TAN made a very interesting point in the comments to one of my earlier posts. I was talking about the sysphian task of growing a new blog, and he noted that he thought I was mixing two conversations: blogs as a business and blogs as a trend/cultural phenomenon. That got me thinking, and here’s what I’ve concluded.
It’s the blogging as a business part that causes the difficulties I’ve been talking about. Not so much business blogs or the cultural phenomenon of blogging.
What’s the Difference
First, let’s define what I’m talking about:
Business Blog- a blog operated by someone as a part of a larger business involving the sale of goods or services other than the blog itself.
Blogging as a Business- a blog that is operated by someone whose primary business is the operation of the blog itself (i.e., where the sole or primary revenue stream is ad revenue from that blog and/or the prospect of selling that blog).
When I talk about the complicating effect that the prospect of a dollar has on the blogosphere, I’m really talking about blogging as a business. Business blogs have other revenue streams and, for them, the blog is largely a marketing, communication, information distribution thing.
Take Steve Rubel, for example. He is without a doubt as well known as any blogger anywhere. And he has a great blog. But that blog (I imagine- Steve please correct me if I am wrong) was conceived as a part of Steve’s pre-existing public relations business. It wasn’t like Steve threw a blog up there, started writing posts and called it a business. So while Steve has one of the most popular blogs in the world, it is a part of his business- not his business.
And while Steve is very well known in the blogosphere, we must remember that only a fraction of the people in the world read blogs and follow the blogosphere. I bet more people know Steve from any number of his past and other activities than they do from his blog. And, again, we’re talking about one of the most popular blogs in the world. If I’m right and Micro Persuasion is only an ancillary part of Steve’s larger business, how in the wide world of sports can a new blogger hope to turn his or her blog into a business.
Business blogs use the blogosphere as an extension of the sort of conversations that take place in the real world. For them it’s the conversation that matters, not where or how that conversation takes place. Amy Gahran talks a lot about this over at The Right Conversation.
Compare that to blogging as a business- where someone starts a blog and begins writing with the plan to make a living or a meaningful part of a living. Unlike Steve, who sells his PR and consulting services, what is this blog selling? Nothing other than via the occasional Amazon affiliate referral. This blog is only selling ads for AdSense or whatever other ad program it uses. Stated another way, this blog is completely dependent on generating traffic and maintaining readers to view and click on its ads. Once someone has clawed their way up the Technorati 100 list, human nature (not to mention the need to eat and live indoors) dictates that the now successful blogger guard his or her asset carefully. For sure, there’s a marginal utility to other bloggers. Someone has to engage in conversations with you and link to you. But too many bloggers talking about similar stuff is sometimes viewed the same as too many beers- it turns a good time into a bad time.
Steve makes money either way because he is selling something other than eyeballs. The blogging as a business blog only makes money if it can attract and keep readers. Hence, the competition factor that serves as a disincentive to welcome new voices to the table.
To say that I’m whining about this is one thing (I don’t think I’m whining, but I can see how some might interpret it that way). But to pretend these issues don’t exist is to keep your head planted firmly in the sand.
So What About All Those Ads
I used to do a lot of ad selling when ACCBoards.Com was independent. We got millions (and I mean millions) of page views a month. In the halcyon days of the dot.com bubble, we were making 5 figures of revenue a month. We signed a purchase agreement for 7 figures and a ton of stock. Then it ended. Almost immediately. I still get weepy when I flip through that dusty old file.
Is another bust on the horizon? I believe so. Steve thinks so. Even if it isn’t as drastic or painful as the last one, we learned (or should have learned) that these things are cyclical. What goes up, and all that.
So, at best, the new blog as a business blogger is trying to do the blog equivalent of playing in the NBA. There are Kobes and there are Jasons (I’m going to keep calling him the Kobe of the blogosphere until he responds). But there are many more good players who never make it to the top. And if you’re doing it to make real money, you have to get to the top. There’s very little money in the minor leagues- blogging or basketball wise.
Putting it All Together
So, yes, you can have a blog that is neither a business blog nor blogging as a business. Yes, yes, a million times yes. That’s what I’ve been saying a blog is and should be.
My point is that other people who also have blogs but have somehow decided that their blogs are going to make them rich make the blogosphere a more complicated, less welcoming place. It’s not a conspiracy, and it’s not sour grapes. It’s human nature and the way business (and blogging as a business) works.
I just don’t think blogs, in and of themselves, should be first and foremost about trying to make money. That is my point distilled into one sentence.
All of this doesn’t necessarily preclude having a popular blog. Or even a successful blogging as a business blog (there are always a few who make it to the NBA). It just makes it harder. A lot harder.