Last week Adam Roberts of Amateur Gourmet led the news among food bloggers with two major online events. On his blog, he stunned fans by announcing that his advertising income has dropped so far that he can’t make a living from blogging anymore, and he wondered if he will continue. (I’ll get to the second event at the end of this post.)
Roberts, who began the award-winning blog The Amateur Gourmet 10 years ago, has since authored two cookbooks: Secrets of the Best Chefs and The Amateur Gourmet: How To Shop, Chop, and Table-Hop Like A Pro (Almost). He has written for Food & Wine Magazine, Salon.com, The Huffington Post, and Epicurious.com. He’s also hosted and developed several shows for Food Network online. But without his blog income, these ancillary writing projects may not be enough to sustain him, he said.
While most food writers blog as a hobby, and very few make a living at it, Adam’s announcement echoed complaints I’ve heard from other big bloggers about dropping rates from ad networks. I interviewed Roberts by email to ask for more details about his announcement:
1. What was the percentage of the drop in income? I’ve heard others say their income has dropped by a third.
Oh, much more than by a third. I had a really great deal with my last ad company (I probably shouldn’t go too much into it, not sure if there was confidentiality in my contract) and when the contract expired, my income was divided by 10. Really.
2. You could go to other ad networks to try to replace the income. Have you chosen not to do that?
I spoke to many bloggers and they’re all going through a similar thing with their ad companies. No one seems that happy, so as much as I’ve reached out to a few places, I’m not feeling very encouraged by what’s out there.
3. You said in the post that, “going forward, the only way I could make money was to do more sponsored posts.” Other bloggers have generated income through sales of e-books, apps or services; through writing assignments that come from the blog, etc. Why did you feel sponsored posts were your only choice?
Well e-books don’t really interest me—I’ve written two print books and while they were very worthwhile experiences, they hardly made me any money. An app isn’t something I really want to do. I’m not sure what services I could offer. As for writing assignments, I’m considering that, but my secret new career (sorry for being vague!) is taking precedent.
4. At least 95 percent of food bloggers do not make a living solely from their blogs. Are you really no longer a “wildly successful” blogger because your income dropped and you can no longer make a living solely from your blog? Surely your fans don’t apply this criteria for success.
Of course “success” means different things to different people. I’m just talking about making a living; “wildly successful” bloggers, in that context, are ones whose traffic is so enormous that the hit ad networks are taking won’t really affect them because their numbers make up for it. Mine don’t.
5. I’m curious about the “whole new career path” you alluded to. Is it related to food or blogging, or is it totally different? It seems that most food bloggers have started other businesses to augment their main one, such as photography, television shows, selling retail products, even opening a restaurant.
I’ll give you a hint: I went to graduate school at New York University to study dramatic writing (TV writing in particular) so I guess that’s not so much a hint, as it is an answer. But let’s keep this between us.
5. You’ve chosen to stop writing sponsored posts. Do you see the world of food bloggers as divided by those who “shill” (your word) and those who don’t?
Some people were upset in the comments of my blog about my use of that word. To me, you’re not a shill if every so often you work with a sponsor whose product you genuinely support and who you’re truly excited to promote. The problem is that it’s not a sustainable model because, at some point, you’re going to have to pay the rent, and then some product you don’t really like as much is going to offer to pay you and you’ll have to say “yes” to make ends meet. That’s when you become a shill and that’s what I didn’t want to become.
6. You’re a talented writer. Will you continue to blog only if it continues to generate income for you?
Thanks! My hope is that I’ll be compelled to blog just like I was at the very beginning, out of love and passion. That’s where I’m at right now and it’s a great place to be. In fact, writing that post was the most liberating moment for me; now I feel like anything I write on my blog is there in a very pure way. It’s something I’m eager to share with the world for the sake of sharing it. And isn’t that what was great about blogging in the first place?
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And now about the other news event I mentioned, which caused a flurry of social media RTs and shares:
1. It all started when Roberts judged two very different cookbooks on Food52.com as part of a tournament of 16 cookbooks called The Piglet.
2. The author who lost, Mimi Thorisson, wrote a rambling response on her blog, accusing him of being “slightly cheap and easy,” shallow, and sexist in his review.
3. Roberts wrote a response to the response, saying he wasn’t shallow.
4. Then a female editor at Food52 wrote a defense of Roberts, saying he was not sexist. She also talked about the value of good design, which seemed irrelevant.
5. Then Tim Mazurek of the food blog Lottie+Doof chimed in about the review and responses, and said that follow-ups No. 3 and 4 were defensive and hypocritical. He also said the problem with food writing is that it’s boring — off topic but worthwhile reading because it deals with race and class.
6. Then Eater’s Helen Rosner wrote that Roberts was sexist. I thought she nailed the situation.
So Adam Roberts has been on fire in the media lately! What do you think about blogging as a way to make a solid income, the drop in ad rates, or #mimigate, as the events about the review are now called on Twitter?