The Business of Blogging | The Sartorialist

Scott Schuman’s rise to international blogging fame is well known, but until now he has never discussed his business model in detail. In our latest instalment of The Business of Blogging, BoF gets the exclusive on how The Sartorialist makes bank

PARIS, France — With high-profile campaigns for Burberry and DKNY Jeans, a best-selling book, and a place on TIME magazine’s 2007 list of Top 100 Design Influencers, Scott Schuman is the streetstyle blogger that paved the way for hundreds of others who have followed in his trailblazing footsteps. For the fashion flock, being shot for The Sartorialist website is still the ultimate badge of honour.

But Mr. Schuman’s influence is felt far beyond the blogosphere. His beautifully framed photos, which feature fashion insiders and football fans alike, now appear on mood boards in design studios around the world. His photographic style has inspired countless advertising campaigns and editorials.

This week, as he celebrates his blog’s sixth anniversary, traffic numbers are spiking. The Sartorialist had around 13 million page views last month, a 44 percent increase over the same month last year, something Schuman attributes to a recent site redesign for which he manually re-tagged more than five years of posts himself, enabling visitors to more easily search his growing archive.

This could turn out to be a particularly savvy investment of time and money. If current traffic levels are sustained and significant portion of the advertising inventory on The Sartorialist is sold, it could theoretically make Scott Schuman fashion’s first million dollar a year blogger.

According to Mr. Schuman, The Sartorialist was originally inspired by Brooklyn-based writer Grace Bonney’s interior design blog Design*Sponge. “I could tell she was doing it by herself and I liked the idea that she was having an interaction,” he said. “She had like 30 comments on a post and I thought that was really cool.” Schuman decided to start a similar blog for fashion after examining a series of photos he had taken of a few stylish guys in New York’s Fulton fish market while on a photography course.

Since these beginnings, the fashion industry has witnessed an explosion of ‘front-row’ fashion bloggers, something that has not always pleased Schuman, at least not at first. Last week, a controversial interview with Schuman was published, showing Schuman’s apparent disdain for some of his much younger blogging peers. “I’ve kind of changed my mind [about that],” he told BoF, looking back with some contrition and pointing out that the interview in question is more than 18 months old. “With everybody, our relationships have really evolved. As I got to know Bryanboy and Tavi more, I’ve come to respect their seriousness of it. It’s a struggle to try and build [something] and still maintain who you are.”

But even if he is now more at ease with his blogging brethren, from the beginning Schuman understood the value of strategically associating himself with the mainstream fashion media, who took interest in his photographic style. “There were no important blogs at that time, so [I needed] to saddle up with someone to get that stamp of approval,” he explained. “The very first season, Style.com called me. They took a chance and said ‘Why don’t you [cover the shows] for us?’ They didn’t pay me very much money, but I give them credit for just taking that chance.”

“I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Style.com was the internet place to be; GQ was the men’s magazine to be [in],” he said. “The one thing that really helped was that I really took full advantage of every opportunity I was given. I worked my ass off, posting every night on my blog and Style.com. I remember the first time I went to Milan I had four meals in five days because I just didn’t stop. I had to get to the shows.”

But once The Sartorialist began to attract serious global attention, Schuman left these high-profile gigs behind to focus on building his own business. With his newfound independence, Schuman knew he would have to build out his own revenue streams. “You have to constantly spread out your streams, so if one stream starts to dry up you can go on,” he said. “The only stream coming in the beginning was working with GQ and Style.com.”

In 2008, James Danziger called. His eponymous gallery in New York hosted an exhibition for Schuman, selling his prints as “increasingly accomplished works of art in their own right,” according to the gallery’s website. The exhibit was an instant success, selling more than fifty prints at prices ranging from $1500 to $4000 each. But this proved not to be a stable source of income, said Schuman. “You don’t do an exhibit every year, so you’re constantly asking yourself how am I going to make that money next year?”

Mr. Schuman began thinking about his blog more deeply. “At the very beginning I had to decide: do I want this to be a blog about fashion, or do I want it to be an artistic photographic thing? I kept going back and forth. At some point I think I finally decided that I didn’t want to be a magazine. I decided to take a more photographic route.”

Schuman cites as inspiration the photography of documentary style cameramen like National Geographic’s Steve McCurry, the man behind the now-famous June 1985 cover photo featuring an Afghani girl with haunting sea green eyes. Looking at Schuman’s photos, you can sense that he is trying to capture the inner spirit of his subjects, not only their fashion sense. “I’m not reporting on a bag; who’s carrying what bag and who’s wearing what dress. I’m not reporting on people,” he explained. “What I am looking for is a certain grace.”

