The Business of Blogging | Style Bubble

Today, BoF launches The Business of Blogging, a new series on the rarely discussed business side of fashion blogging. First up is Susanna Lau of Style Bubble, one of the fashion blogosphere’s most original and influential voices.

Susanna Lau | Source: Citizen Couture

LONDON, United Kingdom — In recent years, bloggers have had a tremendous impact on the fashion community. Using the internet to build their own platforms and attract an audience, they have helped turn a once closed industry into a more dynamic and democratic global conversation, earning thousands of fans and followers in the process. But are they making money? Have they been able to successfully monetise their celebrity and their craft? Is blogging a viable business?

“In my second year at Dazed, I was turning down all these different projects that could have been money spinners and I just couldn’t commit myself to them, because I was working 12 hours a day,” says Susanna Lau, the candid and adorably quirky voice behind the highly popular personal fashion blog Style Bubble, who left her position as Commissioning Editor of DazedDigital.com in March of 2010 to concentrate on her blog and pursue the unexploited economic opportunities it was generating. “Saying ‘I don’t need the publication to anchor onto, I have a publication essentially,’ was a big thing for me,” admits Ms. Lau, whose blog currently attracts some 25,000 visitors each day.

But how exactly has Ms. Lau been able to monetise her platform? “I have advert space at the side of my blog, but it’s not a big money spinner,” she says. “How I’ve done it is working on projects that relate to the blog but aren’t necessarily always visible on the blog.”

For example, Ms. Lau was one of a handful of influential celebrities and bloggers who recently helped internet giant Google launch fashion search and personal recommendations site Boutiques.com for what was widely reported to be a one-off payment in the low five figures. “The deal was to set up a boutique like the other celebrities who were also enlisted to pick items and basically put their taste out there,” she explains. “I got a fee for setting up an account, curating a shop and picking a certain amount of items.”

Ms. Lau was also recently tapped by American retailer Gap to appear in their 2010 holiday campaign shot by Craig McDean and styled by Karl Templer. “There was a fee,” she said. “You are basically lending your image and compensated much like any model or celebrity who gets a campaign,” she continues. “It’s always one-off fees.”

“Blogging is rich with indirect opportunities, in which their presentation is commensurate with your dedication, perspective and uniqueness,” noted business strategist, sociologist, and futurist Brian Solis in a recent post on Technorati’s latest “State of the Blogosphere” study.

But what exactly is Susie Bubble selling? “It’s intangible,” she admitted. “My eye, my point of view, a certain taste, a certain way of documenting and presenting fashion; that’s supposedly what I’m selling.”

Ms. Lau also generates revenue from occasional consulting work, writing assignments and speaking engagements, but it’s fees from special projects for brands that constitute the majority of her income. “The consulting part is really small,” she said. “Ad revenue is 25 percent. Freelance writing is 10 percent. The rest of it is based on special projects that I do.”

With recent projects for Dr. Martens, Giorgio Armani, Selfridges and Hong Kong boutique Joyce, Ms. Lau appears to be extremely busy. “There are limitless opportunities; it’s been sort of nonstop,” she enthuses. But what’s the bottom line? Compared to her previous position at Dazed Digital, is there more financial opportunity in the route Ms. Lau has chosen? “Definitely,” she emphasises. “Each day I’m sort of dividing my time between four or five different things. The result of that is that you are gong to be getting more money than you are with a fixed wage at an independent publishing company.”

But with expanding economic opportunities, bloggers have come under fire for not being transparent about the role their blogs play in commercial projects for which they are compensated, prompting government regulators at the Federal Trade Commission in the United States to introduce rules requiring bloggers to disclose ties to companies whose products they review or promote or face fines. While these rules are ambiguous, probably unenforceable and do not directly impact Ms. Lau, who resides in the UK, they prompt an important question: what role does Style Bubble play in her commercial projects and how does she manage to balance her economic interests with her editorial integrity?

“They didn’t say you have to publicise it,” said Ms. Lau in reference to the Google Boutiques project. “It’s normally a sort of unwritten thing. There are no instances where I feel I am contractually obliged to write about something.” In this regard, the Gap campaign was similar. “I wasn’t obliged to write about it… but in return, they were almost automatically expecting you to write about it because it’s something you would be proud of.”

