Big Media Blogs
When blogs first came on the scene, there were both lamentations and hopes that free citizen journalism would spell the end of investigative reporting as it was known. If you could get all your news for free from the Drudge Report, went the thinking, who would ever pay for a newspaper again?
Fast-forward a few years, and now you’d be hard pressed to find a traditional media company that hasn’t co-opted blogs into their content creation and distribution strategy. The New York Times has more than 50 blogs dedicated to topics ranging from fashion to technology, and staff blogs at the Chicago Tribune’s site cover high school basketball alongside regional, state, and national politics. Ali believes that the traditional media will continue to add blogs to their content portfolio. "Journalists will have to embrace blogging, or suffer," he predicts.
Newspapers maybe embracing the concept, but that doesn’t always mean they’re implementing it successfully. An April 2008 joint study of 360 daily newspapers by Ball State University and the University of Nevada–Reno, looked at the levels of interaction between the newspapers’ journalist-bloggers and readers around political issues. They found that while some blogs had as many as 57 posts during the 5-day study, the average was 8.2, and almost 25% of bloggers had no posts. A full 80% of bloggers failed to post responses to reader comments, effectively ending any conversation they may have hoped to start.
It’s clear that simply throwing a blog onto a media website isn’t enough; media companies that are using blogs successfully recognize them as local or niche news sources and incorporate them accordingly. Wilpers,who recently consulted with the Los Angeles Times on finding local bloggers to contribute micro-level news from the 144 neighborhoods that make up the city, cautions against the "ghettoization" of newspaper blogs. "So many papers put all the blogs together in one place. Why wouldn’t you have a political blogger’s post with the political news?"
Jim Spanfeller, president and CEO ofForbes.com, regards blogs as a means for providing incremental value to their readers in key subject areas. "Forbes understands marketing and editorial areas well. We see the blogs as columnists, contributing another point of view." In that sense, inclusion of blog content focused on business and finance, such as BloggingStocks, are a way of deepening content of high value to the business decision makers who visit the Forbes.com site.
In March 2008 Forbes.com announced the launch of its new Business and Finance’ Blog network, comprising influential business and financial blogs that have been prescreened by Forbes editors. With 500 blogs already signed on to participate, advertisers will be able to target Forbes’ audience of senior business decision makers who visit these sites. "With all the content available on the web," says Spanfeller, "the need for branded editorial content becomes even more valuable." He believes that the Forbes brand name will lend credibility to some of the smaller, high quality sites while making it easier for advertisers to reach fans of those blogs. This means the benefits to advertisers are twofold: Their ads are associated with high quality blogs that have received the Forbes’ editorial stamp of approval, and they come to one place to reach up the readers of up to 500 blogs.
For all his belief that digital media will someday be the only game in town, PaidContent.org’s Ali believes that traditional media companies still have a leg up on independent bloggers when it comes to attracting advertising dollars. "They’re more palatable to advertisers," he says. "It takes a while for advertisers to get comfortable with newer blogs."
Blogging for the Future
Looking down the road, consolidation of the crowded blogosphere seems inevitable. Part of the reason is simple economics: as the economy takes a downturn, bloggers who may have been able to make a modest living through ad sales on their sites may no longer be able to covercosts or attract advertisers. Those sites will either go dark, or, if the author is lucky, be acquired by a traditional media company whosees the blogger’s content as a fit for their readership.
Another emerging strategy is the growth of blog networks, where smaller sites with similar or complementary content band together to appeal to advertisers and readers. This is especially true in markets served by a number of "long tail" sites. "It takes a lot of effort for advertisers to engage in relationships with every small site," says Spanfeller.Blog networks will make the process easier.
Because the consequences of failure are relatively low, bloggers will continue to experiment with different revenue models. John Chow, the self-proclaimed Dot Com Mogul, blogs about making money online. He uses the ReviewMe tool to invite readers to pay him $500 to review their site and mention it on his blog. RawStory, the site that uses Mochila to augment its political content, enables users to purchase a membership for $3.95 a month in order to see an ad-free version of the site. Many blogs offer merchandise, from bobble-heads to beer mugs, to supplement their income stream. And if a creative money-making gambit falls flat, the blogger simply has to remove a few links. "There’s a low level of risk compared to off-line models," observes Spanfeller.
Rights management will continue to draw attention. McAllister says "We see movement towards increasing respect for rights management. We think content is valuable; a smart person created it and should get paid for it." But Wilpers points out that rights management is still a wild and wooly universe, because different bloggers have different motivations for their writing. "Some bloggers are still more interested in exposure than they are in rights management." Wilper’s observation about rights management and blogging could be generalized to describe the overall road ahead for building the business of blogging: "The issue will get sorted out, but it’s going to take awhile."
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