For those looking for advice for their own Blogs, I can tell you that you have to love what you are writing about. It takes a lot of work and when I look at the income from the site versus hourly effort put into the site, I would make more money working extra overtime hours or freelancing my services as a technician. If you are in it just for the money, you might want to consider other alternatives. If you are still interested, please read on to learn about my experiences in Monetizing a Blog.
I would like to give thanks where thanks is due. It was my wife's idea and her encouragement that had me start the Must Contain Minis website. She encouraged me to start a hobby related Blog for years but it took until 2016 for me to actually listen to her and give it a shot. Let this be a lesson to the married guys out there - listen to your wife. I would have started Must Contain Minis three to four years earlier had I have followed her advice. :)
I am sure she expected this Blog to take form as a Painting Log of what I have painted and what colours I used. This would essentially be an electronic version of the painting journal that I keep in my studio. A good idea, but I wanted to give back to the gaming community rather than doing just something for myself. To do this, I wanted to concentrate on the same type of content that I consume the most.
That content is online Reviews, Battle Reports, and Company Spotlights of Miniatures Games and Board Games Containing Minis. Why Company Spotlights? Because there are so many awesome small and medium businesses in the miniatures industry that one does not need to limit themselves to just the big three Manufacturers. Part of my mandate from the start is to shine attention on alternative games (and miniatures) and the companies behind them.
Must Contain Minis was launched on May 19 of 2016 with two posts - An Introduction to the Site and an Age of Conan Review. At that time, I had no idea that this site would become so popular (of course, I always hoped it would become popular). In under nine months, I had 120,000 pageviews to the site and a growing Facebook Page following. This attention is extremely encouraging to an aspiring Blogger.
Like many Bloggers, I dream about being able to support myself full-time with this endeavour. Having researched the Web and being a bit of a realist, I realize that it takes a ton of work and plenty of luck for a full-time living off this site to ever become a possibility. Most miniatures related sites don't generate that type of income, so I would like to turn Must Contain Minis into a "part-time" job, making "part-time" earnings. For now though, I am really happy that this website helps support my hobby and gains me access to experiences that I might otherwise not have.
Now, the meat of the article...
Monetizing a Miniatures Gaming Blog
One of the things that I found in this journey is that there are not a lot of web-resources out there about how to monetize a miniature wargaming website. What is out there is more generic and about monetizing blogs in general. Sounds like a good place to start for advice, but most of these sites are trying to sell their readers a product (mostly books or courses on how to monetize a blog). With the sale being the primary purpose of those sites, I found myself skeptical of their products and what advice they give away for free.
As a result, I fumbled around on my own with how to monetize the site. My first attempt at Monetization was through a program called Adsense. Adsense is ran by Google and places contextual ads on a website. Once one has enough content and traffic, Adsense is very easy to add to a Blogger.com website. That said, the first two times I applied for Adsense, I was rejected for not having enough content. With a niche site like Must Contain Minis, one has to have a lot of articles to get approved. I also hear that the traffic has to reach a certain threshold to get approved, but was lucky enough that pageviews was not an issue.
At the start, Adsense drew in about $0.00 to $0.04 a day. Not quite enough to justify the one to four hours I take to write each article. To find something better, I started looking at other options. My next attempt at monitziation was through a website called Project Wonderful. At the start, I was very pleased that I was making at least $0.01 a day and on many days $0.03 to $0.08 a day. Not bad considering that I was making less on Google Adsense.
Overtime, I decided to leave Project Wonderful and go back to Adsense. Adsense was now paying better than Project Wonderful simply because my volume of traffic increased. To gain more than pennies a day, I looked for another way to make money with Must Contain Minis.
The next method of monetization that I tested was the Amazon Associates Program. This program basically allows one to run an Amazon Store on their site and place Amazon Links on their pages. If people click on the links and buy stuff from them, you get a cut. To me, it seemed like a perfect fit. I review a lot of books and rule-sets. Many of those books and rule-sets, Amazon sells.
Of course, there were some drawbacks to the Associates program. The biggest being that you can only set up the associates program on Blogger to one country. Being in Canada, my account was tied to Canadian visitors. This meant that if anyone from a different country clicked on the Amazon link or bought something off of the store, I would receive no profits. Only 11% of my readers are Canadian, so this program was missing a large part of my audience. Over the course of five months, I made no sales. Deterred by the lack of sales, I took the Amazon Associates links off of the site.
To recap, my first three attempts at monetizing the site included Adsense, Project Wonderful and Amazon Associates. Of the three, Adsense produced the best results for me. Even so, I have not yet reached the threshold for my first payout (but continue to get closer). Currently, I average a few dimes a day. It's not much, but it adds up over time.
Then I found another way to monetize my site. This new way was to accept review products from companies. To me, this is a win-win. A company receives coverage on my site that they might otherwise not have received and some of my gaming expenses get covered through the Blog.
The traffic on my website has been good enough that companies were willing to send me Products for Review. It is in reviewing and writing about the products sent to Must Contain Minis that this website has become the most profitable. I keep my reviews honest, up-beat and generally positive. At the same time, I try to provide some criticism about each product. I created a "Sponsorship Opportunities" page so that companies know what to expect if they send products to Must Contain Minis.
To sweeten the deal, I offer an ad bar on the right hand side of my site to those companies that send product. Those ads (in the "Current Sponsors" area) stay up for a limited duration depending on the amount of support given to Must Contain Minis. In addition to the "Current Sponsors" bar on the right side of the page, I also have a "Sponsors and Partners" page where the link will live on indefinitely. For those wondering what determines the order in which the companies are listed, it is based on the aggregate amount of support that the companies have given to Must Contain Minis. The more support, the higher in the list they appear. So far, Must Contain Minis has not received any monetary funds.
