Help Me Help a Great Science Blog Become Self-Sustaining

3 January 2014 by Matt Shipman, posted in Uncategorized

(Image courtesy of Buzz Hoot Roar.)

(Image courtesy of Buzz Hoot Roar.)

This is a post about a problem that I am hoping you, dear readers, will help solve. Namely, how can a creative, dynamic blog that started as a pet project evolve into an entity that is self-supporting? (And no, I’m not talking about myself.)

One of the science blogs I fell in love with last year was Buzz Hoot Roar, which marries short blog posts with wonderful art to tell people about science. The blog is a labor of love, launched by four science writers/graphic/web designers who collaborate with a variety of artists who are willing to work for the low, low price of a free t-shirt. (If you haven’t seen the blog, here’s one my favorite posts there. It’s great.)

The blog’s founders don’t make any money from the blog. In fact, they pay for the t-shirts that they give to the participating artists. And the artists only get the t-shirts, or similar small prizes. That’s clearly not sustainable.

BuzzHootRoar Logo

Image courtesy of Buzz Hoot Roar.

One of the blog founders, Eleanor Spicer Rice (or “Roar”) explained to me how the blog came into being: “We started doing this because we know things and are excited about things that we want other people to know and be excited about, and because of that we were turned off by the idea of monetizing [the blog] – and we also were expecting that we would probably be the only ones looking at it, which wasn’t the case. The fact that it wasn’t monetized also seemed to give us a little intellectual and creative leeway. We felt that we could post whatever we wanted because we weren’t trying to meet some sort of financial quota or attract visitors to our site in part so we could profit off of them. We just wanted to put fun stuff up there.

“Now we realize (like every mature adult probably already knows before starting something like this) that we are paying for stuff – t-shirts and prizes for the artists, time for writing and designing, etc. We also realize that finding a way to make money from the blog would improve the site by compensating the people who contribute their creativity, which may encourage talented people who can’t necessarily contribute without financial compensation to share their art with us.”

I love the Buzz Hoot Roar blog, and I want to be able to read new posts there for a long time to come. But in order to thrive it needs to be financially self-sustaining. Unfortunately, I know very little about how to make money from blogging. This is where you come in, dear reader.

My one idea was for Buzz Hoot Roar to work with its artist collaborators to make the art and text in their posts available as prints, mugs or t-shirts. The writers and artists could then split the proceeds (with artists presumably getting a larger share). But I’m guessing there are business, legal and logistical issues at play there that I haven’t thought of. Does my idea even make sense? What would need to be done to make it viable? What other ideas do you have about how Buzz Hoot Roar can become financially self-sustaining (and help provide more compensation for its artist collaborators)?

I eagerly await your feedback in the comments section!

Full disclosure: I had this conversation with Spicer Rice because she’s a friend of mine. Even more full disclosure: I also had this conversation with Spicer Rice because I’ve written a couple of things for Buzz Hoot Roar (which have not run yet). Yes, I got a free t-shirt.

PS: The other Buzz Hoot Roar co-founders are Robin Sutton Anders ("Buzz"), Neil McCoy ("Hoot") and Sarah Blackmon Lips (also "Hoot").


8 Responses to “Help Me Help a Great Science Blog Become Self-Sustaining”

  1. Emily Millette Reply | Permalink

    I love BHR and you got me through a personal tough time in a very real way. If people want my art work on mugs or posters, I'd be happy for you guys to take serious proceeds. That's part of why I licensed my art work under the creative commons (I had a dear friend to thank for that. Austin walked me through that whole thought process). Also, have you considered reaching out to BoingBoing? They have posted about you gals twice, and might have some good ideas.

  2. David Wescott Reply | Permalink

    this is a tough one, for a lot of reasons. the "traditional" approaches to monetizing online content are largely ineffective, as you know. To me, it starts with three basic things (and by "basic" I mean "insanely difficult"):

    1) define your core competency - what is it that you do better than anyone else
    2) build a business plan that defines your customer base, your product, your financials. You can use data like your current site traffic and mentions in social networks as a starting point. You will need this to see if there's an appetite for investors.
    3) throw all that out and radically transform what you do while maintaining that core competency.

    the term "starving artist" has been around forever for a reason. but some businesses have emerged that help explain complicated concepts - you could do that through art. I think your customers are science-based businesses that are trying to explain difficult things - like what's in their products, why they work, why they're the best, why they're safe. Many companies and brands have logos and you could work with their graphic design people to do something creative. You might be able to make a case that your work can help promote or grow brand loyalty.

    the thing is - that's not what you do now. if what you want to do is just make money for what you're already doing, i think "the market" has already told you what it's willing to pay. sadly, that's not too much.

