Monday, November 20, 2006

Greed & avarice in the blogosphere

I am surprised at surging acceleration of my blog’s ‘popularity’ over the past 8 days – I have advanced to a mere 87,998th on Technorati’s ranking of visitation strength among the world’s 57 million blogs. Traffic to my site has doubled over its sustained levels of the past 6 months. Where’s the Bollinger?

Many of the visits are Google or other search engine activity-related activity – many visitors take one look and shoot through - reminds me of my teenage mating failures. I suspect my ranking in the way such searches are organized has gone up a notch. Whatever the reason it does not seem related to recent postings since many of the searches are to posts that are months old. I’d be interested if a knowledgeable reader-cum-techie had any explanation for sudden sustained increases in my traffic.

Can I turn my blog into a commercial venture? The answer is no – even if I could get my traffic up about 10,000X what it is now I have a lifetime aversion to advertising that would be difficult to shake. But many people are making money blogging according to The Economist this week.

ON HER blog, called Dooce, Heather Armstrong chronicles her life as a disenchanted Mormon in Salt Lake City, her former career as a high-flying web designer in Los Angeles, her pregnancy and postpartum depression, and so on. A year ago, her blog started generating enough advertising revenue to become the main source of income for her family. She is not alone. There are now just enough people like Ms Armstrong to signify a new trend: blogging as a small business.

Until recently, there were two main kinds of blogs. Most of the 57m blogs in existence are personal diaries that happen to be online. These blogs have tiny audiences and make no effort to sell advertising. Services such as Google's AdSense,
which places text advertisements on blogs and generates a few cents per mouse click, might bring in some spare change. But according to Pew, an American research organisation, only 7% of bloggers say their main motivation is to make money.

The second main kind of blogs are, in effect, niche magazines that choose to publish in a blog format. These blogs are explicitly run as businesses, with paid staff doing the writing and sales departments selling advertising. The best example is Gawker Media, a stable of blogs that includes Gawker, a New York gossip site, and Gizmodo, a blog devoted to gadgets. Collectively its 14 blogs get 60m page views a month.

Such blogs are “the most profitable media business today,” says Jason Calacanis, who runs Weblogs Inc, another stable of popular blogs that he sold to AOL, the web arm of Time Warner, a year ago. His sites, including Engadget, another gadget blog, are “an eight-figure-a-year business” with negligible distribution costs compared with the huge printing and shipping bills of traditional magazines.

Now, however, a third category is emerging: the mom-and-pop blog. “In the old days, we used to be called newsletter publishers,” says Om Malik, a technology writer who quit his job at Business 2.0 magazine in June to work full-time on his blog, GigaOm. He has hired two other writers, and his blog now attracts about 50,000 readers a day, generating “tens of thousands” in monthly revenues. Costs, including salaries, are around $20,000 a month.

One big reason why his blog works as a small business, says Mr Malik, is that an ecosystem of support is appearing. Like Ms Armstrong, he farms out advertising sales and administration to a firm called FM, launched last year by John Battelle, who once ran magazines such as Wired and the Industry Standard. In his old business of magazines, says Mr Battelle, the cost of acquiring an audience was “stupendous”—at Wired it was about $100 per subscriber. The cost of building a readership for a blog, by contrast, is nil. Once you have a lot of readers, however, the bandwidth costs become significant, and most medium-sized blogs cannot afford to hire the sales people needed to generate sufficient revenue. So FM's 15 sales people negotiate with advertisers on behalf of blogs they represent, keeping 40% of the resulting revenues.

For people like Ms Armstrong, who has about 1m visitors to her site a month, this makes blogging worthwhile. But it is not for everybody, she notes. She works about 7 hours a day on her site, and continues to work while on holiday. Mr Malik concurs. “It's not easy,” he says. Building his audience has “taken me five years, and a lot of sleepless nights.”

Dooce didn’t appeal to me at all. After reading it I didn’t feel too bad about posting on bird-watching. The Gawker blog seemed like a bland celebrity magazine. Maybe there is scope for the Great Harry Blog yet!

One local to make the transition to commerciality is Tim Dunlop’s Blogocracy which operates within News Ltd. It will be interesting to see how Tim’s left wing politics co-exist within the Murdoch press machine. Tim’s blog does, so far, seem independent.

12 comments:

FXH said...

harry - I'd rather read you on birdwatching (or even economics) than dooce.

I came across dooce a while back in the same context you refer to. If she spends 7 hours a day on it I can't see where and given her husband guy is a dentist or something the income thing seems a bit suss. Still it's USA when you can be famous just for saying that you are famous.

hc said...

I guess I have the same impulsive response to much that is American. A reward for nothing. But yes it is successful...

But thanks FXH - lots more posts on birds and (even!) economics. My competition is limited.

Anonymous said...

Technorati rankings give the place...so you're equal 87,998 with who knows how many other blogs.

Don't let that dishearten you though!

rabee said...

harry,

your hits are coming from the Blogocracy link.
Also, there has been a recent spate of very aggressive bots that make more than 30 page/requests a minuet. googles bot seems to have become more aggressive and so have its competitor bots. There is a war of bots going on.

as for technorati you will notice that some of the links are double counted or are not to your blog. For blogs that role their own software in a way that's not, standard technorati counts a sidebar link each time there is a post.

I think that a reasonable measure of a blog's success is the number of comments it gets. take quiggin's blog for instance. he can scribble three lines (two of which are a quote from someone no one knows and the third comprising the word "hmm") on a monday and have fifty comments by wednesday.

but the most reasonable measure of success is whether important blogs link to you. one link from dailykos is worth a thousand from from recent blogs.
You are getting there with the news.com.au link.

hc said...

Rabee, The surge in traffic started 9 days ago and was unrelated to anything I had recently posted. The Blogocracy post was yesterday - unless you are referring to something else. I am still unsure what happened.

I thought John's 'hmmm' posting was spot-on. John's been at it a while and composes one of the best blogs.

Phil said...

I tend not to worry about traffic Harry, I just let it roll over me and take it as it comes.

I do have a stats package that breaks it down, but after three years of doing the blogging thing you do understand that it's all pretty meaningless.

My rule of thumb is how the conversation is going if the answer is ok then I a happy chappie.

hc said...

Phil, I am interested in boosting traffic but I agree with you that 'hit' measures are close to meaningless. If someone is looking for a topic and hits your blog only to move straight on it isn't really a hit. Nor are the 'page views' data that reliable - a few people wiill look at an enormous number of pages which distorts the average.

Of course you are right that it is the conversation not the statistics that matters.

rabee said...

Hi Harry,

That's precisely the point about quiggin's blog. It's amazing how many people feel it's become their home and community. It's a measure of its success.

I think that people now have figured out that your blog is here to stay. So you are getting a community around you. Also, there would be readers that use rss readers. So they may be return readers (not new) but your cookies can't distinguish them from new readers. (well that's what I read)

jack said...

Quiggin engenders highest responses when he posts a free-for-all discussion. Most respondents enter a blog response if the topic on offer is contributable. I can read up to a hundred blogs a day (I do it at work, tee hee) but only write in response once or twice a week, if that. (But with you it's different Harry, it's a special relationship).

mlesich said...

I'd love to know how you were able to attract so many visitor, so far I haven't had any luck myself

hc said...

Mlesich, I think the increase in traffic is caused by increased search activity. For example, the article I wrote on Robert Altman's death had a large number of search responses yesterday. This sort of thing did not occur in the past.

rabee said...

mlesich, there is a spelling error in your blog's title.

"iterested in microeconomics"