Interview with Tony John: Insight into what it takes to be a successful blogger
Tony John is a familiar name in the Indian blogosphere and many people know him as the first Indian blogger, who started his blogging journey in the late ‘90s. Many others know him as one of the highest earning AdSense publishers in India. In spite of being a busy person running several popular websites, he is always available in social media groups to help and guide new and experienced bloggers. Unlike many other pro bloggers, Tony John is always approachable by anyone and is willing to answer any questions. He has already been interviewed many times on various websites and we would like to ask some questions today which will help you better get in touch with this fabulous person who has been guiding hundreds of people like me on the web and helping us make money online in a better way.
THIS INTERVIEW WAS TAKEN IN 2014 AND REPUBLISHED AS PART OF A REVIVAL SERIES.
So, let us get started. Here goes our first question.
Tony John, can you introduce yourself, just for those who are not familiar with you.
I was a software engineer by profession and worked in India and abroad from 1996 in the software field. In 2011, I quit my job to settle back in India. My family includes my wife and 3 children. I started blogging as a hobby more than 15 years ago and eventually made it my full time career. Currently, I am operating my websites under the legal entity “SpiderWorks Technologies Pvt Ltd”, popularly known as “Spider Network”.
How did you come to the online world, and especially blogging and internet marketing? How much the money from blogging matters to you?
Blogging just happened to me and was not a choice I made. I created my first web log in 1998 to impress my project manager to get selected for an onsite assignment in USA as a web developer. During my first few years in USA, I was staying in a company guest house and some of my roommates helped me get deep into the amazing world of internet.
Tony John’s first web log from the late ‘90s.
My first domain was registered in year 2000 and I converted my existing web log to the domain tonyjohn.com. I started a few more web sites, one for my own state Kerala, called SpiderKerala.com. Later I started dotnetspider.com, which eventually became one of the most popular .NET tutorial website and helped me receive the Microsoft MVP award for many consecutive years. I never knew I could make money out of the blogs until Google introduced AdSense program in 2003 and surprised me with the kind of money I could make from it. Within a few years, my income from blogging surpassed my salary in USA. Google blessed me really well during 2005 to 2010, which was the golden period of my blogging career. That gave me the confidence to quit the job and return to India to live the rest of my life the way I want it, without bothering about making money anymore. I am no longer after money, but I do enjoy the results coming from my hard work in last 15 years.
Until a few years ago, I was a hard core software developer, enjoying the life and work in USA. Blogging was a big deal for me with hundreds of people working with me directly or indirectly, but I could never imagine quitting my primary job. Blogging doesn’t have the glamour of corporate world. Eventually I realized there are lot of people depending on the income from the Spider Network to make their living and it was becoming tough for me to manage my primary job, my family life and the blogging which included over 40 websites.
How was your life in USA? What do you feel after returning to India? Did you ever consider going back to USA?
Ans.: Well, they are far different. In USA, people want to enjoy their life and keep their worries aside. They do celebrate their lives. In India, we always have worries and reasons not to enjoy the life. Even if someone do not have any worries, they will just carry the worries of their friends and relatives. Both have its own advantages and disadvantages. We have been trying to take the best out of both sides of the world. We had one of the best backyard vegetable gardens in our neighborhood in USA.
Backyard in USA
After we moved to India, life has become more serious and we have less time for the kind of fun we had in USA. It is a completely different way of living. We enjoyed the American life when we were in USA and now are enjoying our life in the Indian way.
Our decision to move back to India was taken after a lot of thoughts and planning. Even though we didn’t have any plans to go back to USA, we retained our house there and also kept our greencard valid. Just a few months ago, we sold our home and abandoned the greencard. Our children are American citizens. So, if they wish, they can go back to USA.
What would you advise to people having a similar dream like you, i.e. making it big in their own home country?