In the end, Ms. Lau published Style Bubble posts on both the Gap and Google projects. Neither was overly promotional, but adopted the authentic Susie Bubble tone the brands undoubtedly knew would resonate best with her readership.

“I’ve not done advertorial,” she underscored. “I’ve not had any instance where what I put out on the blog is of primary importance to the project. It’s secondary and supporting, but it’s never been imposed on me that I have to do it.” She asserts: “If I was contractually obliged to write about something, I would feel less inclined.”

As blogging matures and the financial opportunities become more clear, many bloggers are starting to work with agents or other professional advisors who guide them on business decisions. “I make all the decisions myself, but with money, because I’m not very good with doing it, I have a literary agent,” explains Ms. Lau, who is exploring a possible book deal. “She managed Cecelia Ahern, who wrote P.S. I Love You, which was a huge success. She’s sort of looking over everything that I do; with major projects like the Gap campaign, she looks over the contracts and makes sure everything is above boards.”

But while Susie Bubble has proven that a highly popular fashion blogger can generate income in the present, is blogging a financially viable career option over the long-term? Will Susanna Lau always be Susie Bubble? “For the foreseeable future, yes,” she said. “It is a viable career, but I’ve always questioned the longevity of fashion blogs,” she adds, pragmatically. “Brands latching onto bloggers — is it just a trend?”

Here, Ms. Lau appears to enjoy a significant first mover advantage. “The fortunate and unfortunate thing is the media seems to latch on to the same bloggers over and over again,” she observes. “I was talking to a guy from Refinery29 who said: ‘The queen bees have already been chosen. The new ones are too late’, but I don’t want to believe that.”

In a recent short film for Intel’s “Visual Life” campaign, Scott Schuman of the highly popular street style blog “The Sartorialist” says he expects to be shooting and blogging for the next “30 to 40 years.” But for Susie Bubble, whose tastemaking skills are more intangible, things are more complex. “What I’m about is not as simple as Scott — he’s a photographer, he’s got a skill set to sell to brands,” she observed. “People like The Sartorialist, Garance [Doré], Tommy [of Jak and Jil] will have real endurance because they will always have their skill, whereas people can emulate what I do well.”

However, as Style Bubble continues to grow and the number of commercial opportunities multiply, Ms. Lau has been thinking about how to better organise and structure her expanding personal enterprise for the future. “I have been thinking I should register Style Bubble as a company, just for tax reasons,” she said. “If I were to present a business plan, if I were to be applying to a bank to get a loan to do something, to get my own space or invest in staff, then I have to present what I do as a tangible thing.”

But here, Ms. Lau is of two minds. While she said that “every major [television] channel has approached me about doing something,” the very ethos of a personal style blog like Style Bubble may inherently limit future growth. “If there was a whole team behind it, I think something would be taken away,” she said. “I’m not outputting solutions, I’m outputting myself,” she says. “I don’t think it can be larger than me — it’s as large as I am.”

Vikram Alexei Kansara is Managing Editor of The Business of Fashion

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18 comments

  1. Blogs in their current setup I see as a flash in the pan trend that are utilised as such by brands. Perhaps, the problem is more in the brands and the age demographic of the management/creators and how they view and feel that fashion/style should be consumed. They may not understand that the internet is where this current generation is growing up and finding their information

    There is still a whiff of the amateur on most of these blogs and in the majority of cases the interest in in the blogger themselves (or becomes eventually).

    I think, yes, Susie does have the first mover advantage but what she does well is that she informs her reader of new designers/projects etc not just puts up shots of herself wearing clothes (free swag) or posting a review of clothing that could be found on style.com. Her blog is a magazine really – the new type.

    sorry, my thoughts seem to be quite disjointed on blogs…

    Monica_Ileana from Paris, Île-de-France, France
  2. ThankU @BOF & @SusieBubble for the great article. In clear way, Susie shows us (the blogger) that (fashion) blogging IS something & Could give us a REAL job with REAL money. Go bloggers!! :)

  3. If Oprah Winfrey would have thought that her unique style and approach couldn’t be produced by a team the world of television would closed to her. In reality it’s only a matter of mastering the art of editorship. Something Susanna Lau with her background from a magazine shouldn’t have any trouble doing. And if she needs help I would suggest a closer look at how Jamie Oliver has managed to produce books, magazines, stage shows etc without any education in publishing or writing.

