Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How Does Beer Blogging Compare to Food and Wine Blogging?



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.

Gender
beer blog survey



The Report finds that over 80% of beer bloggers are male, an overwhelming discrepancy from the world of general blogging. Food blogs and fitness blogs are almost the polar opposite. On some scale, this seems to mirror the beer industry itself. I have never really understood why craft beer largely trends toward white males, but it does, and hopefully we'll see some diversity emerge in the coming decade as brewing beer transforms from "niche hobby for people with beards" to simply "hobby" — analogous to cooking, done for both practicality and passion, and open to anyone.

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. 

Social Media
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.

Traffic

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.

$$$Money$$$

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?


28 comments:

  1. Really interesting topic. I'm with you, I've thought from time-to-time about putting a couple adverts on my blog, but for whatever reason I've held off.

    The one thing I have to remind myself is that we (as homebrewing bloggers) are a sliver, of a sliver of the blogosphere when you compare us to say, a food blog.

    Thanks for putting this together though, it's rather interesting.

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    1. We definitely are a sliver at the moment, but I think the most important thing to put us in context is that the hombrew / beer blogging community is very, very young. I kind of doubt that beer blogs could ever be as popular as food blogs, but why can't we match, say, knitting blogs? Hmm, maybe I sound too biased against knitting.

      And for the record, I enjoy your blog quite a bit! Keep up the good work.

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  2. Those gender demographics are interesting. Rationally, I don't see why anyone should object to a blogger having some targeted ads on their site, but it doesn't take many of them to make me sour. I suspect that attitude is more prevalent among males.

    I've been burned out on beer blogging and beer blogs in general for quite some time, even as I continued to get more ambitious with my homebrewing projects. I came across your site a couple of months ago while searching for info on some obscure hops. I was impressed with the writing and the interesting topics and am now a regular reader.

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    1. Great to hear I've grabbed your interest! That makes me feel elated and nervous at the same time, I hope I can keep it up : )

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  3. Definitely an interesting post. I opened the "citzen-beer-blog.pdf" put forth by the beerbloggers conference site and was a little disappointed. I perused the blogs in the state of Maryland (My home state) and most of the sites were either no longer registered domains, or had not posted content for over 6 months! I generally only post one to two times a month as I just don't have the content to post more. I find I go to other beer blogging sites to pick up new techniques, procedures, advancements etc. in the hobby - mainly to learn.

    For advertisements to be successful, there needs to be a real connection to the blogger/content on the site. If you have blogged about a product and endorsed it, and then work out and advertising option then great! That is mutual beneficial for everyone. I just feel like the majority of homebrewing blogs which just describe one's recipe/brewday don't create enough connection to rationalize advertisements. Until the bond is created I think it looks a little tacky? Maybe I am alone.

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    1. I think a big part of the discrepancy between beer blogs (potential) and food blogs (potential) is the frequency of posting. I agree, as a beer blogger, one homebrewing post per week is about all I can manage. I don't have the time and I'm definitely not brewing a new beer every week. But cooking food... well, theoretically you do that every day. Take some nice pictures, post your recipe, and you can easily have many posts a month. At least more than even a dedicated beer blogger.

      I definitely agree about the ads as well, though I think that gets tricky from a practical perspective. I will probably try out an ad network in the next month, which pairs publishers up with ad sellers. From what I've read, this will be the best way to find relevant pairings that will actually be interesting and helpful to people... but I don't know what to expect until I try it. So whenever I go for it, it will be an experiment, and maybe I'll can it after a while because it's just not relevant enough. But from what I've read, it's hard to reach out directly to specific companies and make that work... you've sort of got to become your own sales rep, and that's a whole other job.

      But yes, I agree.. it's a tricky balance, trying not to break that connection with the casual reader, and I hope to always avoid that.

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  4. Nice post. I think I agree with everything you've said, here. I've never made any money off my blog, and likely wouldn't ever try, for several reasons... one of which is that I can't handle the rejection!

    Seriously, though, impressive numbers on your daily stats.

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    1. Mostly probably my mom hitting the "refresh" button :|

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  5. Very good post! Personally I started mine as a creative outlet. No real expectations of making any money off it, at best maybe enough to cover the yearly domain fee or maybe a six pack here or there, but since I am hosted on Wordpress, I doubt that would ever happen.

    At best I would be happy for some exposure, or maybe an invite to an opening or tasting or the opportunity to review something. I won’t lie, I love to click on the stats and see the views / number of visitors go up. :)

    Searching for networking or other self promotion ideas, I hit the same scamish sites you did. Beyond the best suggestion word press had (make sure it is well written) their next best tip was don’t worry about the traffic and have fun..

    So basically I turned to twitter and scouring reddit for the best sub groups to participate in, which seems to be working for now at least.

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    1. I think that's really the best advise, ultimately: brewing beer is fun, blogging about it is fun, and the people you get to know doing this are just awesome. Beer people are very good people. I've gotten to know awesome people along the way, and if it never amounts to more than that, I'm totally fine it with. That people care enough to read and comment is still thrilling to me!

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  6. Great post, I'd like to take a moment to share the four Blogs I read on a weekly basis and take inspiration from:

    1.) http://www.themadfermentationist.com
    2.) www.bear-flavored.com
    3.) http://jeffreycrane.blogspot.com
    4.) http://www.bertusbrewery.com (The Authoritative blog on home brewing hoppy beers and IPAs, if you've never checked out his blog it is a great resource)

    Thanks again for the post, very helpful.