I have been advising everyone not to quit their primary job or studies to make blogging their full time career. There are many bloggers in India who make their living from blogging but remember they are relatively low compared to any other fields. Consider doctors, engineers, teachers or any other profession. If 75% of the people succeed in other careers only less than 5% of the people succeed in blogging career. Also, the income from blogging is highly unpredictable. An algorithm update from Google could wipe you out from the blogging business, no matter how hard you work. Many bloggers who share their amazing income reports are just creating some hype using some artificially inflated revenue reports, which are very short term in nature. Some of those revenue reports are from 1 or 2 days of quick revenue which will not last long and some others are generated by spending a huge amount of money. Many bloggers get excited by seeing a few hundred dollars in their AdSense account but what they don’t realize is, if they put the same amount of effort, they could make much more money from any other business or if they spend that time for studies, they could a earn a degree which will help them for the rest of their life.
What do you think is the future of affiliate marketing in India?
Affiliate marketing will continue to grow as more and more people switch to online shopping. But unlike the foreign countries, the competition is extremely high in India due to the massive number of young bloggers entering this field. Some of the popular online shops are offering negligible affiliate commission but the arrival of international firms will change the scenario.
Based on your website stats and some information from people close to you, you are the highest earning publisher in India and have earned really huge during the last decade. Still you never shared your revenue reports. Is there any reason?
Ans. : There is reason to hide my revenue reports. I just don’t see a reason to publish it, that’s all. In fact, as part of motivating others and exchanging information, I have disclosed my blogging revenue with others. There are lot of big firms earning huge money from AdSense and my earnings are nothing compared to the revenue those enterprises make.
How is your growth chart in last few years?
Ans. : In terms of traffic, we keep growing since we diversify and add more and more sites into our network. However, in terms of revenue, it is no longer easy to make lot of money online. Due to the competition and saturation in this field, we are earning far less from AdSense and other sources compared to last decade. In fact, the micro niche blogs are doing better for us compared to the established blogs in terms of revenue.
How did you make your website IndiaStudyChannel.com so popular among the students in India?
Ans. : Again, I didn’t make it popular. I think that site deserved to be popular. The kind of revenue sharing opportunities we offer in that site are so amazing. We have a unique AdSense revenue sharing program, which uses Google AdSense Host APIs and currently, we are the only website in India approved by Google to do the same. So far, our members have earned more than 1 crore from AdSense revenue sharing program. In addition, we have paid out more than 25 lakhs in cash to our contributing members.
What would be your advice to people starting out in the digital space. What things would you ask them to avoid?
Ans. : Currently the blogosphere is polluted due to the black hat methods used by a lot of bloggers. Many people are making money through non-recommended methods and the real genuine bloggers are struggling to stay ahead of the black hat guys. However, I am sure in the long run, the genuine bloggers will succeed. I would strongly recommend the new bloggers to focus on value based blogging, which will help them stay longer in the business.
Do you think in the already overcrowded digital space there is still scope for people to become millionaires or even better?
Ans. : Well, many people made millions through genuine ways in the last decade and it wasn’t too hard. However, due to the high competition from genuine as well as black hat bloggers, making huge online revenue is no longer an easy task. There are still bloggers making good money and there are still lot of opportunities. It has just become tougher to make money online, thats all.
How is the scenario today different from when you started your career?
Ans. : When I started, we all entered this field only for the passion for it. Blogging was just another hobby like gardening, stamp collection, coin collection and so on. We didn’t know we could make money from it. There was no competition and everybody were just focusing on what they like to share on the web. Eventually, it became a business for everyone including me and the focus changed to making money than doing it for passion. Today, most of the bloggers do it for money and they don’t mind going any far to make the best out of this business. I don’t blame them because making money is part of the game in business. My only request to the fellow bloggers is to focus on value oriented business rather than doing anything to make money.
What is your advice for young startups who rely on outside funding like venture capital etc. ?
Ans. Those who don’t like to stay in the small circles and like to explore the unlimited potential, I think venture capital is the way to go. But it comes with its own risk and makes you answerable to others. One of the main reasons I quit my job and chose blogging as a career is, I want to be my own boss and live my life the way I want it. So, I would continue the way I am doing today without any external investments.
If someone wants to get in touch with you, what are the best ways?
Ans. : I run many websites including www.techulator.com, www.indiastudychannel.com etc. They can use the contact us option in any of these websites. Also, I am always accessible through my social media profiles: