As March wraps up, I was looking deeper into the ad revenue for the sites. Specifically, I compared the dollars to March of last year, and discovered it was down by about two-thirds. Naturally, my next move was to compare the traffic, which was essentially the same. That's a little demoralizing.
When I started the first site back in 1998, I thought it was amazing that I could make $20 in a month because I published a site on the web. The next month, I covered the $50 that it was costing me. In 2001, the expenses were ridiculous, but I was able to cover the $1k per month to cover the costs (in no small part because I asked people for money).
The last six years have been incredibly unstable. The problem is that we (as in, most of the Internet) have largely been dependent on how Google's AdSense performs. The inconsistency is crazy. The way we work it is to set a minimum effective value (revenue per thousand page views), and anything they can't fill at that rate falls through to other ad providers that we've used for years with varying success. However, Google doesn't always respect the minimums we prescribe, and no one is paying the rates we saw years ago.
On the positive side, yes, the costs for hosting these sites has gone down considerably. On the other hand, software isn't any less expensive, and some of it has gone to subscription models which make it a lot harder to skip upgrades every three years or so (I'm looking at you, Adobe!).
Even though income was never the reason I got into these, it sure has helped me stay in them. It's a lot of work to keep it up and feed these things, and keep them fresh. I mean, it took us I don't know how many years to update PointBuzz, and that's a team effort! I'm looking at how CoasterBuzz needs another refresh too, after three years. My point is that it's nice to get a little something for the work you put into it.
Maybe the thing that bothers me the most is that I don't have any obvious plan of action to fix the problem. Shitty linkbait sites BuzzFeed and the like have devalued the page view to historic lows, so revenue by ads is not the model that it used to be. It's super frustrating.