    You’ll manage, Susanna. Just learn to trust your wings and realize that your unique DNA can become the foundation of an entire brand. Ask any designer or even artist who has travelled this road before you.

    Jacqueline Kothbauer
    Content marketing strategist and author of the book “Mediababe ” . Perhaps the manual you need, Susanna:-)

  4. It’s an incredibly delicate balance that has to be struck. While I’m not someone that is massively sucked in by blogs, if you look at the top publications, you can’t top that. Style Bubble is there to be taken further, the other blogs are stuck behind a mask of specific skill sets. I think it’s perfectly obvious that Susie will in time develop Style Bubble into a publication, she’d be mad not to. The potential is there to fully exploit the net and also the glossy print world, I also think she has the experience and necessary skills to go further and develop it into a brand. If she does, then she needs to go full tilt and invest in it. Scoping out where it would fit is another task, as Dazed has really monopolised a large chunk of that independent market.

    moi from Brixham, Devon, United Kingdom
  5. This is really a great article. As a person who has read blogs for a few years and appreciates the people who dedicate good content and time to their blogs, I likewise appreciate seeing those like Susie who have done well as a result! Blogging is certainly a different forum for people to go to and read from, and some should be rewarded. Unfortunately, there are those who are out there who have a goal only to monetize, but hopefully people will divide and conquer those from the good blogs who believe in their published content.

  6. As a Fashion Stylist, Blogger, and Business School graduate, I really found this article 1. helpful and 2. TOTALLY necessary. Because blogging and being a blogger are such new terms, people don’t really have an idea of how powerful they can be. Blogging, as a career, still doesn’t make sense to a lot of people because getting a significant revenue stream from it is so unclear.

    I think this article, and Ms. Lau were eluding to the idea that blogs are just another media tool used to brand a person, company or product. If that becomes more clear to the industry, and bloggers, I think and hope (fingers crossed), more opportunities will start popping up for income.

    I’m glad that Ms. Lau talked about the “first movers advantage” and how fortunate she is. She obviously has great foresight into the industry. But like any new product, you have a first movers advantage and then a second movers advantage (i.e. 1st. Myspace –> 2nd. Facebook) Where the second movers get to see what they do and don’t like, and then adjust to the market. Like Ms. Lau, I hope that it’s not too late. I’m excited to see what’s next for bloggers for the sake of the industry (and my career!).

    I really enjoyed this piece and am thrilled that BoF has decided to make the Business of Blogging a series!

  7. “I’m not outputting solutions, I’m outputting myself,” she says. “I don’t think it can be larger than me — it’s as large as I am.”

    What a great sentence !! Also love the article. One thing I have to say about blogs for the long haul is that I have noticed that there not like magazines who have endless clothes to pick form. I think especially with blogs like seaofshoes and karlascloset the momentum is slowly coming to an hault because as a person there is only so much you can produce all by your self. Plus because its always from the bloggerviewpoint you need to watch the fact that you dont become boring because its always the same taste, preference etc.

    dreamlovely-anne.blogspot.com

    Anne from Den Haag, South Holland, Netherlands
  8. What a great start to your series on the business of blogging. I look forward to reading about other blogger’s stories!

  9. This is an astoundingly well written article,as someone who enjoys fashion and works in finance,I can appreciate both sides of the coin,it is something structured,practical,makes sense as a business but like any other product,the need to differentiate is there,I don’t read her blog and am not a fan of womens fashion,but she is articulate,business savvy and a great subject.

    nikolai from Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  10. What a great article Vikram to kick off with the series.
    There are a few things that stood out the most to me in this, and if I had to find a word to sum them all up it would be ‘perceptions’.

    Perceptions as a broad term; the sudden awareness generated from fashion blogs, from the launch of Google boutiques, or Bryanboy on the cover of the FT, to Tumblr sending 20 fashion bloggers to NYFW. But also perceptions in a more intersubjective way.
    The success of bloggers seems to be increasingly reliant on their will to remain as neutral, let alone unsponsored, as possible. As the struggle about balancing the ‘honest’ posts with the ‘advertorial’ emerges as a critical aspect of the blogger’s activity, one must wonder how much should audiences really care about who is ‘backing’ up these platforms.

