A lesson from the blogging elite: there are many ways to the top

The really surprising thing about a conversation with some of the blogging world’s most celebrated names is how little they actually have in common — in terms of their motivations, strategies and business models. At paidContent Live on Wednesday, Brain Picking’s Maria Popova, New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin, The Dish’s Andrew Sullivan, and web marketing guru Tim Ferriss, discussed the various reasons why they blog, and how (if at all) they monetize their web work.

Sullivan, who earlier this year took his popular Dish blog independent, has been using a metered paywall but has been tweaking that a bit in recent weeks, adding in a monthly subscription service, too. “Once you’ve gotten past the surge of Dish-heads, getting others to cough up online is new and difficult,” said Sullivan. He told the audience that the Dish blog is approaching $700,000 raised out of their goal to raise $900,000, and they have 25,000 subscribers. On the latter number, Sullivan compared it to the size of “a great little magazine.”

For Popova, who has amassed a huge audience through her tweets and blog posts linking to interesting topics, blogging isn’t first and foremost a business, it’s something she would do even if she didn’t make money off of it. “I created it for an audience of one, it’s just grown from there,” said Popova.

Author, investor and media personality Tim Ferriss uses his blog to test out ideas that he then uses for his best selling books. “The blog is where I experiment,” explained Ferriss. It’s also a community builder and communications platform, and Ferriss said that he’s connected with quite a few startups through his blog, which he later went on to invest in.

And for the New York Times’ Ross Sorkin, the DealBook blog, which he edits, is just one of the mediums that he uses to tell stories. The journalist also hosts a TV talk show, writes columns and features, and has written a best-selling book. “I wanted to create a site about a sensibility, not about me,” said Ross Sorkin, and he wanted it to be able, in theory, to live on for decades without him, he added.

The one thing the group did have in common seemed to be a love of creating content, a desire to share and connect with readers, and a drive to experiment with new ways to do this.┬áPopova has another job; her blogging is her passion. Sullivan said he isn’t taking a salary for his new venture and put his own savings into it. He also said sometimes the sheer passion and mass intimacy can become so engrossing that you are sucked into it: “If it turns out that blogging kills people, I will be the first to go.”

Check out the rest of our paidContent Live coverage here, and a video embed of the session follows below:

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Updated at 10AM PST, April 18, to correct that while Maria Popova has another job, Brain Pickings pays most of her bills.
A transcription of the video follows on the next page