It’s no secret that personal blogs–once thought to be the purview of online diarists and hobbyists–are serious businesses now. Bloggers not only command huge readerships–they’ve also become celebrities in their own right, publishing books, starring in ads, collaborating on collections, and even hosting TV shows. Thanks to affiliate link programs, they’re also making bank on all the products and brands they recommend on their site. The Internet might have scoffed at Scott Schuman when he recently said he makes “seven figures” off his blog–but actually, that’s not that hard to believe.
So just how much money are bloggers making right now? We did a little digging to find out, and the short answer is: A sh*t ton.
The main reason bloggers’–particularly personal style bloggers’–incomes have sky-rocketed is the development and growth of affiliate link programs. Affiliate links, for those of you who don’t know, allow bloggers to make a commission off the products they recommend or feature. Here’s how it works: When you click on an affiliate link (which, for the most part, looks just like a normal product link), the program drops a cookie on your computer. If you purchase anything from that site–even if it’s not the same product that the blogger was originally featuring–the referrer (aka the blogger) will make money off of it. And thanks to affiliate link companies like RewardStyle, which have partnered with nearly every major retailer (ShopBop, Nordstrom, Barneys, etc.,), bloggers can find pretty much any product they could possibly want to feature on the program. The idea is that they’d be featuring the products anyway; now they’re just making money off of it. (Full disclosure: We also use an affiliate link program in our market stories, as do Vogue.com, WhoWhatWear, Into the Gloss, and many other major fashion sites.)
Unsurprisingly, for personal style bloggers who recommend up to 30 products a day, affiliate links can bring in serious money.
Chelsea Cain, an account consultant at RewardStyle, told us: “In Q4, we expect our top style bloggers to earn upwards of $50k/month with rewardStyle.” Though she added, “like the larger retail industry, there are seasonal fluctuations in performance.”
Cain declined to say what percentage of her clients fell into that “top style blogger” category, but considering RewardStyle works with 10,000 publishers globally, we can assume that even a small percentage could mean hundreds of bloggers.
Tina Craig of Snob Essentials (Bag Snob, Jewel Snob, Shoe Snob etc.,) told us that affiliate links still make up the bulk of her income. “Because it’s constant, [whereas brand partnerships are usually a one-off],” she said. And, even better, making money off of affiliate links doesn’t actually require any extra work, provided you already have an audience in place. “There was a sale recently that came in the middle of the night from the Middle East–someone bought a $46,000 handbag,” says Craig. “So I was making money while I was sleeping!”
Craig and her peers can expect the cash to continue to flow. According to Cain, RewardStyle’s sales will have increased threefold by the end of this year.
“We expect to drive over $175 million in sales to our fashion, lifestyle, and beauty retail partners this year, our second full calendar year of operation,” Cain said in an email. “This will be a significant increase over 2012 retail numbers of approximately $60M.”
In July 2013 alone RewardStyle drove more than $14 million in retail sales for bloggers. That’s over triple what they did in July 2012, when sales were approximately $4 million.
And that’s just what bloggers are making on affiliate links. Then there are brand partnerships, event-hosting, spokesperson gigs and collaborations.