Wednesday, February 11, 2009

We're only in it for the money

In this week's Techtonic Shifts column in Newsweek, in a piece entitled Time to Hang Up the Pajamas, Daniel Lyons delivers a few home truths about the blogosphere. The gist is: almost no one makes much money blogging, though a very few do quite well. "Monetizing" blogs and social networking in general is proving harder than some may have expected. As Lyons says,
Advertisers shy away from blogs because they're too unpredictable and because few blogs attract anything approaching a mass audience—and even those that do face so much competition that ad rates remain pitifully low.
It's not the economy. It's systemic. It's the promise of narrowcasting fulfilled. It's very easy for me to get my message out to whoever might be interested in random thoughts about the web and the technology floating around it. It's easy for someone interested in, say, Deutsch's fallacies to find my take on it, and thence the list itself.

But from a business point of view, who cares? At some point it's nice that I could get some money out of writing up my random thoughts instead of no money, but I'm orders of magnitude away even from that point, and there are scads and scads of other bloggers out there in the same boat. Conversely, if you have something of interest to a ma$$ audience, blogging is not a great way to cash in. Lyons again:
Some A-list bloggers have found that the best way to "monetize" their work is by returning to the much-maligned "mainstream media"—like political writer Andrew Sullivan, whose blog, The Daily Dish, now runs on The Atlantic Monthly Web site.
Lyons also mentions purely online outlets like the Huffington Post and The Daily Beast but argues, with some reason, that these are basically online media companies that happen to include blogging. In short, if you want to make money writing, you go through a publisher, just like always (or occasionally you hit a home run without a publisher, just like always).

There does seem to be a slow shift from publishing on paper to publishing on line, but -- beating the not-so-disruptive technology drum one more time -- it seems much more likely that the business world is driving the technology world and not the other way around. If the technology really were disruptive, we'd be seeing very little paper publishing and lots of electronic self-publishing. Instead, we see a much slower shift away from paper than the technology will allow and most of the actual money still going through corporate publishers.

(It occurs to me that the shift to paper seems to corrolate with frequency of publishing. Newspapers have been significantly affected by the web, particularly by the advent of online analogs to classified and personal ads. Book publishing is almost unaffected. In the middle, most major magazines have online presence but continue to publish on paper. Or on the other hand, maybe the distinction between news and fiction -- fill in your own punchline on that one -- is more siginficant. But I digress.)

In any case, I'm happy to keep cranking out my ten or so posts a month when time permits, safe in the knowledge that whatever I do, it's unlikely to rock anyone's boat very much. If you're in the blogosphere, odds are you're there for the same reason you're in a band in college: because it's what you want to do, not because you expect to make a living at it.


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