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    1. Thanks! Definitely agree on those... Mike, Jeff and Scott are great guys and run great sites. Fantastic resources for all sorts of beers.

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    2. Just realized all those blogs are already refrenced on your blogroll, kind of obvious and redundant, sorry about that.

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    3. Haha, no worries. I kind of figure most people don't look at that tab, so for anyone else reading this, they should definitely check them out.

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  7. Although yet to publish my blog (focus man!) I attended the EBBC this year for the first time. Massive thanks to the sponsors. Great beer tastings and good to meet people, bloggers and brewers alike. Special mentions to Garrett Oliver and Bruno from Toccalmatto.

    The interesting thing was that on a show of hands less than 50% were actually trying to make money out of the blogs. In beer blogging most do it for fun or a means to an end, i.e. the blog helps them make money from other activities.

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    1. Yeah, people that love beer really love beer, so it's often just a natural outlet. I figure: I could talk about beer... pretty much nonstop, so of course I'm going to write about it.

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  8. Blogging about blogging is next level meta. I think that you are on the right track, pleasing photos and good writing. Yours and the others here inspired my own journal/blog. If you have a look at some of the popular cycling blogs, they seem to have found the balance of 'reporting, reviewing, and journaling' while making a small living. www.prollyisnotprobably.com comes to mind as does www.tenspeedhero.com and http://www.embrocationmagazine.com/

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    1. Interesting links, thanks for sharing those. It's definitely educational to check out how people are doing things in different niches. There's always something to be learned (and improved).

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    2. http://thehomebrewlife.blogspot.com/

      A grand title I know, but I started the whole jawn just to keep track of dates that I brewed and what hops I used. Plus, I'm into DIY stuff, and bicycles. My brain is a little whacked from my 20's, but being a regular reader of blogs, I had to try to make it look nice. Now I'm actually considering some homemade merchandise just for shits. There are folks that are making a smidge of money by blogging, particularly the DIY blog set that my old lady reads. It seems there's a huge market for the lady's in the blogging world who are at very least, getting products for free for review. I'm a recent convert to social media, but like to think of my corny shit as something my kid might read in the future, and since it's on the internet I could convince him it was something 'cool'. Either way, I now can keep track of dates, hops and yeast since it seems I never update beersmith after I start my brew day. I link to your blog from mine, you're a lot better at it than I am. Cheers dude.

      Check these blogs my wife likes:
      http://abeautifulmess.com/sponsor-info.html
      http://smileandwave.typepad.com/blog/
      http://hammersandhighheels.blogspot.com/p/advertise.html

      These are all DIY centered blogs, primarily written towards females by chicks who are blogging kinda for a living. Interesting ideas out there, no reason you can't be a trailblazer for beer bloggers.

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  9. Took me a minute to find the service I was looking for, check out this lady's sponsorship page:

    http://www.thedaintysquid.com/p/advertising-on-dainty-squid.html

    She uses this service:

    https://app.passionfruitads.com/home/join

    Which I don't think is being exploided in 'OUR' realm, I'm going to set up a profile just because. You set the rates, sizes, and could even control what the ads look like so they're not the standard crappy text shit google spits out. You're stuff's good enough to generate ads ATMO.

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    1. Thanks! I gotta set aside a night soon to dig deeper into all this ad stuff. I'll definitely be checking this out.

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  10. There's a lot to be said about everything you've written here. I've dove deep into the world of SEO and blogging for my professional site and most of these issues are extremely common issues addressed in tremendous depth. The gender issue is probably the most interesting. It has to do with the difference in how men and women generally approach the internet. Men hunt for information. They find ways to sell information. That's why the SEO industry is dominated by men. Women, on the other hand, gather and share information. That's why they dominate the social media-marketing industry. Pintrest is a perfect example. It's all open sharing of information. Similarly, women write blogs on topics where sharing is a normal function of the topic. E.g. cooking (meals are typically shared) and child raising (also a shared experience) while men tend to blog more frequently about topics where authority can be established as a writer (i.e. become the leader for all the other hunters). I'm not being misogynistic about gender roles, this is pretty well documented in quantitative data.

    I'm also probably the homebrewer with the most obtrusive advertising on my blog. Even with the numbers I hit per month (which really isn't that much) and the ads I still make pennies per month. Sometimes people actually click on an ad and I score a dollar or two. With ad blocking software it's tough to get rich purely on ad views. Homebrewing, specifically, just doesn't carry the viewership to generate larger returns. I dunno, maybe some of the really well known homebrew blogs have the pageviews to clear into bigger money.

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    1. Great stuff, thanks for sharing. Very insightful about the gender issues, and I don't think it's misogynistic at all to examine these things from a statistical angle. They are real-world things that must have some explanation. (Then again, I'm also a guy).

      I definitely agree with that analysis, although it still doesn't quite explain why women are the one's making money blogging, rather than men. In fact it almost seems contradictory, since women are the more likely to share. (And that definitely a huge basis of the food blog community). I guess I still default to the same conclusions: cooking is such a universal, daily phenomenon, that even open, regular sharing of information is easier to monetize. Or maybe a different conclusion: sharing is not mutually exclusive with making money. Plenty of breweries (businesses) these days are openly sharing their recipes and procedures, and still make plenty of money.

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  11. Interesting one..On your review or chart I didn't saw cocktail and spirits drinks..Any why thanks for the posting.I like it.

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  12. I was also turned down by Google Adsense for the drug, etc. content, which is off base.

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  13. Wow! This was simply amazing.

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