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Archive for December, 2002

$121,020, $121,040, $121,060…

by henrycopeland
Wednesday, December 18th, 2002

Ten days ago blog pundit and evangelist Andrew Sullivan asked for $20 donations.

He got ribbed by some folks who claimed this begging was an admission of defeat. As one blogger I usually admire
opined, “So the net result of this development is that even the guy who was supposed to be making money at this isn’t and that means there isn’t money to be made. Blogs are wonderful. Blogs are fun. Blogs are good reading. But blogs are no way to earn a living.”

Fast forward. By day two, 3000 people had already contributed. (I was one of them.) Today, Sullivan and his business partner Robert Cameron are

New from Budapest…

by henrycopeland
Wednesday, December 18th, 2002

Two new blogs of note. Steve Carlson has turned his august mailing list for NowEurope into a genuine blog with permalinks and comments. On top of it, Steve has attracted some good contributors including entrepreneur Miljenko Horvat and marketing genius Olivier Travers.

And Carlson has launched The Digital Entrepreneur, a site aimed at a) providing lots of insight for digital entrepreneurs and b) making affiliate commissions on tools aimed at those entrepreneurs. I’d suggest that Steve may want to reitterate what tools he’s selling, since visitors will get turned off if they think he’s just fronting. But this is a quibble and I’m Steve will find the right balance.

To kick launch the site, Steve has a good article on how he’s used search engine demand to create his business. In coming years we’ll see lots more businesses built from the ground up specifically to serve the weird and giant markets that only exist online. And, like apes that don’t understand what an opposable thumb is good for, businesses built offline won’t ever know what hit ’em.

On the inside looking in…

by henrycopeland
Tuesday, December 17th, 2002

Gawker, New York’s newest trend transmitter and celebrity cyclotron, premiers tomorrow.

Crafted by Elizabether Spiers, Nick Denton and Jason Kottke, Gawker is addictive as popcorn and infinitely cheaper.

I’ve been watching site’s dress rehearsal this week with a mixture of envy and glee. Envy because I wish I’d had the idea. Glee, because at least I’m not a gossip professional and therefore don’t have to chew my toes with envy.

Some choice early lines include “On a scale of one to evil, we give that idea four-and-a-half Kissingers!” and this imagined speed-dating introduction “Nice to meet you, John. I’m Rachel. I’m 32. I have narcissistic personality disorder and a mother that makes Joan Crawford look like Mary Poppins. By the way, I just estimated your annual income from the ostensible quality and retail price of your shoes. Is that tie Ferragamo?” Despite the fervent fun, lots of calculation has gone into Gawker; the logo is gorgeous and the daily sections — including a “To-Do List” and “Gossip roundup” — are well pitched.

Tina Brown wishes she thought of Gawker first. As it is, she can only join the rest of us in gawking. On second thought, don’t chew your toes too hard Tina, ’cause there are lots of thin media niches left to invent. Get to work!

Blog reporting hits mainstream

by henrycopeland
Tuesday, December 17th, 2002

The blogger role in Trent Lott’s dunking is by now well established.

But while bloggers are often characterized as pseudo-pundits and fifth-column columnists, I’d like to point out that bloggers have done a fair amount of crucial reporting as well.

I bring this up because we often encounter a fair amount of sneering about bloggers and the news. Bloggers only “churn” what traditional press organizations report. Bloggers recycle. Bloggers pontificate. But bloggers aren’t up to reporting.

In arguing that “bloggers can’t/shouldn’t report,” most people thinking of “reporting” as Pulitzer-prize winning journalism mined from the trenches of Afghanistan or months long interogations of Deep Throat. Unfortunately, this accounts for only 1% of journalism.

Most reporting is far more mundane, but no less vital: turning up nuggets of information that have eluded public scrutiny. In Lott’s take-down, bloggers definitely played this role by using past articles and quotations to deconstruct Lott’s lies about his association with the white-supremist Council of Concerned Citizens (Josh Marshall) and digging out a sample ballot from 1948 to show what was really at stake in that election (Atrios.)

As Marshall put it as he unearthed the Amicus Brief which Trent Lott submitted on behalf of Bob Jones University in 1981, “Is TPM your source or is TPM your source?”

Note that this kind reporting is actually a cut above what most reporters spend their days writing — cutting and pasting press releases and putting new spins on other journalist’s work.

