Why some journalists profit online, and others never will

The Online Journalism Review‘s Robert Niles examines two blog posts that illustrate two completely different attempts by writers to find their niche in the new media landscape.

The first is a post from author Joe Konrath, who transitioned from print publishing to self-publishing e-books. “With self-publishing, in a single month,” he wrote, “I was able to earn the same amount of money it took me four and a half years to earn through traditional publishing.”

Konrath explains that since he began to sell e-books last January, his income has increased 2000 per cent. E-books now command 11% of the market, and presumably are only going up from there. “And yet, I still see some writers clinging to the notion that getting a book contract with a Big 6 publisher is the way to go.”

And it’s not just about the money, he explains: he doesn’t have to spend hours and hours schmoozing in books stores anymore.

Niles notes that publishing contracts “are getting even worse for authors: less promotion, less support and small advances and payments.”

He contrasts Konrath’s attitude with that of another writer, Mark Hodson, who wrote a post titled “Who would want to be a travel writer?

“Today in 2011 it is almost impossible to be a full-time freelance travel writer unless you have a private income. Many of my contemporaries – well-known journalists and authors – have gone part-time, topping up their income writing corporate brochures, leading tours or – in one case – renovating bathrooms. Others have given up altogether.

“On the other hand, it’s a lot easier today to become a travel writer. When everyone has a blog there is no difficulty in getting published in the first place. And there are countless opportunities to see your name in lights – providing you don’t mind working for free.”

Niles, himself a travel writer who says he earns the bulk of his income from his blog, calls the author out on this point. “I don’t write for free,” he says, “I write for myself.”

He writes that “To ensure that the second statement doesn’t equal the first, I have to do the work of a publisher in addition to the work of an author. That means building a website (or buying a block of ISBNs, if you’re to publish e-books), then finding an audience and building demand.

“If you’re not willing to do that work, and instead insist on waiting for someone to cut you a check before you put hands to keyboard, well, good luck chasing those dwindling advances and commissions.”

Self-publishing (whether books or blogs) allows a writer to skip a lot of the less desirable aspects of publishing: book tours, networking with editors, crafting pitches and chasing payments. As a blogger, Niles writes, “I just write stories — what, when and how I want.”