthly visitors, he'll seek sponsorships. At 2,500, he'll make code from his projects available to members. After the 3,000 monthly visitor threshold is crossed, he'll launch a members-only podcast.
Recognizing the potential of good, old-fashioned email, Szewczyk plans to launch a monthly newsletter similar to Brett Terpstra’s Web Excursions that would contain "my take on topics I find interesting yet not compelling enough to publish as a standalone piece." Szewczyk outlines two newsletters he would send out as modes to drum up finances through the increasing readership. The Web Excursion-inspired one would be an accompaniment inspired by Scott Hanselman’s Newsletter of Wonderful Things.
He also mentions the possibility of restricting one of his two newsletters to members only, which would follow a paywall revenue model for premium content that has proven quite successful for some established writers and online media outlets. Subscribers are thereby single-handedly supporting Szewczyk's fine-tuned content and supplying him all the more reason to continue to produce it.
Of course, he's far from the first blogger to consider the paywall experiment. Andrew Sullivan started his blog on his own in 2000 and for six years he wrote everything himself with little to no financing—his monetization model led him to eventually be completely self-sustainable. After leaving Newsweek in 2013, Sullivan launched The Dish, a blog and independent media platform that grabbed headlines with its bold monetization strategy. One year later, The Dish is entirely member supported with around 1.2 million unique visitors and an average of 8 million global monthly pageviews.
Sullivan, like prominent tech publishers John Gruber, Marco Arment and Jim Dalrymple, has shown that despite the challenging economics, it is possible to make online content pay. Yet as each of these cases shows, it helps to have a dedicated following to begin with.
"I think I have a rock-solid plan in that regard; now I just need the visitors," Szewczyk says.