Some topics simply cannot let you be. They are just way too potent. For example, some time ago, in Part I of my Arts & Entertainment by the Numbers series, I already addressed the matter of earnings one can expect to generate if he or she decides to become a "writer." If you recall, it was established that, with a few exceptions primarily driven by seductive (literally) subjects, or notoriety (oh, I am sorry - fame) of the authors, or some magical (again, literally) mass appeal, there is not much money in writing.
Of course, I didn't talk about ALL "writing." That post was focused on books, both fictional and not - the self-contained multi-page opuses that come into public distribution through more or less conventional channels, which in our contemporary world include not only the old-fashioned publishing houses, but also self-publishing (including web-publishing) and on-demand-printing. The latter have been pretty much commandeered by our ubiquitous mega-villains, Amazon and Google.
Surprisingly, the vast majority of books are still printed and bound; and pretty much all of them are digitized as AZW, EPUB, IBA, PDF, etc. publications. From my personal experience I can tell you that royalties on e-books, being profitability based, are actually much higher than on the printed copies. As you can imagine, distribution of files costs a fraction of physical printing, shipping, etc.
Of course, books are not the only products of the "writing" professionals. I fitted playwrights into Theater and screenwriters into Movies. And I didn't want to discuss the earnings of conventional journalists, not only because I am really appalled by the contemporary standards of that trade, but also because there is nothing particularly special about their compensation. It's basically a pay scale - no different than the one for any back-office workers.
According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average reporter or a correspondent makes about $21 per hour, or $43,780 a year. Of course, those working in publications with household names, especially in DC or NYC, or at cable and broadcasting venues, earn above average. But even then we are talking $53K-$60K annual salaries. Nothing glamorous.
If famous faces of Barbara Walters, or Katie Couric, or Matt Lauer pop into your head, stop it - those people might've started as journalists early in their career, but that's not what they are now - through some peculiar twists in their fates they've become multimillion-dollar TV personalities with roomfuls of staff who do the actual work and get paid what I said above. Moreover, as far as I am concerned, the professional comedians Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, and John Oliver turned out to be much better newsmen than all those other smiley faces.
But forget all that! The remarkable thing about our electronically permeated era (as far as the writing is concerned, of course), is that the majority of the "written" words nowadays floats in the realm of computer codes; resides on some servers in the unknown to the authors locations. The vast majority of that majority is motivated into existence by a singular intangible incentive - the writer's desire to verbally express his/her opinions and ideas; it's produced for no material reward at all.
This includes over 10,000,000 (that's 10 million!) individual and collective blogs, which produce over 4,000,000 (and that's 4 million!) posts every day (hence, my utter surprise that my own humble entries are consistently found and read by people from different countries); online fiction publications; fan-fiction entries into various pop-culture Wikias, unpaid entries (in hopes of exposure) into a multitude of e-zines, etc., etc. It's all created for no pay and mostly available for free (if you don't count the unbearable assault of advertising on more popular sites as your cover charge - I do).
And even those who appear to be writing not on spec but on assignment or write on spec but get syndicated, possibly generating fees and royalties for their digital words at such giant contentmongers as, for example, The Huffington Post - nobody seems to know for sure how much money they make. Well, people close to the subject probably have some scattered bits and pieces of information, but it's so sparse and inconsistent, it's impossible to draw any solid conclusions. In fact, the aforementioned Bureau of Labor Statistics simply gives up on the matter, basically admitting that the new media is so, ahem, new that there are no set rates and no correspondent statistics.
But I am not an official government agency - I am just a curious person armed with my common sense and capable of making logical conclusions. Moreover, I have the freedom to extrapolate, speculate, and infer. And infer I shall.
The first fundamental truth about online presence is that the majority of people religiously believe in its powers of publicity. Hence, the said number of blogs, shameless exhibitionism of facebook pages and personal sites, endless YouTube videos, etc., etc. - general population thinks that if anybody can "be found" today, it will be online. A few miraculous stories of the Internet exposure actually leading to "fame" only reinforces this belief. (And the sea of content is growing exponentially, if you catch my drift - but that's another topic). In context of our subject this makes me think that those who get published in popular online outlets agree to do so for next to nothing, i.e. for much less than even conventional writers get.
The second fundamental characteristic of the Internet itself as a business is that the majority of revenues generated by non-eCommerce websites, if any, come from online advertising, at least for now (I think this situation is going to change, but that's, again, another topic). Advertisers, just like the general public, have their own system of the Internet faith - the click-per-view conversion. In the web environment, the old admen rule of placement for the maximum consumer impact gets a statistical dress-up: a certain number of views results in a click on the ad's link; a certain number of clicks, in its turn, converts into a consumer acquisition, i.e. a sale. Everyone is invested into the same idea: the more views, the more clicks, the more sales; hence, the popular pay-per-click pricing formula. As a result, the online content is monetarily valued on its potential viewership.
This made me think that the most logical way for an owner of a content-driven website to compensate a contributing writer would be based on some rate-per-view (just like YouTube with its videos). The question is how much? What's the digitally published word worth? Apparently, even Labor Statistics officials don't know - most likely because reporting those earnings is still a gray area.
Ah, but that's what the Internet is actually for - the information superhighway. If something piques your interest and you know how to formulate your search, you will find what you need: like the large UK blogging hub on everything pop WhatCulture.com (they are absolutely right - they have nothing to do with Culture, concentrating primarily on blockbusters and gossip in film, big hits and gossip in TV, mega stars and gossip in music, plus gaming, sports, WWE).
The site's content model is based on accepting (not guaranteed) and publishing other people's submissions. On their Write For Us and Get Paid page they openly solicit material from the potential contributors (Lists! Lists! Lists! That's their preferred format - "9 Reasons to Be Excited About Arrested Development Season 5" or "10 Actors Who Really Don't Belong in the Upcoming Movies" and shit like that). Therefore, the "get-paid" rate is openly disclosed right there: £0.40 ($0.62) per 1,000 views.
Aha! With that in hand, let us entertain ourselves with some arithmetical exercising: Yesterday, the most-read entry in the film section of WhatCulture.com was "10 Things You Need to Know About Captain America: Civil War" - it had 1.3 million views, thus generating its author $806. Not bad, assuming he put it together pretty quickly. Theoretically speaking, if you can pop one of this every day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, you can actually earn $210K annual wage!
But the probability of it, of course, is quite slim - not only because no one on their own can research and write 260 entries a year, but mainly because it's hard to achieve such viewership: for example, the most read TV article had only 223 thousand views ($138.26) and the top one in a deeply hidden Art division (the only one in the whole site I personally found interesting - 10 Up and Coming Portrait Photographers) attracted exactly 2000 readers ($1.32 worth). The audience's interest is fickle.
This site is big and popular - the effort of a full-scope statistical analysis goes beyond my level of interest (I am sure the management has all the numbers readily available to them), but my quick-glance conclusion is that the average views per post is about 50,000 or $31 value. So, ladies and gentlemen, even if you can do three of those a week, the more realistic earnings would be a modest amount of $4,836 per year.
I say, don't quit your day job for this just yet - that is, of course, if you have one.