Schuman frowns upon the idea of putting a price on posts that appear in his content feed. “What I don’t like is advertorial posts that are under the table. When I did the Burberry thing – it’s Burberry, a humongous company with such control – and yet I shot that whole thing just like I would shoot everything,” he said, referring to his work for the British megabrand’s “Art of the Trench” social media campaign. We cast some of the people, we got people from the blog. Some people had their own Burberry coats, some people we gave them. I was very proud, so I shot 100 of them and I picked nine that I really loved [and said to my readers] ‘Here is the link to this Burberry project that I did.’”

Schuman has also worked on a product collaboration with American skin, hair, and body care brand Kiehl’s, creating a dopp kit with a variety of Kiehl’s products in exchange for a fixed fee. “We had Luca Roda manufacture it in Italy. As I was a stay-at-home Dad, I really wanted to push this Father’s Day thing. So, we went to the park where I took my kids, where I learnt photography, [and] we got 10 dads to run around with their kids and said ‘We want to take pictures of you having fun with your kids,’ and those were the photographs that we got. So, I wrote something very heartfelt [on my blog] about what it was like to be a stay-at-home Dad.”

At first, Schuman hesitates when asked whether he was contractually obligated to write about the Kiehl’s collaboration on his blog, but then offers: “I’m the one that pitched it in. I’m the one who said I wanted it to be about Father’s Day. It was because of me. I wanted to do this photo thing. So it was part of the contract because I wanted to do it. It was a fun process.”

Of course, like other photo bloggers, Schuman also sells his images to magazines, through his agent, Jedroot. But by far his biggest (and most stable) source of revenue now comes from ad sales on The Sartorialist website. Initially, Schuman worked with Style.com to sell his advertising inventory, but has taken this function back in-house, explaining that he is in a much better position to sell the ads himself because he understands the website better than anyone else could.

“I’ve been doing the ads for me and Garance for the last year,” he said, referring to his girlfriend Garance Doré, another superstar blogger, known for her illustrations, writing and photography. “Just like it took me forever to learn photography, it took me forever to learn how to sell [ads] like real agencies” on a CPM (cost per thousand impressions) basis, instead of the monthly sponsorship or affiliate commission models used by many other independent fashion blogs.

American Apparel and Net-a-Porter came from Style.com and they were just buying a month [of ads] for a flat amount of money. But I didn’t think that was right and I knew that’s not how we were going to grow. We were going to have to talk the talk like everybody else. We couldn’t just say ‘Oh, we’re just a little blog.’ If we’re going to make a business here, we’ve got to talk their language.”

And talk their language he does. Schuman rattles off digital media lingo with ease, speaking fluently about ‘geo-targeting’ and digital ad unit dimensions. He declined to reveal his exact CPM rate, but said that it has been increasing steadily over time, going above the thirty dollar range for the most valuable inventory. “People would tell me all these crazy numbers and say ‘It’s premium, it should be way up here,’” he said, motioning to the ceiling. “But like anything, you start out at a price where people are willing to buy. It doesn’t help to have a $40 CPM if nobody’s buying it,” he said.

But at his current traffic levels, even with a $20 CPM and only 50 percent of total inventory sold, Schuman could theoretically earn over $100,000 per month on advertising alone, easily earning him more than a million dollars of revenue per year from advertisers that now include blue chip luxury brands like Tiffany, Coach, and Ferragamo. Removing some nominal overheads and salaries, this makes for a very profitable niche media business.

And then of course, there’s his best-selling book, The Sartorialist, published by Penguin in September 2009, which has sold over 100,000 copies. “It did good,” said Schuman with a smile, expressing his surprise at the success of the book, for which he earned a six-figure advance against royalties. He received two royalty cheques on top of the advance within the first year of publishing. “I was shocked I even got one,” he says.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise however that Schuman has another book up his sleeve. “Now the process is much easier, because I know how to approach it. And Penguin is very excited.” With the current book still selling briskly, Penguin is waiting for the right time to publish Schuman’s next book, which could be published as early as 2012.

“You can really make a living out of this,” said Schuman emphatically. “It’s tough, but if you work really hard you can create a business, if you’re smart about it and have something real to say.”

Imran Amed is founder and editor of The Business of Fashion

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54 comments

  1. I’ve never seen The Sartorialist (Scott Schuman) in a picture before. All his pictures are amazing. They are pictures with a thousand words.

  2. Very inspiring, great article, I am a huge fan of Scott’s blog, keep up the good work Scott!

    Tina from Vancouver, BC, Canada
  3. I’ve been a huge fan of Scott’s photography for a long time. His blog is the one I make time to check even when I’m super busy. I’m really looking forward to his second book! I love the first one and keep on coming back to it!

