When Correspondence Doesn’t Pay: The Costs Versus The Benefits of Blogging

On March 22, 1967, Groucho Marx wrote to Woody Allen:

Goodie Ace told some unemployed friend of mine that you were disappointed or annoyed or happy or drunk that I hadn’t answered the letter you wrote me some years ago. You know, of course, there is no money in answering letters—unless they’re letters of credit from Switzerland or the Mafia. I write you reluctantly, for I know you are doing six things simultaneously—five including sex. I don’t know where you get the time to correspond. (via Letters of Note).

Well, there must be some money in answering letters, or at least the modern social media equivalent of personal correspondence, or few authors, businesses, and non-profits would have Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and blogs.  It’s hard to quantify in dollar amounts the efficacy of these social media strategies, but without such strategies, potential readers, customers, and donors would have a hard time connecting with available products, services, and causes.  It’s as if you don’t exist without a social media presence.

For those whose use of social media, particularly blogs, isn’t connected to a product or service, what is the “pay out”?  Is blogging worth it?  It seems every blogger asks this question (and blogs about it) at a certain point.  For me, 3–4 months into blogging feels like as good a time as any for this type of self-reflection.

Each blogger has his or her expectations of how blogging will “pay off.”  For some, it’s building a platform for the sale of current or future goods or services.  For others, it’s about sharing life experiences, photographs, thoughts, and expertise with a wider audience.

To me, exchanging ideas with an online community is one of the more fulfilling parts of blogging, but it’s hard to gauge the extent to which such an exchange is happening.  Page views and “likes” are virtually meaningless, as readers often “leave their cursory mark and move on” without reading the content, as Donna, the Master Gardener and photographer of Garden Walk Garden Talk (a truly beautiful blog) discussed in a recent post.  Better indicators of an “exchange of ideas” seem to be thoughtful comments, re-blogging, and organic links, all of which are relatively rare because they are time-consuming marks for a reader to leave behind (and so I am very appreciative of readers who take the time to do it).  Besides, a reader’s apparent silence doesn’t mean he or she did not read the post and think about it.  I learned that silence is not necessarily a sign of lack of interest or understanding back in law school, where I felt harassed by my professors’ use of the Socratic method, an invasive pedagogical tool that many believe silences women.

The lack of meaningful engagement with readers and other bloggers can be disheartening.  Many bloggers feel they don’t get much out of blogging, or at least not enough out of it to warrant the time commitment.  As described in The New York Times, based on a 2008 survey, the mortality rate of blogs is high: “95 percent of blogs [are] essentially abandoned, left to lie fallow on the Web, where they become public remnants of a dream — or at least an ambition — unfulfilled.”  That matches my own observations, as several of the blogs I started following when I launched The Misfortune of Knowing roughly four months ago have been inactive for almost as long as I’ve been around.  Maybe these bloggers will resurface, but they probably wouldn’t have disappeared if blogging had been as fulfilling as they had hoped.

As I evaluate my experience thus far, I can say that I have enjoyed blogging, an activity that does more than satisfy my narcissism.  Blogging hones my research and writing skills and keeps my brain limber.  This blog is a place for me to chronicle my thoughts, sort of like a public diary, and I’m looking forward to revisiting what I’ve written on literary themes, the law, and parenting to see how my thoughts have evolved with time and exposure to new ideas.  If any of these thoughts are worthy of comment from someone passing through the blogosphere, then that’s a nice bonus, but it isn’t necessary for me to think this blog is worth it: I could blather into the WordPress void forever!

Image: AMB, Misfortune of Knowing, using a photograph of my daughter taken by Lynne Krohn in 2009.


  1. Ha “blather into the WordPress void forever” sums me up too!! An interesting read, and I think, when it comes down to it that why blogs “fail” or “succeed” depend on what the blogger wants or expects and that is very individual ans personal. I suppose those that tried and fell away, at least they tried something new. For those of us still blathering away it’s a remarkable journey, with connections along the way, and I have no idea as to where it is leading me. And at the moment I’m comfortable with that.

  2. You’ve definitely hit it on the head here. Over reaching expectations, unrealistic views on returns, lack of passion and many other reasons doom many blogs. Competition is fierce, as in millions of blogs. Finding the gems to read, reaching those who find that quality in yours is a secret very few discover.

    1. The fact that blogging is competitive–that so many blogs are competing for readers’ time/attention–was something I hadn’t thought much about when I decided to start my blog. Hopefully, bloggers are able to find their niche and attract readers. It isn’t easy to do. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. oh, a very interesting post. and you’re right, why we blog is a question all of us will have to answer eventually. I guess the reason why a lot of blogs die rather quickly is that there are too many out there, and getting page views and regular readers, especially in the beginning, is hard. and in this age of instant gratification not a lot of people are willing to put in effort in the long run. for a while blogs have been hailed as a quick way to fame. or to money. but that’s not happening if you have nothing interesting to say or sell. or are stunningly beautiful and have a willing boyfriend-photographer who documents your every move. and let’s be honest. blogging is not as democratic as people make it out to be. it does require some talent to begin with. otherwise you’re better of with tumblr or pinterest. and that’s why these two are the platforms that are growing rapidly.

    after a lot of experimenting my blog is now mostly personal, an outlet for thoughts, reflections, ideas. it has improved my writing and photography skills tremendously. and it has given me confidence to pursue them further. so it’s worth it for me. the things I want to get out of it have changed. it’s not followers or page numbers but meaningful connections, creative collaborations, and a more flexible way to present myself than a classical and thus more static portfolio website.

