The business of blogging
As the internet celebrates its 42nd anniversary, we look at the evolution of Indian bloggers - and find they're monetising expertise in food, fashion, finance and travel. Humaira Ansari writes. A matter of interestsocial media Updated: Aug 14, 2011 01:44 IST
Blogging for most meant a virtual repository of their daily accounts catalogued in descending order. From a bawling child in a Mumbai local, the best paani puri wala in your city, kitchen experiments to office politics - the freedom to translate your personal experiences onto the cyber space, in an uncensored fashion, and free of cost, propelled the Indian blogging community.
As of January this year, there are roughly 26,210 Indians who blog. Personal blogs rule the roost. But of late, thematic blogs are catching on.
Gaurav Mishra, a social media expert contends that personal blogs have largely moved into the Facebook and Twitter corners in terms of status updates.
"The really popular blogs are food, travel, marketing and personal finance where there is a utility aspect for readers," he says.
But what is driving bloggers to invest their energies?
"Ads are the current source of revenue for most bloggers. Some make money by holding workshops and seminars," says Vineet Rajan, director, IndiBlogger.in, a roughly 30,000-strong community of Indian bloggers.
But it's not always about the money. There are feel-good and indirect takeaways too.
As Moksha Jain, another social media expert points out, "It is a value-added component in personal branding."
It's a platform for them to put their thoughts in a longer format on their blogs as compared to what they do on social networking sites. According to Jain, 20% bloggers explore monetary avenues such as authoring a book based on their blog or conducting a workshop.
For Shaheen Peerbhai, 24, her blog, purplefoodie.com, is an amalgamation of her passion for food and baking. She started blogging in 2007, to chronicle her kitchen escapades.
"With so many cookbooks and recipes written on pieces of paper, I needed to put my favourites in one place," says Peerbhai, who studied marketing and is a consulting food editor, BBC Good Food magazine.
Peerbhai, not wanting to disclose her blog's earnings, says the revenue comes through advertisers, affiliate programs (cross linking to other websites and getting about 8-10% commission), merchandise (online orders for her cup-caked patterned bags priced at Rs 450), and her baking classes, though she has taken only one so far.
"Indirectly, purplefoodie acts as a visual CV for those that want to hire my services," she says.
For blogger Aparna Roy, the idea was to not go fully commercial.
She started her travel blog, Backpackingninja, after she quit her job in 2008 to travel across Latin America. Roy started the blog just before heading out on this journey, as a fun way to keep friends and family updated. A brand manager with Red Bull, Roy now lives in Austria. When she started blogging, she says she refused to make her blog commercial for 2 years.
"Till 2010, I did not have a single ad or text link on my blog. I wanted it to be about my personal experiences and not turn into a Top 5 of everything, paid for by people in the tourism business," she says.
However, over the last year, Roy has accepted some text links and google ads and made some money.
"It's enough to buy me good beer on the road or a gigantic burger. Do the math," she says. However, one of her most priced stream of revenues has been a blogger trip to destinations.
"I have been to Wales and England, all expenses paid, and the tourism board just expected me to blog about it," says Roy in an email interview.
Bloggers like Peerbhai and Roy, hold regular jobs as they blog about food and travel. The 'secret scouters' behind Brown Paper Bag, popularly known as BpB, Mansi Podar and Kanika Parab, quit their jobs nine months after they started in October 2009.
Parab, a former sub-editor with Mid-Day and Podar, who worked with an NGO and a public relation agency in New York, say they were apprehensive initially to opt out.
"But we had studied the model and had known it would pick up," says Podar.
The duo started by sending out anonymous emails every Friday to a set of 10 friends, enlisting interesting things to do in Mumbai every weekend. The list extended, and the idea fructified into BpB. The two began to blog, and now, BpB is a website, enlisting events, food and restaurant reviews and shopping destinations.
"We guard our content fiercely. We want to ease our readers into ads," says Parab.
The duo is rolling out a guidebook to Mumbai by August. Content syndication, is another source of revenue for BpB. With a team of 12, these young entrepreneurs take their brand seriously. They continue to blog on the same website.
The wide reach of blogs, also attracts commercial plugs.
Ami Bhansali, co-founder, RpH, a public relation firm which has fashion brands on board, says, "Online media help brands reach out to clients/customers in a personal manner."
The firm held an exclusive media preview of one of its clothing brand inviting only fashion bloggers. We profile few bloggers, who blog on subjects they are passionate about.
And while they do it, they make money, friends, either or both.
Ajay Jain, travel blogger
Blog, cafe, e-mag - are his sales pitches
In 2007, Ajay Jain, 41, a former sports journalist, drove to Lahaul Spiti. He started a blog, www.kunzum.com after the Kunzum Pass he crossed from Manali. With no resources to publish an independent travel magazine, a blog was the most feasible option. Today, Kunzum hosts travel posts across 20 Indian destinations and six international destinations, hotel reviews, travel routes and distance charts between popular travel destinations.