    On the one side, there’s the obvious misassumption that many have made by mistaking the direct and approachable way in which bloggers address their readers, with the 21st century equivalent to a voyeuristic keyhole. Bloggers are by all means media, or “new media” if you will, and they should be considered as such. The time it has taken for people to realize that, is what some (traditional) media are documenting as how the aura of unbiased communication around bloggers could be wearing off.

    Linked to that, is the premise that what we see in these sites should be a completely deaf version of the bloggers ‘fashion experiences’. How to manage the distortion bloggers allow into their posts is truly a double-edged sword. In their opinions and their commentary on the brands who pay their rent, people will inevitably see replicated the fear that once repelled them from traditional media. It seems these days, bloggers are expected to be so neutral, so well intentioned, so ‘real’ and so human, that their audiences paradoxically end up dehumanizing them to the extreme. But, if they really presented information in a completely sterilized style, what could possibly make these sites stand out amid the sea of hundreds of fashion blogs? Can we expect Suzy, Tommy or Bryanboy to be neutral? And more importantly, do we want them to be neutral?

    What these bloggers bring to the industry (what actually makes Google, or Sergio Rossi take notice and contact them) is their unique voice, their perceptions (encore), their experiences and their preferences no matter what motivations are behind them. How many times have we been told money is not a motivation per se? Money does pay the rent, it sure does, but truth of the matter is it will not get you going for the rest of your life. Of course this is no linear equation, and there is more to the hierarchy of needs than a yes/no answer. Nevertheless, I am inclined to think this is quite true where bloggers stand as of now.
    After all, as it is their lives they are ‘outputting’, it is hard to think setting a price to them could be as easy as sporting, snapping or bragging about a pair of new loafers.

    One last commentary I’d like to make on perceptions is how Suzy sees herself in lack of a skill that can make her career more enduring. Being a great admirer of her, I would like to point out how, perhaps out of modesty, she doesn’t want to see that the tangible output Garance, Scott, or Tommy offer are much more easily replicable than ‘a voice’ and way of doing, which she has.
    Sure these three photographers have other qualities beyond the ‘resulting image’, and very much like in Suzy’s case I think it is those that make all of them successful, and not so much the tangibilities of their work.

    As our environment keeps generating more and more information, at a rate we can’t even grasp, what becomes increasingly important is the semantics and the meaning of that information. There’s still lots of work to do on that field (starting with a credible development of the web 3.0), but I am positive that the ones who can bring not just content, but meaning to their outputs will be the chosen ones to remain a reference in their field.

  11. Very nice article. Great pic (hello to Citizen). there are so many fashion blogs that even big brother wouldn’t be able to monitor them all. i for one am waiting for the fashion blog apocolypse. until then, keep it at!

  12. great article – thanks! i think that you will have possibilities to earn money with blogging, but it is not so easy to come there. with all these thousends and thousends of bloggers in all over the world, i am shure that there is only a little procentige of them earning regular money. but never the less – i love to blog about fashion and i love the blogsphere with so many creativities, ideas, opinions …. lets get inspired by our global community! hugs from spain!

  13. I read this article right after the FrancaSozzani’s one about fashion bloggers and what a good explanation ! I really appreciate how much Susie is clear and had nothing to hide ! Refreshing !
    Thank you very much Imran !! By coming on your website, I’m sure to find all information I want !

  14. I love this article! Susie is so straight forward and open minded! Haven’t had bloggers like this in a long time!

    This website provides so much cool informations!

  15. well, I think like all maturing industries these “queen-bee” bloggers should adopt and encourage new bloggers that they feel fit in with their own style…that might mean making their blog an umbrella for more specialized blogs and becoming full fledged websites.
    Become an online publication and an entrepreneur in the complete sense.

  16. Fantastic Article!

    It’s great to see that Susie has managed to maintain her authenticity as an individual, while managing to forge a potential career for herself. As time goes on and technology advances, things can only be built upon – the foundation for her to develop a sustainable business, is certainly there. I think that she shouldn’t be so hard on herself – what she does is MOST DEFINITELY A SKILL. She has paved the way for other Bloggers like myself: lilijulian.wordpress.com and I wish her all the best in future.