Backlash from the old guard
Thursday, November 4th, 2004
Over at CBS Marketwatch, Frank Barnako keeps cheerfully chipping away at what he perceives to be the bloated self-importance of the blogosphere. He baits his lede: No one reads blogs. Oops! I did it again. Better get under my desk before the e-mail flames arrive.
And CNN’s Allen Wastler jumps in with a parody of blogs: “Hi, welcome to my blog, where I’m going to leak my insights and comments about the election (i.e. drivel) onto the Web, diary style, for all to see. You see, I figured I’d join this fad which, for some inexplicable reason, has become all the Net rage. Sort of like chat rooms once were…”
Both cite Comscore data that suggest that blogs (other than Drudge) have far fewer readers than traditional media. “Hey, no one reads blogs — why is everybody so excited about them!?” (Here’s a hint for a journalist looking for a scoop — there’s a cool lede buried in point (c) below.)
Three reasons. Radical influence, radical economics and radical momentum.
a) Influence. Like atom bombs versus conventional explosives, blogs have a vastly disproportionate impact relative to their size. Only 1 American in 10 is an influencer; only 1 American in 100 cares passionately about news and wants to read tomorrow’s news today, rather than last month’s news next week in Time. OK, blogs cater to an elite group, so small someone with a telescope aimed slightly in the wrong direction might claim “no one reads blogs.” But it is the “nobodies” who read everything else. And advertisers would far rather hit an elite, motivated and highly networked group of influencers than a dispersed and disparate muddle of inert nobodies.
b) Economics. Blogs are hugely more economically efficient than traditional media. OK, so NYTimes.com had 944,000 visitors on November 11, while DailyKos had only 86,000, according to Comscore. (Frank cites 260,000 for DailyKos, but let’s stick with the lower number for now.)
A hundred year old institution, with one of the best known brand names in the news business,
NYTimes.com The New York Times spends $180 million a year (according to former editor Howell Raines) on its 1100 person editorial staff (according to NYT public editor Daniel Okrent) and publishes ALL their collective output online. At the two year old Dailykos.com, one Markos Moulitsas is responsible for 86,000 visitors. Notice a startling difference in scale of efficiency? Can you say 100 to 1 in terms of headcount and perhaps 500 to 1500 to 1 in expenditure?
Or what about Ana Marie Cox, who professes to blog drunk in her pajamas or less, and had 31,000 visitors on 11/02. Versus NYT.com, that’s a headcount efficiency of 30 to 1, and an efficiency in expenditure that’s 10 to 20 times that.
Put a and b together and suddenly things aren’t looking so good for the old guard are they? Now, consider c…
c) Momentum. What was NYTimes.com election traffic four years ago? According to the Times itself, 1.1 million people, or about 10% more than Comscores estimate for this year. (Update: a NYT staffer e-mails nothing this is not apples to apples: “We had significantly more traffic this election day as compared to 2000… ComScore doesn’t track significant segments of our audience, which is why you are seeing the discrepancy.” I hope for some apples to apples figures for you later.)
Smart journalists (and bloggers) are trying to write about the future — they see a trend and try to extrapolate. You don’t wait ’til your feet are wet to get out of the way of a flash flood. But don’t worry Frank and Allen — no one reads blogs. (I’m sure you are not reading this, right?) Your paychecks are safe. For now.
Update: Also worth reading Steve Hall and Rick Bruner‘s skewering of direct marketeer copy writer Bob Bly’s burp on blogs, which includes his complaint about “the ease with which people can post and disseminate content.”