Bloggers are forced into reporting by the blindness and laziness of traditional media organizations. As Marshall noted about Lott’s racist instincts: “The truth is that everyone who’s sentient and even remotely keeps up on politics has known about this stuff for years — at least since the last Trent Lott-segregation scandal broke back in late 1998. Sad to say, everyone just agreed not to pay attention, not to care.”


by henrycopeland
Monday, December 16th, 2002

Finally, conclusive evidence that New York Times is influenced by blogs.

Bloggers ‘infatuated with revolutions’

by henrycopeland
Monday, December 16th, 2002

Steve Carlson, who runs NowEurope newsletter, interviews me in December, 2002. I’ve copied here, for archival integrity.

Interview begins:
Henry and I know each other from Budapest, Hungary, where he served as editor of the Budapest Business Journal. Henry went on to found Pressflex, a privately-held consultancy that helps publishers profit from their web presence. Pressflex recently launched a service an ad network serving influential weblogs. According to Henry, PressFlex is now profitable.

In a recent post to nowEurope, Henry made three predictions for 2003: a) continued disintermediation of traditional commercial and social infrastructure, b) prolonged recession and c) thin media.

In this interview, Henry Copeland elaborates on his vision of how the blogging phenomenon, or ‘thin media,’ is revolutionizing the publishing world, and why this revolution is being led by outsiders.

Q: You coined the term ‘thin media’ to describe the blogging phenomenon. Can you tell us more about this trend, and what challenges it poses to the media establishment?

I use “thin media” to describe sites like LA Examiner, Gizmodo, AuctionBytes, Wi-Fi News and SciFan that are generated by only a single writer or a couple of part-timers.

They thrive in tightly focused niches. They generate some original content and analysis along with lots of links to other sites and articles.

Thin media publishers have none of the fat of traditional media. Usually, they’ve spend a couple hundred bucks to host a Pmachine or Movable Type site, rather than 10 or 100 or 10,000 times that — what a newspaper or magazine spends on publishing software, presses, ink, paper and delivery trucks.

They market via blogrolls and Google rather than doing mailshots at $1 a name. They sell ads efficiently to other entrepreneurs and use affiliate marketing, rather than employing legions of ad reps.

Thin media publishers are far nimbler and will feed happily on new niches that are far too obscure for traditional media to notice and too thin for traditional media to profitably mine. And, because they are small and nimble, thin media can help discover and invent the Next Big Thing much easier than their big peers who are busy looking for huge revenues from huge services.

I think your sites (nowEurope, The Digital Entrepreneur) are a great example of thin media. Because you don’t have legacy infrastructure — staff, technology, clients — you are free to chase new market niches.

Q: Isn’t it ironic that you preach the thin media revolution, while your clients are traditional publishers?

I do a lot of drum banging for thin media on my own blog. Several people have asked whether this evangelism means Pressflex is antagonistic to print publishers. Absolutely not. I love the print publishers and think that they’ll continue to thrive in their niches.

It is great to help publishers in places like Anjou in France or Peebles in Scotland thrive online. Done right, these publishers sites can turn a profit from selling subscriptions alone.

We’re still adding new features to our publishing service, which now serves more than 80 publications in Europe out of the same code and database.

In fact, we just signed on some magazines for a major UK business publisher that has spent tens of millions of pounds on its own sites, but finally realized that it was more effective and efficient to outsource to a company with expertise, commitment, low overheads and economies of scale.

And we’ve had good results recently doing consulting for some giant publishers who are missing 50% of their traffic because their tech teams are oblivious to the importance of Google.

We’ve still got a lot of eggs in the publishing basket. We don’t think traditional publishers will disappear — they are just going to have a smaller piece of a bigger pie.

Q: You recently made your own commitment to the Thin Media revolution by launching BlogAds, an advertising network for bloggers. Why prompted you to do this, and how has the service been received?

I’ve always felt that the explosive growth in web publishing would come from entrepreneurs, the guys outside the traditional publishing food chain. I just couldn’t see exactly who these guys were, and what would differentiate them from traditional journalists and publishers.

Then, eighteen months ago I was watching friends like Matt Welch and Ken Layne pull in 10,000-30,000 visitors a month working just a couple hours a day on their weblogs and realized “gee, this traffic overshadows what many print publishers with $2 million in annual revenues manage to attract.”