  3. Jayarava Reply | Permalink

    I dunno. I'm into my 9th year of blogging and I make less money from ads and Amazon referrals than I did when my readership was a quarter the size. However 2013 was a good year. 3 of my top 5 ever posts were written last year reflecting a much expanded readership.

    More and more internet users expect to get everything for free so getting money out of them seems harder than ever.

    I just think of myself as a net uploader for no particular reward except I like writing about my subject. More and more my blog is my notepad for research I later write up for publication.

  4. Emily Millette Reply | Permalink

    I'd like to append my last comment that the T-shirt is much appreciated because the artists do (of course) spend time and real money on supplies to do the illustrations. Have y'all considered looking at creative commons licensing as a blog?

    Maybe BHR could collaborate with The Magazine? (HT to https://twitter.com/mengersponge for that idea)

  5. Glendon Mellow (@FlyingTrilobite) Reply | Permalink

    Expecting to monetize and create a financially self-sustaining blog (particularly a science & art blog) is unrealistic in my opinion.

    Here's my anecdotal example, which I assume is a shared experience by many others in the #sciart community online.

    I started The Flying Trilobite
    almost 8 years ago. Since then, I have put up hundreds of images, over a hundred of them final work. I know that trilobites are relatively obscure: ("The Flying Tyrannosaur" would have been much more pop-culture friendly) so that works against my popularity.

    Since the beginning, I have taken commissions and sold prints (tees, art prints, greeting cards, calendars, stickers, smartphone cases). The print store has generated in its best year about $125 for me: the high cost of production means to remain sell-able, my profit per item is very low. That's fine: I sell them more as a way for people to enjoy the work than for profit. That amount of $ covers my portfolio domain name at glendonmellow.com (different than my blog) and maybe a tiny portion of my internet bill. Note that after 8 years, I have yet to crack a million views (I'm waaaaay off). So my example is very niche: scientifically literate surrealism, perhaps.

    I can't count the money from commissions, since that goes to the work done specifically for them: it's not a sustainable wage at any rate.

    Most art and illustration bloggers are already generating a tremendous amount of free work on self-promotion and blog posts. We do it in the hopes of being picked up by something larger (commissions, contracts), and because we love it. Even with the fantastic concept that Buzz Hoot Roar has, I think expecting to have a domain name, t-shirts, plus hours worked on the blog all paid for may be unrealistic.

    Paths toward successful monetization online are still few and far between for science and art sites. Aggregate blogs like Boing Boing, io9 and many others are financially successful with their ads by posting a mix of original content from multiple bloggers packaged alongside re-posted work by others. Individual blogs have a much harder time, simply because creation of original work takes longer than re-posting someone else's.

    Buzz Hoot Roar lies somewhere in the middle of this. Not a reposting site, yet with multiple contributors.

    I don't mean for this to be wholly negative: but the truth is, educational and artistic work online has not found a sustainable model yet.

    P.S. - if my planned post for BHR goes as planned, I'll be tickled pink, and I wouldn't have needed the shirt to feel incentive. ;-)

  6. Julie Reply | Permalink

    What I want: "Buzz Hoot Roar to work with its artist collaborators to make the art and text in their posts available as prints, mugs or t-shirts."

    That way, I can buy Buzz Hoot Roar prints for family and friends, and everyone's life will be enhanced.

    When my cat breaks my Buzz Hoot Roar mug (inevitable) I shall post it here: http://thingsmycatbroke.tumblr.com/

  7. Zoltan Szabo Reply | Permalink

    There's one method that springs into my mind, and wich I use myself, is using Google's AdSense, provided that Buzz Hoot Roar has a fair ammount of unique visitors. Unfortunately, this one won't solve their problem entirely ...

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