"We try to keep operating costs as low as possible to ensure sustainability. The revenue now exceeds the operational cost," says Jain.
The blog has over 6,00,000 page views monthly. The more the reach, the better the ad prospects. Sale of photographic art prints, content syndication, sale of stock photography and royalty from books his are other streams of revenue. Generating revenue through e-content is the next step.
"We have launched India's first e-magazine for the iPad, iPhone, Amazon's Kindle and as a PDF to be read on any computer. It will be a free mag supported by ads," Jain informs. His most consolidated effort has been the Kunzum travel café, at Hauz Khas, Delhi.
"The café also serves as an outlet to sell my photography and books in a relaxed and a no-obligation environment," he says.
Malini Agarwal, lifestyle blogger
Slogging, networking, being a busy bee
A former digital content head for Channel V, Agarwal intends to concentrate all her energies on her blog, missmalini.com. The instant hook for her blog, Malini says is the fact that she actually attends the events.
"There are photographers with their heavy cameras. I just go to a party with my little digital camera."
She makes Rs 3 lakh a month, she says.
"Ads, contests, brand promotions, events, paid editorials - there are multiple avenues," she says.
With 16,000 Twitter followers, her blog draws 400 thousand page views a month.
International brands have associated with her blog in the past, and the target audience is 18-35 women with no children, who have the luxury to spend more.
Agarwal recently hosted interviews with Shahid Kapur and Priyanka Chopra.
"The fact that actors are giving interviews to bloggers means that the medium is serious and enjoys a wide reach," she says.
Helpful friends also pitch in with news. The Ranbir Katrina link-up, Agarwal, says first went on her blog as a friend spotted the couple on a flight.
"They didn't realise he was an Indian and continued talking unawares," says Agarwal.
The current strength of the team is six freelance writers and her manager Mike. They meet at Bandra or a coffee shop for work meetings.
Ranjan Varma, finance blogger
Branching off to host a Rs 3,000 workshop
Ranjan Varma took a VRS, after 20 years in LIC to work full-time on his blog, www.ranjanvarma.com in 2010. From banking, filing returns, claiming amount in case of death in the family, paper formalities, tactfully managing multiple credit cards, Varma's blog talks about it all.
"With this, I was able to interact with readers and could understand their problems. I understood that just reading up articles can be daunting as well as confusing and may not suffice for real action on improving their personal finances," says Varma.
He also designed RupeeCamp, structured workshops on personal finance with activities and case studies. The one-day workshop costs Rs 3,000. Varma conducts them at IMC Chambers at Churchgate, Mumbai.
He is also currently working on a RupeeCamp software, essentially a tracking tool to manage personal finances, by measuring expenditure, savings, and investments.
The online revenue is from advertisements. His future plans for RupeeCamp include a virtual financial mall.
"I will forge partnerships with financial products and services and create a distribution network," he says.
Swapnil Kale, tech blogger
First to review BlackBerry Playbook
At, 22, Kale is the founder of gigjets.com, now a website. It essentially started off as a blog, gigjets.blogspot.com in February last year. From tablets, gadgets, gaming, computers, software and apps, to reviews and computers, the website hosts everything technology.
As a child, Kale often rushed home to dismantle the CPU and fiddle with the RAM.
Given his curiosity for machines and gadgets, engineering seemed like the most plausible career choice. But in his second year, Kale dropped out. An Israeli blog picked up a few of his posts. He made $15 for an 800-1,000-word article.
His own blog, by self-admission, was a desert, attracting a meagre 100 views per day. This though is changing now says Kale. After building PR contacts, constant visits to gadgets and hardware stores, right from Croma to Lamington Road, and regular user-friendly posts, increased traffic to his blog.
This month alone, Gigjets drew 65,768 visitors. The website recently posted an exclusive review of the newly launched Blackberry Playbook, before any newspaper or television show.
"So, things are moving," says Kale with a smile.
Kalyan Karmarkar, food blogger
The friendly neighbourhood taster
In his office, Kalyan Karmarkar, 37, is known for his gastronomic skills and knowhow just as much for his work as a qualitative research executive.
"Colleagues often ask me, 'Where should we go for Thai in Colaba?" he says.
His blog, finelychopped, however, was triggered by the plugs he saw in mainstream media, when it came to food and restaurant reviews.
"For a foodie like me, such plugs are a complete turn off," he says.
At home, he blogs on his Vaio laptop. His total blog investment comes up to a lakh. And what does he get in return?
"I am not looking out for money," he says.
But what he has really earned is good will.
"The owners of Candies call me for coffee tasting. Gostana sometimes sends a new dish at home for my feedback... And these are relationships I have build writing about them on my blog, good or bad," says Karmarkar.
From 100 page views a day in 2009, to a 1,000 in 2011, on days when Karmarkar doesn't even post, the blogger intends to keep his blog sacrosanct and ad free.
"I get calls saying we will send olive oil, yoghurt or apples for product reviews, but I politely decline them," he says.