And I realized that, with just a little smart writing and linking, these guys were connecting far more intimately with readers than the traditional publisher.

Now you’ve got Andrew Sullivan, financed by just $80,000 in annual revenue from readers, reaching as many opinion makers as the New Republic with its masthead of 79. You’ve got Glenn Reynolds, moonlighting from teaching law, doing nearly 2 million page impressions a month. So it is just a matter of time before the blogosphere is recognized as a revolutionary advertising platform.

Q: That’s fine, but can you really develop BlogAds into a business?

At some point, we know these passionate blog audiences have to yield gold for advertisers, or the simple premise that has funded media for the last 300 years — exposure helps a business grow — has been false.

Frankly, though that time has not quite yet arrived. We’ve got some very satisfied advertisers on blogs. We can see the synapses firing. But won’t push the thing hard publicly until we’ve rolled out what we regard as the complete feature set that will complete the circuit. We’re still tinkering with the ingredients.

It’s kind of like watching one of those nascent slime molds — you can see the thing starting to respond to stimulus and flirt with swarming. So you tinker with the environment and see what are the right parameters, what’s the right amount of stimulus, what’s the critical mass?

I keep on my desk the copy of Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma that was given me by a smart VC back in the days when I still believed it was valuable to talk to smart VCs rather than customers.

The book lays out the histories of industries in which certain “disruptive” technologies — tech which is cheaper, simpler, smaller and easier to use than traditional tech — sometimes answer unexpected needs and, in doing so, eventually evolve enough to overwhelm existing products and market structures.

At the end of the process, whole new mountainsized markets have evolved out of what start out as commercial motes.

I feel like that is the track that weblogs are on. Patience and creativity is key. My favorite passage in the book is this one: “Disruptive technologies often enable something to be done that previously had been deemed impossible.

“Because of this, when they initially emerge, neither manufacturers nor customers know how or why these products will be used, and hence do not know what specific features of the product will and will not ultimately be valued.

“Building such markets entails a process of mutual discovery by customers and manufactures — and this simply takes time.” I skim that book at least once a week. It gives a healthy nudge to both your optimism and your realism.

Q: Some of the most prominent bloggers are people we know: Eastern Europe expats (or former expats). Who are these people, and what are they doing? Can you explain the Eastern Europe connection?

I like this question. On the one hand, there are lots of other blogging clusters, and maybe we are just more aware of our own. I bet there is a cluster of bloggers from Kent State U. out there right now asking each other — “Gee, why are we such a big part of the blogosphere?”

That said, I do think there is a predilection for blogging among post-communist expats. In the early 1990s, Budapest and Prague attracted publishing renegades, a mini-generation of people who decided that life was too short NOT to join the adventure after the Wall came down. Once here, we couldn’t tap into any old-boy networks or climb any corporate ladders; we invented new structures, businesses and networks.

We are, as a group, infatuated with revolutions. So blogging seems a natural fit for people like Ben Sullivan, Matt Welch, Ken Layne, Emmanuelle Richard, Nick Denton, Rick Bruner, you and me.

Somehow, having lived outside the system, we were better able to see blogging’s unique applications. Rather than saying “gee, but this doesn’t match traditional media’s credibility or resources,” we were more likely to say “gee, but look at all the neat new things it does do.”

We’ve all stayed in touch, we’ve learned from each other. I told Nick Denton about Google a few years ago and he told me about ObscureStore.com. I’ll say semi-seriously that, in the long run, I think I got the better half of the trade.

You take your friends more seriously than you take some case study you read in Business 2.0. Though I have to say I’m still astonished by the number of publishers, journalists, ad reps and professional writers who STILL don’t get the professional implications of the Internet. They use Google every hour, but they still don’t quite understand that nobody needs anyone’s permission to publish. A few publishers see this, but not many. I’d love to meet more publishers who get it.

There are some other character traits that seem to run strong in bloggers. First, few of webloggings vanguard are trained journalists. Matt Drudge is a former mail boy. Glenn Reynolds is a law professor. Dave Winer is a programmer. Megan McArdle is an unemployed tech analyst. Second, a decent number don’t have a college degree. Matt Welch, Ken Layne, James Lileks, Patrick Nielsen Hayden … the list goes on.