    1. Yes, blogging does require some level of talent in order to attract readers. If a blogger is truly comfortable with a very small following, then it’s fine to write about whatever you want without much thought or creativity. If you want to be part of an online community and have regular readers, you have to do a bit more. It’s interesting to hear your reflections on how you have benefited from blogging. I think you’re right–“meaningful connections, creative collaborations” and flexibility/creativity are real perks of blogging. Thanks for commenting!

  4. You’ve really struck a chord with this post. Thanks. I’ve been struggling with whether I should try harder to keep to a narrower focus with my own blog so I don’t confuse people who find me because of one topic and then are baffled by my next topic. Then I stop and ask myself some of the questions you’re asking in this post and I can can’t formulate good responses. I just love the opportunity blogging provides for me to choose a topic of interest, frame a cogent argument, and write. That’s the only justification I’ve come up with so far! Keep writing. 🙂

    1. I like the varied content on your blog! Keep it up! I agree that one of the best parts of blogging is the opportunity to choose a topic, frame an argument, and then write it. It’s nice to get feedback on that argument, but silence doesn’t detract from the cognitive/intellectual benefits of blogging.

  5. Ha ha, daren’t leave a ‘like’ without commenting 🙂 Very interesting observations AMB. I’m afraid I don’t ‘like’ bloggers that scattergun ‘likes’ over fifty million blogs in the hope that those bloggers will be attracted to their blog. Maybe it works but I’ve no time for it.
    Neither do I like all those ‘Blogger Awards’ which go around like pyramid selling.
    If I genuinely ‘like’ a blog I’ll follow it and list it on my sidebar. And yours is one of the most thoughtful around – keep it up.

    1. I very much appreciate your thoughtful comment, Roy! Thanks. The “likes” can be a bit ridiculous when it’s obvious the person didn’t even click on “read more.” I don’t mind the blogger awards because at least those increase traffic a certain amount and generate organic links (from the person nominating you and from those you nominated). Those awards are a time-consuming diversion from regular content, though.

  6. I would certainly agree with Three Kings Books. I am not promoting a product or service; although, I might. The blog served a useful purpose of exercise to think about the things I think about. There are also times when I realize the chapters I’m rewriting are still sitting there while I blog in an attempt to maintain some sense of continuity. I often find myself thinking, “If time is precious, and I have little, why am I blogging when I need to be writing? Priorities, eh? I have not been blogging long enough to run across your expressed sentiment but it does lurk, unnamed, in the recesses of my thoughts. Where is my time best spent? Of course, only I can answer that question.

    1. Yes, whether blogging is worth the time investment is a highly personal analysis. For me, it’s a nice diversion from other demands on my time. I’m a multi-tasker with about a thousand windows open on my computer at all times! I’m far more creative and productive when I’m busy, and so blogging fits nicely into my erratic schedule.

  7. I agree with Lee, above. It’s been said before, but bears repeating: quality is important. For me, that’s what keeps me coming back to particular blogs. Good writing skills and original thinking!

    1. That’s what keeps me going back to the blogs I like, too! I hope that the bloggers who create high quality content will continue to think it’s worth their time. It’s certainly worth MY time to read their blogs and leave a comment.

  8. One of the major reasons bloggers
    abandon their blogs is because it becomes a burden, or they just become bored with it. And once you stop … When you miss even once … you do it again and again. And before you know it, you’ve stopped blogging. Once the novelty wears off, it stops being fun and it starts becoming a chore. And if it’s your hobby instead of your livelihood you just stop.

  9. Wow, good blog introspection. I have been blogging almost three years, but a blog reader for many years before. I have seen a huge decline in certain areas of readership that was not present even last year. The majority of readers are split between so many avenues of quick-fix social media. Is that not society in general? Fast food, Reality TV, a hop in the car? We are a quick paced society.

    But as you mentioned, we also look for gain in some form. What that gain ultimately is becomes up to the individual. I do get a kick out of the bloggers saying they blog and don’t care who or if anyone reads them. I always view this as a defensive remark, like the reader is declaring something of special ‘esoteric’ importance. Way above the rest of us looking for gain. I think this topic NEEDS to be discussed. Bloggers need to assess and reassess.

    You have a wonderful blog, very informative and it makes people think. I like your varied content too, but then again, I do a similar format with varied interests. Many think you should pick a topic and keep on track. But I find that more readers are interested not knowing what to expect.

    1. Thank you! I thought your post on the declining readership (and more) was very interesting. I haven’t been around the blogosphere long enough to notice those kinds of trends. I also agree that bloggers need to assess and reassess, and I’m sure my blog will go through many changes if I hang around as long as I hope I will. I’m glad that you like my varied content. Giving myself some latitude in subjects (all loosely tied together by literature and/or creative writing) means that I’ll never run out of subjects to talk about (at least I hope that’s the case)!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s