    Cöcö from Espoo, Southern Finland, Finland
  4. So this is how you make money in the blogosphere…
    I think it has more to do with your fantastic photographie ability, Scott!
    However, I do agree that talking the talk to advertisers must have been the real clincher!
    I need to find your book.

    Mary from Eugene, OR, United States
  5. what makes the sartorialist such an interesting blog is that it is about style over and above fashion expression rather than commerce. that is what makes it so engaging and so successful. way to go

    Jo from London, London, United Kingdom
  6. This is some useful stuff, especially for us:)

    About time someone spoke the truth about the painstakingly long hours that goes into in the business of blogging; kudos!

  7. Thanks for doing this interview. Scott is one of my blogging and photographic role models. I certainly don’t want to copy anyone (and don’t think you can be happy doing so). However, it is helpful to read about how someone else built their business. And it is encouraging to know that you can get paid for doing what you love.

    - Meredith
    http://www.findingsoulbalance.blogspot.com

    Meredith Howard from Atlanta, GA, United States
  8. more shots of fashionable men… keep up the good work — I always check it out before getting dressed in the morning.

    craig from Boston, MA, United States
  9. It’s so helpful to understand that Schulman’s revenue model has shifted over time because he’s the one driving it and that clearly he spends a lot of time on the business side of blogging as on the creative side. This, I’m sure, means that he is working day and night. I love his blog AND that it is both a labor of love and a real business. I learn so much from him even though I blog in a totally different area (mommy not fashion). Thank you for sharing!!

    PragmaticMon from Newton Center, MA, United States
  10. Oops. I made a typo. It should be PragmaticMom.

    PragmaticMom from Newton Center, MA, United States
  11. This was really inspiring to read. I really like Scott’s honesty and the fact he takes it so seriously. It will help other bloggers who wish to take this route how to defend their blog and their prices to brands who would otherwise walk all over them.

  12. Thank you for such a terrific article! Like everyone else here I’m a huge fan of Scott’s and The Sartorialist. I also loved reading about the business side of his blog, his page view numbers (wow) and his income streams – it’s all very inspiring. ~Siobhan

  13. He seems conceited. Between this and the last interview, he has badmouthed young bloggers, backtracked when he realized how bad it sounded, and talked about how much money he is making. Qualities I, personally, do not admire. I do like his work but stopped going to his site because his personality is so off-putting.

    Humma from San Mateo, CA, United States
  14. I must admit I thought he came across terribly in the previous interview that you refer to, and as someone who’s been a loyal visitor of his blog for 3-4 years I was really disappointed.

    Good to see he’s making a better impression here, and has had the chance to explain that the other interview is really old and he’s changed his opinion since then.

    He’s an amazing example of what you can do and how far you can take your success if you really put your mind to it.

  15. Thank you for this piece.
    Thorough, honest and analytical. Lovely to hear someone that’s worth it for once.

    -Stefania Yarhi

  16. Good article, very interesting, Scott is a big photographer, his photos has the esence of that fashion is, one way in that people express themselves with clothing.

  17. Fascinating. I love that you followed your passion and was able to turn it into a thriving business.

    Alice Calamar from Anaheim, CA, United States
  18. If you go to Alexa and check out the Sartorialist daily reach for the last three months–reach is the percentage of the world wide Internet traffic the blog pulled in– until August 1 it averaged .006%. As a comparison Teenvogue has near identical numbers. Then on August 1 the reach jumped 5x to .o25%. This strongly suggested the The Sartorialist was bought out or otherwise merged with a larger group. Old news that I missed? Or something new?

    Due to some magnificently orchestrated pre launch publicity Tavi’s Rookie also hit .025% during its first week. It then settled down to a consistent reach of .004% during the 5 days Rookie publishes. My eyeball integration of the graph tells me the half of Rookie’s 600,ooo visits last month came inthe first week. So I predict Rockie should continue to pull in 400,000 visits a month. To state the obvious, for a website run by a 15 year old out of her bedroom that number is astonishing.

    scribble from Madison, WI, United States
  19. Really neat read!

    Sara from San Diego, CA, United States
  20. Thanks for providing us new fashion blog/website builders with such useful business insight, separate from the common industry superficiality. We appreciate a fellow blogger with true SUBSTANCE. Also good to be reminded that Mr. Schuman has put in unmentionable work ours to grow what he now has. A good model to follow and a good work ethic to have as an example.

