If you want to really remind yourself how established an industry is, take a closer look at the people and publications writing about it. Mainstream publications have finally started covering our industry's meteoric rise from obscurity, and it's the ultimate success story, so why not? But dive a bit below the surface, into the seedy underworld of the intertubes, and you'll find thousands of beers blogs dotting the digital landscape, from the straightforward and barebones, to the utilitarian regional news sites, the gleaming professional mugshots of entrepreneurial craft commentators, and of course, the recipe-laden homebrew blogs.
Since starting bear-flavored.com over two years ago, I frequently find myself with basic blogging questions and concerns that I turn to the internet to answer. If you have spent any time Googling for basic blogging tips, you've probably noticed that the blog world seems to break down into a couple categories, with a few leaping hugely into the lead. Search for blog help, and you will likely find yourself at one of those weirdly-ghetto SEO-bait meta-blogging sites (blogs that exist purely to catch Google searches about blogs and turn traffic into ad revenue for their entrepreneurial owners), or a cooking blog, or a mommy blog (which is often also a cooking blog). The existence and massive popularity of food blogs makes a lot of sense, and we'll explore those comparisons more in depth. The existence and massive popularity of "mommy blogs" kind of blew my mind when I discovered how vast that rabbit hole went. I'll search for, say, help with a header question, and land on a sewing blog that gets 60,000 pageviews a day, with 14 million all time. Um, okay. Not bad.
Turns out, women dominate the blogging world. "A Pew Research Center study found there are around 34.9 million bloggers total; 18.9 million women and 16 million men. The study showed that although many men have been able to earn money from blogging, they 'haven't been as aggressive or profitable as their women counterparts in generating financial support from brands'" [source]. So let's see: does this play out in the community of beer blogs, as well?
Now, to be clear, not every food blog or lifestyle blog nets huge traffic. Cooking as a blog theme is a topic with much broader audience potential. (Though I'm not sure about sewing... seems like that would be roughly equivalent to homebrewing in this day and age). Cooking has been popular for, oh, at least a few decades, whereas homebrewing only really gained widespread acceptance in the last ten to twenty years. Homebrewing is a decidedly smaller niche than those who cook their own meals, and a subject which is inherently less economical to blog about, as brewing beer takes more time, effort, equipment, and knowledge than assembling an arugula beet salad. (And I mean no disrespect to arugula beet salads).
At first, this would lead me to suppose that homebrew blogging will never be quite as popular as cooking blogs (though general beer commentary blogs would seem to have a higher upper-ceiling). Still, I have long been curious if beer is simply a niche that will continue to grow, that will see closer, more organized networks bring structure, awareness, maybe even revenue or media potential. Food bloggers and mommy bloggers are very organized in their approach — at least the big ones — with ad networks, content sharing programs, buttons, webinars, pay-to-download instructions, recipe sharing parties, and all sorts of social media tricks I'd never heard of before.
Which makes me wonder: what will beer blogging look like in another ten years?
Fortunately, there exists an annual Beer Bloggers Conference, organized by Zephyr Adventures, who also fielded a "State of Beer Blogging" survey as well as a "Lifestyle Blogging Report," which included beer blogging as a subset. These two reports are full of comprehensive graphs and analysis, which will be the basis for my own insights, below. Many thanks to Zephyr Adventures and the Beer Bloggers Conference for helping to organize these nascent communities, and shed some light on what we're all doing. I had never heard of the Beer Bloggers Conference before this year, when it suddenly exploded onto my Twitter feed, but I would love to attend next year. For now, let's see what we can learn about the state (and future state) of beer blogging based upon the BBC's excellent research. I recommend also checking out the reports in their original form, as I will only be interpreting some of the findings here, not regurgitating them in full.
|beer blog survey|
Above is a screenshot of the demographics for the 230 people who "Like" Bear Flavored Ales' Facebook page at the time of this writing. The break-down is roughly three quarters male and one quarter female, which is at least slightly better than the general overall figure for beer bloggers. (Of note, too, Facebook suggests that it is weighted toward males in the first place). However, in my experience, actual engagement may play out a bit different. I honestly cannot recall receiving very many comments to my blog from female readers. Of course, some comments are left anonymously, or with gender-unspecific usernames. But of those with a name given, every one that I can recall has been male.
Motivations for Blogging
Most beer bloggers do not get into beer blogging in the hopes of making money off of their actual blog. To quote from the report: "Passion for beer is by far the most motivating factor driving beer bloggers. Most bloggers do what they do simply because they love good beer. 30.4% hope to turn their blog into a job and only 8.9% who hope to monetize their blog, which is a realistic message many Beer Bloggers Conference attendees have heard over the years: bloggers are not likely to monetize their blog but are likely to gain skills and a reputation that are directly transferable to the beer industry."
While jobs in the beer industry are not exactly abundant, this makes a lot of sense. A low level job in the beer industry may be perceived as a lot more interesting — and allow for much more upward mobility — than a low level job in, for instance, a restaurant. However, as food is a much more universal subject, a blog can rake in many pageviews through smart SEO and pretty pictures, and thus lead to a fair bit of ad revenue. Beer bloggers may not see their blog as not having the potential to be anything greater in and of itself, while it's commonly known that there are "professional" food bloggers that earn a living from their blogging.