So perhaps the meta characteristic for great bloggers is “outsiderness.” Because they don’t have big career or conceptual investments in the status quo, outsiders can better imagine trajectories in blogging. And because they are outsiders, they’ve got a grudge and are more motivated to put blogging’s unique features to revolutionary use.

There’s that number again

by henrycopeland
Saturday, December 14th, 2002

Steven Levy in Newsweek is the latest to fall for Google’s underreporting, writing that its users “punch in 150 million searches a day.” Come on Steven, they’ve been saying “more than 150 million searches a day” for a year.

Sure “150 million” sounds big, but is plainly too low at this point. Would you ever bother writing that the United States has “more than 150 million” residents or, worse, 150 million residents? Dig for the real number rather than reporting the same number published last December.

Blog triumphalism

by henrycopeland
Saturday, December 14th, 2002

I had a great 36 hours in New York. Munched oysters in the Oyster Bar with Megan McArdle. Learned that she, like Glenn Reynolds, is a speed reader. Megan started reading at 2 1/2 years and can read 6 text-book pages in a minute. She thinks that as bloggers get to know their peers, there will be more mergers among complimentary voices (as between Galt and Mindles Dreck.) We agreed blogs led big media in upending Raines and Lott; wondered how to prove it? Then to 123rd street for dinner with Rick Bruner and Elizabeth Spiers. I enjoyed two whiskies and split a bunch of appetisers with Rick. We watched Elizabeth manage 55% of a giant burger. She gave us the scoop on Gawker, which sounds like a brilliant cross between Romenesko and Page Six. Rick and I paid $7 for a sixpack of Heinekens at a bodega and noticed that single bottles of some Belgian beer cost $8 a bottle. Who buys that stuff? We stayed up late as Rick generously shared a warehouse full of tips on web marketing and Microsoft shortcuts. Friday morning, I met a senior official in blogdom. He noted that “blogs move markets” and shared a number of insights into the relationship between blogs and traditional branding. More on this in a future post. Then I walked to few blocks to munch cookies with Amy Langfield. Her blog is on ice while she figures out how her professional identity relates to her blog writing.

Coming home on the train, I read the New York Post (“The drumbeat that turned this story into a major calamity for Lott, and led directly to President Bush’s welcome disavowal of Lott’s views yesterday, was entirely driven by the Internet blogosphere”) and New York Times (“without the indefatigable efforts of Mr. Marshall and a few other Internet writers, Mr. Lott’s recent celebration of segregation would probably have been buried as well.”) Yes, my spine tingled. Megan, here’s our proof. Whether blogs did it or not, we’re given credit by both left and right. In the science of opinion-making, appearance is reality.

In 2002, we’ve seen blogs move national markets. In 2003, look for blogs to move local markets. That’s when the fun really begins.

Australia treads old media ground

by henrycopeland
Thursday, December 12th, 2002

We’re reading lots of panicked appraisals of the finding by Australia high court that Dow Jones is accountable for something it published on the Internet.

“The decision has potentially major ramifications for Web publishing world-wide,” intoned the Wall Street Journal, which is owned by Dow Jones. Even bloggers should worry, we were told.

Almost every lawyer quoted is on the payroll of one media conglomerate or another. Are we missing anything?

Publishers have always had to contend with prickly local courts, so it seems no surprise that this should happen online. Remember when the International Herald Tribune was fined $678,000 in Singapore for publishing something incredibly vague that was construed as being derogatory to the country’s Prime Minister?

Do bloggers indeed have to worry? Probably a lot less than multinational media conglomerates. As the
WSJ article notes: “If the court finds in favor of Mr. Gutnick and ‘it turns out Dow Jones doesn’t have any assets in Australia, there will be further questions about getting a U.S. enforcement of an Australian judgment,’ said Jonathan Zittrain, an assistant law professor at Harvard Law School. Some U.S. courts have declined to enforce overseas decisions that wouldn’t stand up under the U.S. Constitution, he said.”

Instapundit — the Paper of Record

by henrycopeland
Thursday, December 12th, 2002

Ever the zeitgeist-zapper, Ken Layne dubs Glenn Reynold’s Instapundit the “Paper of Record” for chronicling the recent blogger posse that rounded up Trent Lott and threw him into ignomy while the traditional press was still saddling up.

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