  21. Great article!
    ‘For the fashion flock, being shot for The Sartorialist website is still the ultimate badge of honour’

    Ha! This brought a smile upon my face, since i recently wrote that having my picture taken by Scott is to me some sort of medal of honour! :)

  22. Increasingly, people see Scott Schuman’s true colors: as a business person, entrepreneur, and individually as a bit of an undeserved and pompous egomaniac. I like that this article allows to speak about what he’s most passionate about: making money, and lots of it. An extreme capitalist should not be ashamed of his financial badges, he should be proud, as Sartorialist is.

    Interestingly, I was walking on Hudson street in NYC once with a woman whom Bill Cunningham shot. He did it so discreetly. So tastefully and the man seldom lets out a peep about his ‘biz’. He just cares so passionately about the clothes and the people who wear them and yet he too makes a living doing it. I would love it if you would do an interview with Mr. Cunningham one day!

    Merci!

    MTLREALITY from Montreal, QC, Canada
  23. Did someone just cite Alexa numbers? That’s precious.

    Julian from Washington, DC, United States
  24. Oh my god!
    It seems as of I came across this article at the right time!
    I have been planning to take blogging full time leaving a very stable, well paid design job behind! This article gives me hope, and make me believe, that If I work hard with a good idea in head, its not impossible!
    Thank You!!

  25. The only ads I’ve noticed are those for American Apparel & have been wondering lately what Scott would say about the daily assault of half naked girls sprawled out on his website, which is certainly incongruous with his blog’s images.

    Nadine from Stone Mountain, GA, United States
  26. Mr. Schuman has been an inspiration from the get go and I commend him on his sixth anniversary. The realm of economizing on blogging activities is not straight forward, and probably won’t be for quite some time, but Mr. Schuman’s example of intellectually capitalizing on his talents and network is a a great path to follow. Thank you Imran for sharing

  27. Julian –” Did someone just cite Alexa numbers? That’s precious.”

    Curious. Not precious. Being a bit of a skeptic when someone mentions mentions their Internet numbers I like to check them out.

    Tavi and Alexa agree on 600,000 visits during Rookie’s first month.
    Scott?? His numbers jumped 5X on the first of August. Just wondering why?

    scribble from Madison, WI, United States
  28. Love this. Huge fan of the Sartorialist. But Mr. Schuman did not “pave the way”. That honor goes to Bill Cunningham, who paved the way for Mr. Schuman.

    Carol from Lawrence, KS, United States
  29. It bothers me how comfortable Mr Schuman seems to be talking about how he makes his money by selling PPC advertising in the same breath as he says that his blog is about photography and not commerce. Otherwise very interesting to know what his thinking was when he set his blog, and what his journey has been and how his strategy has evolved. But it begs the question: should he still call himself a blogger? Has he not simply become another media outlet, not dissimilar to Style.com albeit with different content?

    LHarvie from Ilford, Redbridge, United Kingdom
  30. Thank you for this article. It is fascinating how Schuman started his blog and how it grew into one of the most visited and admired fashion blogs. His photos are amazing!

  31. This interview is super inspiring and just goes to prove that with hard work, talent and confidence, you can truly make a business out of blogging. Thank you!

  32. Good interview, I follow Schuman but had never really known much of the background it is good to have it in context. It does make it sound achievable for other people to create an informative site but the amount of work he has put in is huge and he deserves the success

  33. This is indeed an interesting interview. Its funny to hear how people admire this guy who calls himself a photographer get rich by using everyone around. People on the streets, with interesting outfits. This is not at all his merit. Ok he takes nice pictures of them, but what else? And then, the readers.. Most of them probably end up there our of curiosity etc. Nd the rest are fanatic fans that have no clue of photography and thinks he’s some kind of a genious.. Get a life people!! This guy is nothing but a marketing expert.

    Tortuga from Harlingen, Provincie Friesland, Netherlands
  34. I agree with some of the previous comments. Bill Cunningham is the real pioneer and it would be really interesting to read an interview with him on BOF! He has an amazing personality and a very different approach to his work (as it’s not all about money).
    But of course Scott’s success is undeniable and he is also a real source of inspiration. Thank you for another great article! Eva / Fashion Studio Magazine

  35. I like the article because it goes into more detail about the actual money making and business side of blogs. The other thing that I like about it, and about all the interviews with Scott, is the fact that he always makes it very clear how serious he is about this, how time consuming all he does is, and most importantly he never gives into that image that in fashion it is all about fun, craziness, parties and all the rest.
    He is one of the few people who actually shows us the work side of it. And that is refreshing, especially today when people seems to think that it is only about going to fashion parties, fashion week, getting free products and meeting the “cool” people.

  36. Being that I’m very young and just started my street style blog, this gave me much inspiration!

    India Summers from Syracuse, NY, United States