Scholarly Blogging and Profiting From Publishing Today

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Article ImageIt seems that everyone is blogging these days. However, despite the proliferation of blogs that range from diaries and niche subjects to celebrity, corporate, and expertly written blogs, some publishers are still hesitant to add blogging to the mix. The web has opened up a world of communication to people across the globe, but the new culture of user-generated content can mean a lot of things to those in the publishing industry, good and bad.

The Society for Scholarly Publishing’s (SSP) Top Management Roundtable (TMR) gathered in Philadelphia from Sept. 3 to 5 to talk about Constant Content and Autonomous Authors: The New Role of Publishers in the Era of Empowered Authors—and yes, they blogged about it. With representatives from all over the publishing spectrum, the SSPTMR explored the way blogs do everything from acting as media watchdogs to spreading bad medical advice, and what all of this means to the world of scholarly publishing. Perhaps the most valuable part of the 2-day discussion came in the form of advice on how to optimize and monetize blogs.

Like any other business, scholarly publishers need to make money, and as audiences grow increasingly less likely to pay for web content, publishers need to figure out how to establish an online presence and not give their content away for free. Fabien Savenay, SVP of sales and marketing for Seed Media Group LLC talked about the still-new company’s approach to providing quality online content and, of course, make a profit doing it.

Savenay says many advertisers have been wary of blogs, still operating on the perception that they are little more than "angry people shouting online." Seed, started in 2005 by then 27-year-old CEO Adam Bly, began with a print edition, and expanded to include conferences, digital media, and ScienceBlogs. Savenay says ScienceBlogs now boasts more than 75,000 entries and 1.3 million readers, none of which require registration or a subscription fee.

"The new generation doesn’t like to be locked into anything," says Savenay. So to get demographic information, Seed asked readers to take a voluntary survey. Using this information, Seed reaches out to sponsors. Bloggers are encouraged to write about sponsors, but not told what to write, and content coming directly from sponsors is marked as such. As Saveney says, the sponsors are "invited to join the conversation."

So far, this model is working for Seed, as Savenay asserts the company has been profitable from the start and remains so. Yet the trick to create a profitable blog really lies in getting people to read it.

While content remains at the top of the priority list, attendees learned plenty about the tricks of the blog-trade and how to optimize readership. John Lustina from Intrapromote LLC spoke about using sites such as YouTube, Flickr, and Twitter to promote your brand and your blog. Making all the parts of your blog searchable is important, says Lustina, including videos and pictures. Eric Olson from Draper Fisher Jurveston Portage spoke about using RSS feeds and sites such as Feedburner to syndicate and monetize blogs.

During the last day of the round table, the audience got a look at SSP’s own blog experiment, including some tips on podcasting. Throughout the conference one could see audio interviews going on. And by the time Adam Weiss, a podcaster from the Museum of Science in Boston, took the podium, many of them had been shaped into their final form and were posted on the SSPTMR blog.
Weiss gave the publishers in the audience some advice on how to best use podcasts to their advantage. Listing the different types of podcasts—radio shows, interviews, and lectures—Weiss suggested interviews might be the best use of resources. Radio shows are entertaining and slick but take massive amounts of time to produce, says Weiss. Lectures are easy to record and publish, but they're a bit dry. However, interviews are a nice compromise, requiring more production than a lecture but also paying off more for listeners and the publishers.

Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 wrapped up the round table, emphasizing the importance of scholarly publishers having their presence felt on the web. He outlined the way Google ranks search results and how to use links and clear headlines to get found and read on the web. Karp made a good case for scholarly publishers as the voices of reason in the search to monetize the free-for-all that is the web.


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