Why Bloggers Should Put Up, Shut Up & Pay Their Tax

August 24, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Content Strategy

You’ve probably heard about it already. Last week the Philadelphia City Paper posted an article discussing the city’s Business Privilege Tax that taxes residents who engage in any sort of “activity for profit” – even if the activity has never profited them as much as a latte. Ever. The trouble started when bloggers discovered this tax applied to them and they, predictably, went out-of-their-mind berserk. Blog posts were written, tweets were ALL CAPS LOCKED and I even had one person tell me it was unconstitutional to tax a blogger. [I did a Ctrl+F on the Constitution to verify this but couldn’t find any mention of “blog”. Sorry.] It was pretty amusing.

In the aftermath of the outrage, I was left to wonder if taxing bloggers was such a bad thing. In fact, I think it could help bring professionalism to a “hobby” that’s long needed a push into maturity. I will totally agree that, as is, what Philadelphia is putting together makes little sense. The idea of taxing a grandmother and her crochet blog is extreme. However, tax or no tax, bloggers need to start thinking of themselves as small business owners. And maybe taxing them is just the way to start that new line of thinking. We may find it would actually help, not hinder them.

My name is Lisa and I support taxing bloggers. Here’s why.

A blog tax may:

Force bloggers to be honest with themselves

The loudest argument I’m hearing against this blog tax is that most people don’t consider their blog a business. It’s a hobby, they say. Sorry, but the moment you put ads or affiliate links onto your blog it stops becoming a hobby. That’s the moment you become a small business owner, just like Joan’s Donuts down the street that’s also making no money. Whether you take that fact seriously or not is up to you. But you started down the road of making money via your blog and you should be honest about why you did it. Are you looking to make some money via AdSense? Are you hoping to build your business by creating authority and a stronger personal brand? Are you hoping to get enough traffic on your blog to sell a product? Why are you blogging? It’s time to be honest about your intentions.

Encourage bloggers to treat their blog like a business

It’s been settled. If you attempt to make money from your blog it is now a business. That means you should start treating it like one and stop using it pen your Christmas letter to Aunt Millie. Once you start thinking of yourself as a small business owner your entire approach to blogging will change.

You’ll be more likely to:

  • Create an editorial calendar and stop phoning in your content.
  • Stop lurking and start networking with people in your industry to build authority and relationships.
  • Create a reader street team to build buzz and get the word about what you’re doing.
  • Look into REAL ways of monetization and get away from webmaster welfare.
  • Invest in blog consulting services so it stops looking like NASCAR designed it.

In other words, start putting the steps in motion to build your blog and your business. If any of that seems like too much work, again, ask yourself what the point of your blog is? What was the goal? If it was “just a hobby” why do you have ads on it? “Hobby” is often another way of saying “I’m scared to fail”.

Help bloggers take themselves more seriously

My biggest issue with bloggers and blogging is the lack of credibility assigned to the medium. And a big part of why bloggers are looked at as a joke and or imposters is because they treat themselves that way by half-assing content and not committing to what they’re doing. When you don’t take what you do seriously, you give other people license to disrespect you in the same way. I don’t think that a $300 lifetime blogger license is going to make people heed the power of the keyboard, but I do wonder if maybe it’s not a step in the right direction to make people take what they’re doing more seriously or at least question it. If you’re appalled by the idea of having to pay a one-time lifetime fee of $300 then maybe you shouldn’t be blogging. I don’t think a fee would fix blogging but maybe it would shine a light on some people who shouldn’t be there. If your blog isn’t worth $300, total, in your lifetime, then I don’t want it clogging up my Internet.

End the “even playing field” blogger myth

Last summer I wrote about why I hate bloggers. In that post I expressed a lot of frustration over folks who viewed blogs as their way to “get famous” only to declare the medium “overhyped” when their blog about being a 20-year-old college student or their passion for coin collecting didn’t transfer into a 6-figure salary. I think one of the worst things to happen to blogging was the idea that anyone could do it or that it leveled the playing field for publishing. I mean, in some ways it did. But in most, it didn’t. In most cases it just highlighted a large segment of the population that shouldn’t have been publishing in the first place. Because they couldn’t write. Or because they had nothing interesting to say.

I don’t think that applying a tax to blogger will smoke out the hacks, but I’m okay with raising that bar to entry just a tad higher, $300 higher. Go print your tax form.

Will the Philadelphia blog tax change anything in the end? Probably not. But something has to. Is your blog a hobby or is it a business? It’s time to decide. And if you decide it’s the latter, then start taking it seriously. Otherwise, get off the road. Bringing in money isn’t what determines whether or not you’re a business. The intent behind it does.  And if you  have ads on your blog or you’re using affiliate links, then your intent is showing.

Worth Noting: In June Philly council members Bill Green and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez introduced a proposal that would that would reform the current Business Privilege Tax and make it so that businesses wouldn’t have to pay taxes on their first $100,000 profits. That’s a compromise that would likely make even the angriest of bloggers happy.

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