Sucks to be a Blog Network These Days

Having come from the blog network space, I have a mostly unique understanding of the difficulties encountered when running a content business. There is always a war between traffic and community, profitability and loss, long term projections and short term realities. It’s not an easy business.

It’s even more challenging when you’re a blog network. Unlike more traditional style content companies like Newscorp (owners of MySpace, AskMen.com and FoxSports.com) or the New York Times, blog networks attempt to take a relatively new medium, a blog, and lump it together with other relatively new media – blogs. There’s no counter-balance of strengths and weakness. They are all blogs, possessing the same inherent strengths and weaknesses.

One of the core problems with the “traditional”, if there is such a thing in the space, blog networks – and really any online media – is that the business model almost always comes back to advertising models of revenue generation. Historically, the advertising market has come and gone in a predictably cyclical way.

As expected, the advertising model is taking somewhat of a hit during these difficult economic times and only in the past two days, two major media players in the blog network space have had to cut pay, create layoffs or otherwise cut costs due to an impending, or in some cases already present, decline in online ad revenue.

Gawker Media, the second largest blog network and home to industry favorites Gizmodo, Gawker, Valleywag and Lifehacker has announced a restructuring of staff – laying off 60% of Valleywag staff, as an example, and increasing the staff on their flagship properties. Consolidation is the name of the game in this case.

Likewise, b5media (with whom I worked for several years), had an internal memo leaked (and TechCrunch published) describing a complete revamp of their compensation system “to reduce costs”. Many bloggers are taking significant pay reductions as the company streamlines their burn rate.

This on the heels of AOL/Weblogs Inc layoffs and pay reductions a few months ago and the very public walk-out of Profy staff when pay was to be reduced shortly thereafter.

Let me be clear. If you’re in the content space, you are dealing in a non-tangible asset. Therefore, the economic rules of asset valuation do not apply. There is no “market price”. There is no assessment value. There is no depreciation. If anything, content can appreciate over time. Typical rules do not apply and in a market where investors, advertisers and publishers are trying to identify concrete ideas and assets that they can count on as a sure investment, non-tangible assets will always take a hit.

Publishers, particularly publisher networks, have to look around and identify means to continue to generate non-tangible assets cheaply (yet fairly), and I imagine some models might end up looking to non-tangible compensation (such as community benefits) to acquire new publishers and content.

Problem is, bloggers have this idea that they can be rich by blogging. Some are smarter and think they can simply “make a living” by blogging, without ever uttering the rich word. Truth is, unless you’re a few important people in the world, it’s not happening. It won’t happen. There are other meaningful ways to benefit from blogging, and most of them are non-monetary.

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Trolls and Adversity

This evening I spent a large chunk of time surfing through a variety of websites, perusing my feed reader and Googling stories for Green week this week. My perusing led me down a rabbit trail that, honestly, I’ve wanted to talk about but events of recent days now compell me to talk about.

Internet fame is a touchy thing. Some people call internet fame “being an a-lister”. This kind of fame belongs to a subjective selection of blogs that meet certain unexplained criteria for prominence.

Everyone has their own criteria, it seems. Sometimes it’s traffic. Sometime it’s the community. Other times it’s the noticeability of people. I’ve often been called an a-lister and I’d imagine it would be for the latter reason.

On Friday, the big story was how Profy writers Cyndy Aleo-Carriera, Leslie Poston and Triston McIntyre walked out for reasons that all seem to lead back to Profy cutting pay and upping posting requirements.

Chaos ensued as Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins wrote a piece on Mashable “breaking the news.” It was neutral in the fashion that the Los Angeles Times is neutral about the war in Iraq. In other words, it was veiled neutrality. Though I doubt the story was malicious, it caused controversy and accusations of shoddy journalism to be bandied around by those involved.

In a conversation with one of the Profy writers over the weekend, I commented in my laissez-faire sort of way, “Welcome to the big time. Everyone gives a-listers a hard time until they feel the same heat.”

Though the writer acknowledged that it was fine and expected, it still was surprising.

Ironically, one of the Profy writers, Cyndy, had a guest post on Louis Gray’s blog titles Everyone Wants to be Internet Famous referencing this chilling, yet amazing New York Times story from Friday about trolls on the internet.

I encourage everyone to read the Times piece and not simply close your eyes because you don’t like what you see. Sun Tzu said Know Your Enemy. There’s important nuggets in the post such as Fortuny’s Green Hair Theory.

The takeaway from the story is if you don’t let trolls get to you, and you don’t care what they say, eventually they go away. I’ve recently had my own experience with trolls and this is exactly the approach I’ve taken. I also half expect to become a target of this trolling group for even shining a light on it.

At the end of the day, the take away is that those who enjoy prominence on the internet do it with a certain sacrifice that they knowingly make, Kathy Sierra, for as much as I love her, had a naiveté to her that invited the harassment and then reacted exactly as the trolling intended. Vanessa Fox took the opposite approach, however, and when she realized that people were looking for nude pictures of her, decided to own the day by registering vanessafoxnude.com as her personal domain.

I’d add to Steve Hodson’s points of becoming internet famous by saying, expect you will be targeted. Embrace being targeted. People will hate success and use your success to undermine you. You can’t do anything about them, but you can do something about yourself.

How do you cope with attacks and flames? Do you ignore and hope they go away? Do you fight fire with fire? In the case of the Profy writers, they were not A-list but suddenly they were noticed in a somewhat negative way. If you’re a Profy writer, how do you handle that?

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