Should you blog or bartend?

According to the Wall Street Journal, blogging is the engine driving a knowledge economy, or at least a Ponzi scheme in punditry:

“In America today, there are almost as many people making their living as bloggers as there are lawyers. Already more Americans are making their primary income from posting their opinions than Americans working as computer programmers, firefighters or even bartenders…

…The best studies we can find say we are a nation of over 20 million bloggers, with 1.7 million profiting from the work ,and 452,000 of those using blogging as their primary source of income. That’s almost 2 million Americans getting paid by the word, the post, or the click — whether on their site or someone else’s. And that’s nearly half a million of whom it can be said, as Bob Dylan did of Hurricane Carter: “It’s my work he’d say, I do it for pay.”

But did any of the journalists and editors involved in publishing this article read the fine print in these studies? Guess not, as the median annual revenue for U.S. blogs from advertising was $200. Among “high revenue” bloggers – the top 10 percent in Technorati’s survey, the overall annual revenue from blogging was $19,000. All of which suggests that very, very few people are making a living from blogging.

To confuse matters further, the “best studies” the Journal could find appear to have been mixed and matched in ways that are deceptive. The Technorati survey had a sample size of 550 American bloggers, but it’s not clear how they were randomly sampled (and thus are a statistically reliable sample) or whether that sample is supposed to reflect 20 million, two million, or 452,000 U.S. bloggers. (This latter number is sourced to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but as one of the many critical comments on the article on the Journal web site notes, there is no such statistic kept by the Bureau.)

According to the Bureau, wage-and-salaried lawyers had median annual earnings of $102,470 in 2006. And “the middle 50 percent” of bartenders “earned between $6.77 and $10.10. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $6.00, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $13.56 an hour.”

The “Microtrends” column was written by the pollster and political consultant Mark Penn, who defines “Microtrends as

the niching of society. People are self-defining in smaller and smaller ways, and neither ‘gut sense’ nor conventional wisdom will likely get you to the truth. Go straight to the numbers, and let’s do some microtrending.

Microtrending is clearly in need of some statistical rigor, so in light of the numbers, here’s the macro view: unless you figure you can become a star blogger like Andrew Sullivan or Perez Hilton, you’re almost certain to earn more money pulling pints and shaking cocktails than writing blog posts.

Update: More criticism of the numbers here.

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