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section heading icon     commodities

This page considers the business of running blog networks.

It covers -

subsection heading icon     introduction

Much traditional newspaper and magazine publishing is based on publishers employing writers whose text appears periodically. The publication attracts readers and thereby attracts advertisers. Revenue from those advertisers allows the publisher to pay the writers.

A preceding page of this profile noted questions about whether individual bloggers can make a living by blogging, along with claims that attempts to make money through advertising or corporate handouts are contrary to the "spirit of the blogosphere" (or merely illegal if payment is not disclosed).

Some "blog entrepreneurs" have adopted traditional publishing models, establishing groups of blogs that are written by employees and by unpaid interns. Those blogs are operated on a for-profit basis, with the publisher being funded through advertising sales rather than by subscription payments from readers of the blogs or from syndication of content to other publishers.

Such commoditisation of blogs - evident in Jason Calacanis' sale of his Weblogs, Inc group to AOL for US$25 million in 2005 - appears to have attracted more attention in the 'old' and 'new' media than enthusiasm among writers and investors. There has been little emulation of groups such as Gawker and Weblogs, Inc.

That is likely to continue, as 'old media' (in particular major newspapers) increasingly occupy the space through establishment of blogs that feature their branding and their journalists.

Gawker's flagship blog reportedly has around one million unique visitors a month. Information on how long they stay is not publicly available. Gawker's Fleshbot, concerned with adult content, is claimed to have some 2 million visitors per month. Other Gawker blogs were however closed in 2006 and the traffic to some Weblogs Inc blogs appears to be more evanescent.

subsection heading icon     hired help

What is the regime for the hacks who generate text for groups such as Gawker?

Gawker manager Lockhart Steele indicated that the professiona l'editor' for each of its blogs is under contract to post 12 times a day for a flat fee, ideally with eight posts prior to lunchtime to attract daily return visits. Those editors supposedly scan the web for items, supplemented by pointers from readers and other authors. Remuneration includes bonuses for generating spikes in the number of visitors, presumably reflecting performance agreements with advertisers on the sites.

Steele commented that

the idea is that this is a full-time freelance gig. They're supposed to be able to do their blogs and have enough time to do magazine articles or something else.
We pay a set rate of $2,500 a month. But one thing that's interesting about Gawker is that we've begun to incentivize our writers based on the traffic to their sites. Our bloggers can earn more money that way.

He continued that they can double their salary through rewards for increased traffic figures, claiming "we want each of our writers to feel a little bit like an entrepreneur".

In the finest tradition of Grub Street, Gawker also uses unpaid 'interns' -

There's no pay, but they get a lot of exposure. Blogging for Gawker is not necessarily a long-term career move. It's not like, "I'm going to be a blogger for my whole life." You come on board, you do a blog, and it's a high-profile gig for you. And then you probably get a magazine or a newspaper job offer out of it. It's a way to circumvent having to go work at a daily paper in Arkansas for two or three years.

Corante's Stowe Boyd sniffed that

These people are hirelings. What they are cranking out are the 700 words they signed on to produce

and went on to complain in the New York Times that as such they were indistinguishable from any freelance writer, losing the "spontaneity and individualism" of blogging, centred on bloggers "pursuing their muse" rather than a salary.

Gawker competitor Weblogs, Inc boasts that is

a blog company run by bloggers for bloggers; as such we're committed to keeping blogging authentic and honest. We want our readers to trust our blogs, so we've committed to the following: There is a clear separation between advertising and editorial on all WIN blogs. Our bloggers are not involved in the advertising process. In fact, our bloggers find out who's advertising on our blogs at the same time as the audience! Bloggers do not receive free products or services from the companies they write about.

subsection heading icon     revenue and profitability

Anxiety about authenticity and the commodification of a self-conscious (or merely self-involved) online 'counter culture' - evident in pre-blog works such as Thomas Frank's incisive The Conquest of Cool: Business, Culture, Counterculture & the Rise of Hip Consumerism (Chicago: Uni of Chicago Press 1998) or Joseph Heath & Andrew Potter's The Rebel Sell (New York: Harper 2004) - is of importance for the financial sustainability of the blog groups.

Their blogs walk the line between spritzy upstarts and online tabloids, with critics accordingly assailing them as "just old media in new media clothes", clothes that aren't necessarily more enticing than those worn by the blogs of newspaper and magazine companies, or by ezines such as Slate.

Gawker's founder Nick Denton, the Clay Shirky of commercial blogging, reportedly decided that although a single blog might not make tangible revenue a group of sites - particularly those operated on a commercial basis, with low overheads, occupation of niches and an emphasis on attracting traffic - might be viable.

Steele claimed in 2005 that Denton's group

is profitable. We're very small, have no overhead, no office space. Everybody works from home. And you heard what we pay our writers. ... He had the idea that no one site would probably ever make a fortune. But if you have 10 sites each making $75,000 a year, then, O.K., maybe it's not like Conde Nast money, but it's a nice little business.

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version of July 2006
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