Now, I belong to a couple of online groups dedicated to Boardgame Reviewers and Wargaming Bloggers. One of the topics that comes up in both groups is the issue of Monetization. One of the more interesting discussions in the Boardgame Reviewers group surrounds the topic of taking payment for Reviews.
Some Reviewers have taken the interesting route of charging the companies that sent them games for reviews (a cash fee on top of the Review Product). That is a route to monetization that I never came to my mind. It is great that they can get companies to agree to this, but for me - I have no plans to charge companies for Reviews. If I have a product that I am interested in, I will review it. If a company sends me the product that I am interested in, I will look at it, review it and write about it. My yearly budget for miniatures has been $200 to $300 a year. With those kinds of funds, one cannot buy many products to review. This makes me more than grateful when a company wants to send review products to Must Contain Minis.
Please note here, I have mentioned a few times that when I take in products for review that the items need to capture my interest. That is part of the reason why my reviews are mostly positive. For the most part, if Must Contain Minis is reviewing a product - then it means that it is a product that I already like or a product in which I am keenly interested. If I reviewed everything, there would be negative reviews; however, I am selective in what I take on as a project in my hobby time.
I want to give a quick piece of advice for fellow Bloggers wanting to set themselves up as Reviewers. No matter your position on whether you count products sent for review as a form of payment, the government sees it as payment for an anticipated service. This is true with both the American and Canadian Governments. This means that if you take a product in for review (especially one you request), you have to pay income tax on that item at its full MSRP. Keeping Must Contain Minis above the board as a business and knowing this piece of information helps keep me discerning in what products I take in for review.
So far, I have found taking in Review Products as the the most profitable way to monetize this website. Despite what some people think, these products are not free. I have to pay income tax on the MSRP and companies that send the products expect me to write about them and photograph their products in some way. A lot of work goes into these posts. On the flip side, this has been a fantastic way to acquire products that I have always been interested in but have not yet purchased.
The second most profitable monetization method for Must Contain Minis has been Google Adsense. It is easy to set up but it requires a lot of web-traffic to pay out.
Accepting review products and using Google Adsense are two forms of monetization that I plan to continue on Must Contain Minis. I also plan to experiment with other methods to see how they work.
As I stated earlier, I would really love it if this website could draw in a "part-time" revenue to help sustain myself and the hobby. Because of this desire, I will be attempting a few more forms of monetization to see how they pan out. Please feel free to leave comments on how you would feel about these experiments and if there are certain actions that you would support more than others.
The next monetization scheme that Must Contain Minis is planning on is another Affiliate Marketing program. I really liked the Amazon Associates program in that it allowed me to place directly relevant links on my site. The fact that it limits the countries that sales can be made in really detracts from that program. What I plan to try instead are Affiliate links to the companies connected to OneBookShelf.com (specifically DriveThruRPG and WargameVault). The commission is low, but the product seems right for the readers of Must Contain Minis.
Another idea floating around in my head includes starting a YouTube channel and connecting it to the Must Contain Minis Blog. That would give me a second place to run Adsense and should draw in more people to the site. How these videos will take shape, I am still working on in my mind. One of the challenges is that the Must Contain Minis Studio is set up for photography and it would take some time and investment to upgrade it for videos; however, I might be able to do videos using images from Must Contain Minis Blog as a podcast style video fairly easily. Whatever way I jump into YouTube, I want it to look crisp and professional from the start.
Aside from a YouTube channel, I am also thinking of providing services to generate funds. Perhaps paid work as a freelance photographer or writer for gaming companies. That would be awesome! Another idea would be to write paid posts. These paid posts would state at the start and end that they are "Sponsored posts by (xyz) Company" and would not be reviews. Perhaps these articles would be previews of Kickstarters or something spreading excitement about a new product.
The final way I have thought about monetizing the site is through crowdfunding. Patreon seems like the default answer that everyone is going to these days. Recently, I had a discussion with someone that thinks that I should be on Patreon now. I disagreed as I want to increase my fan-base before diving into crowdfunding. What do my readers think? Would they be interested in seeing a Patreon at this point? Would you support it?
Donation Buttons and Kickstarters also seem to be popular ways for Blogs to generate an income. Yet... other Bloggers tell me that the Donation Button hasn't brought in anything for them and I am not sure about doing my own Kickstarter.
The reason to Monetize is certainly not to get rich. It is to better support the hobby and introduce more people to the hobby (and non-mainstream tabletop games). I have been absolutely thrilled with the review products coming into Must Contain Minis of late, but am also looking for liquid assets too. Liquid assets would allow me to expand and improve upon the business.
Items that I would like to buy for the business include...
- A Replacement Laptop. I currently work on a laptop that is over 6-years old.
- A New Camera. One of my photography professors once told me that, "one should be able to take just as good of photos with a cheap camera as an expensive one. It is the image composition that matters." There is truth to this statement, but I am working with fairly old equipment.
- A Video Studio suitable for YouTube Videos.
- A professional lighting kit.
- An Airbrush and Compressor.
Given how well this website has taken off, I really want to take the time, effort and money to keep improving it.
I hope that my readers enjoyed this article. It is something different than what I would normally write. I wrote it because I felt some of the fans might like a backstage look at my journey in monetizing a website and to help aspiring game Bloggers. I found that when making Must Contain Minis that there is not a lot of information available on how to monetize a tabletop gaming website.
Another tip for new Bloggers... The best resources that I found for new game bloggers were some posts over at Wargaming Tradecraft under the "Articles / Thoughts" tab. Dave Garbe has a lot of useful information on his site there for getting a Blog started.
Until next time, Happy Gaming Everyone!!!