Type of Blog Content
|beer blog survey|
Interestingly, "brewing beer" doesn't seem to have been included as a potential subject here. Not sure what's up with that, but since I also do beer reviews, I guess Bear Flavored passes. A lot of beer writing at the moment seems to boil down to "I went on a road trip and visited these breweries," where the trick is making it as fun and insightful for the reader as it theoretically was for the writer. The problem with beer writing in general, however, is that most possible angles you could take are highly regional, if not local, thus inherently limiting their appeal. I wonder if this is part of the reason beer blogging has not seen the explosive success of some other blogging fields — often, we're writing for a niche within a niche.
|beer blog survey|
The BBC report seems to jive with my own experience that Facebook and Twitter are the largest drivers of traffic to the blog, while no one understands what to do with Google+. However, I will add that I receive a significant share of traffic simply from Google referrals, and SEO thus seems to be hugely important, so maybe G+ is just important in different ways.
Here we have more evidence that food blogs kind of crush the nascent beer blogging community in traffic — though, interestingly, all the charts in the Lifestyle Report have wine blogs about on the same level as beer, though one might assume wine to be more established and accepted than craft beer. (Perhaps this is equalized by beer's "zeitgeist.") You will notice, however, that the median number of visitors is fairly close on all blog 'types', suggesting that the majority of blogs will receive similar levels of traffic regardless of niche, while food blogs have the highest ceiling for potential visitors. A beer or wine blog may be reasonably successful, while a food blogs may be exponentially successful. According to the report, there were food blogs reporting one million, three million, and eight million visitors per month within the survey responses. Eight million visitors per month! Anyone wanna bet that's more than every homebrewing blog combined?
Since I did not participate in this survey, but I am using their stats and talking about everyone else's numbers, I feel it would be kind of evasive if I did not include some figures from my own blog. In the month of August, Bear Flavored had about 6,400 unique visitors, which is apparently a little above average for beer and wine industry blogs, though would be quite low on the charts as far as food blogs go. These unique visitors translated to between 18,000 and 20,000 pageviews (Blogger and Google Analytics give different figures, despite both being platforms run by Google, which seems... odd). Pageviews have been on a steady climb basically every month since I started the blog, so for the first year, I was seeing only a handful of pageviews a day. I'm interested (and anxious!) to see if this trend continues over the next year.
Blogging about beer is not very lucrative, which... no surprise there. If you read enough about blogging in general, you'll see tons of debate as to whether blogging is a practical means to support a career at all. Clearly, some people are doing it, and they're the ones pulling in truly insane pageview figures. Most bloggers can expect perhaps a modest monthly supplement to their income, but it's clearly not something one should pursue for monetary reasons. Fortunately, according to the survey, most beer bloggers don't — passion for beer is the primary motivation for starting a blog. When I started Bear Flavored two years ago, I didn't really have any motivation or expectations beyond that. I've always written about something or other in my free time, and as my obsession with beer grew, it just made sense to have that be the thing I was writing about.
Still, it's interesting that so few beer bloggers seem to be making any money via blogging. While every other lifestyle blog genre surveyed show that about 11 - 15% of its bloggers make between $200 - $2000 a month blogging, it's telling that only 5% of beer bloggers make over $200 a month, at all. Homebrewers (and this is just my observation) largely seem content to run a "sharing recipes"-focused blog, post when they can, and do so out of passion. However, I've always wondered about more "general" beer blogs that cover news, events and industry discussion. According to the survey, "Of those who do make some money from their blogs, the most successful method for beer, wine, and food writers is obtaining paid writing gigs. Consulting on social media or within the industry is also somewhat successful." Still not entirely clear, but there's always that "becoming a voice within the industry," bit, which I'm sure has some intangible, non-monetary perks.
As of writing this, I have never made any money off of Bear Flavored, though from time to time (whenever I see traffic spikes, I guess) I've thought about introducing a few unobtrusive advertisements. Google AdSense apparently isn't allowed on pages dealing with alcohol (they rejected me on this basis, at least) but there are smallish ad networks that would probably offer more relevant, interesting material anyway. I hate pages that are cluttered and visually over-whelmed by ads, but I think it's possible to incorporate just enough to still make something back respective to your time investment. Blogging on a regular schedule is a lot of work, and can often feel like a freelance job as well as a passion-project.
I wonder how other bloggers, and readers, feel about these things. Do you hate ads? Do you just set up an ad blocker so you never see them? (I assume lots of people do this). Do you think there's a point where a blogger is daft to not make a few bucks from their blog, once the pageviews justify it? While the stats, and the general consensus from other blogs I've read, seems to suggest that any income from an average blog would only maybe just pay for the cost of one batch's ingredients, that still seems like a pretty good tradeoff.
I'm generally curious to hear what people think, so please feel free to comment below. Will food blogs and beer blogs one day be yin and yang? Or does beer simply not have the spontaneity that makes recipe-hunting for dinner such a universal, and potentially lucrative, activity?