Food blogger business models and zero calorie cupcakes

Tonight the estimable Ken George, social media powerhouse at WBUR and impresario of Public Radio Kitchen, hosted a food blogger microconference in the lunchroom of the station.  I suppose I was a bit of an impostor, as limeduck is only about 30% about food, but I was witness to and participant in some good discussion with some great people.

The event had four tracks - food blogging 101, food photography, monetizing a food blog, and blogging and the food media.  I had planned to float, but once things got going in the monetization group, I had to stay.  Here are links to some of the blogs of the discussants:

  • Boston Food Mom Examiner
  • Cake and Commerce (I love that name), "one girl's salt is another girl's fleur de sel"
  • Carrots N Cake, who believes that "...'bad' foods can be part of an overall healthy diet."
  • Cave Cibum ("beware the food")
  • The Conscious Kitchen, about "cultural, environmental, historical and social aspects of food, and a dedication to ethical consumption."
  • Curcumari, "...the blog recreates that landscape of color, flavors and aromas through my ongoing conversation with people who produce, make and savor food."
  • Kosher Camembert, where I not that long ago got some great info about vegetarian chorizo, modestly described as "A want-to-be cook who reads cookbooks like novels."
  • North Shore Dish, "a guide to noshing north of Boston"
  • Value the Meal, "your online spot for news, analysis, and action on the abuses of global fast food corporations" operated by Corporate Accountability International.
  • I'm missing many more, but too few had cards and I was a lousy note-taker.  My apologies.

Some quick notes on the discussion of monetization of food blogs:

A blog is not a business model. Many at the table were engaging in labors of love and trying to figure out a way to "at least pay for the dinners we eat" or cover hosting costs.  Most did not aspire to make a living blogging and few if any could imagine how that might come to pass.

The primary route to money for a food blogger seems to be advertising, usually from ad networks like Google's or specialists like BlogHer and FoodBuzz.  Success seemed mixed in this group, and there were issues with the suitability of the ads, especially in blogs with particular geographies or restricted dietary focus.  I have to say, I expect the ad market to get worse, not better as more and more passionate content providers chase fewer and fewer actual buyers, and going door to door to sell local merchants your ad space doesn't look too good either.

A secondary method that got only a little airtime was the use of affiliate programs like that at to make referral fees on purchases made via clicks on the blog.  This seems to have more potential upside to me, but it still remains to be seen if people in the mood to read reviews or recipes are also in the mood to buy books or gadgets.

Direct selling was also low on the list, as most bloggers want their content widely read and don't see a lot of potential in subscription revenue.  I think they'd be wise to build a huge readership before trying to charge for anything, but there might be room for some freemium services if the blog is specialized enough or the information is valuable enough.  Those offering real scientifically based nutritional information or recipes geared for various dietary restrictions seem to have the best shot here.

Nobody seemed to think that individual recipes could be sold, but there was some faith (I'm skeptical) that cookbooks could be sold as ebooks or possibly print-on-demand.  I already see a glut of cookbooks and food magazines on top of a huge volume of free recipes online and off coming from the food blogosphere itself, and also from food vendors from farm markets to upscale restaurants.

Even those not seeking riches from food blogging admitted to getting product or perks once in a while from manufacturers or restaurants, but nobody would cop to this being a real motivator, and some felt conflicted about accepting gifts or writing about them while maintaining independence.

In short, I'm not bullish on most food bloggers even covering their costs (I sure don't, and I run this joint on the cheap to say the least), but I still believe that food blogs can be great marketing vehicles for real food businesses.  It's a crowded market with little cost to enter or compete, and there's pressure from mainstream media and larger online players too.  I hope I'm wrong on this, because I'd hate to lose this rich soup of blogs, but in case I'm right, I'd advise food bloggers to find out what besides a blog you have to offer.

7 Responses

  1. Well, David, you definitely win the award for fastest write-up. And kudos on the impressive note-taking as well. Glad I could get you info on the "soyrizo" - I haven't tried it yet as I'm still making my way through my own pure beef (kosher) chorizo....yum! Great meeting you tonight.
  2. After all my talks with food bloggers of varying success, I'm pretty sure that unless you get 2 million hits a day, you won't make much money. The most you can hope for is free samples and comped meals. Sorry to miss this event. Sounds like it was good fun.
  3. It was great to meet you. Thanks for the pithy synopsis, now I don't even have to transcribe our notes!
  4. Pam
    Great to meet you, and I agree with Kristen - great write-up!
  5. [...] Radio Kitchen project, please have a look, and let me know what you think. And please read what the estimable David Karp wrote about one of the sessions, it is flawless with the exception of a snippet of fiction [...]
  6. Looks like I misestimablated Ken, as he says, "I am forever indebted to Linsey Herman, the brains behind Cake and Commerce and the organizational genius who made last Thursday possible." Sorry about that Linsey, and great to see you again at Bread & Lily (subject of a soon to be written post!)
  7. David - It was great meeting you too and seeing you TWICE in a 48 hour period. No apology necessary - we didn't exactly have acknowledgments in the programme and I take the blame as much as I take credit for any success or failure of the evening. Hope I'll get to see you again soon at another event. And thanks for writing up the event - I loved reading your impressions.
  8. Thanks for the thoughts and summary on the discussion. I was trying to listen in from the photography session, but kept getting distracted by how little I knew about my camera. Eat well. Leah

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