The future and economics of blogging…
By Matthew Sinclair
Named ‘Best Young Blogger’ by PragueTory
Blogging is obviously here to stay. The allure of self-publishing provides people with a megaphone which they will happily shout through even if noone is listening. A more important question is how blogging might change in the years to come. To answer this question it seems necessary to consider how and why people come to write and read blogs, the economics of blogging, and how that might change.
There are no barriers to entry in blogging as the infrastructure is provided for free. There are opportunity costs to blogging in terms of time which could otherwise be spent doing other things but few other costs. The goal is readership, don’t believe anyone who tells you they’re really out to scream at the night. Human beings are social creatures and it is neither surprising nor ignoble that they value their stories being heard.
The only real market imperfection in the market for good blogging is the search cost for readers in terms of finding good articles; this gives a massive advantage to those able to establish a reputation such that readers start searching at their blogs.
When Iain Dale writes about hating his P990i thousands will read it even if they have little interest in the qualities of smartphones and could get far more utility from spending their time elsewhere. By contrast when a masterful treatise on an exciting subject is published at the home of a newcomer it will go entirely unread unless it receives mana from heaven in the form of a link from someone with reputation.
How are these reputations built? Sometimes by human and affecting writing as seems to be the case with Wife in the North (unless she is actually Iain’s sister) but, more often, it is through the means of a ‘scoop’. When traffic is so dependent upon outside notice scoops are vitally important because writers usually rate the quality of their own analysis and are more inclined to believe that new facts can make a contribution to their readers’ lives beyond that provided by their own writing. The importance of scoops is at every level of blogging as the big blogs like Guido or Iain depend on scoops to attract the notice of the mainstream media.
I do not emphasise the importance of scoops in order to make the case for my own vision of blogging. Mine is a Mr. Whippy blog, a scoop-free zone, as I am a debater and, as such, regard facts as vaguely disreputable. However, it is important to recognise that most political blogs being read by a wider audience are focussed upon gossip. Having neither the inclination, perseverance or contacts for such work my blog, and others like it, are dependent upon a constant stream of links from big blogs sufficiently impressed by the quality of our thinking on a particular subject. I think that it is the focus on gossip which will change as blogging matures.
As the medium matures more readers will turn to blogs not just when referred to it by the mainstream media or because it is the only source of information on minor scandals, UKIP branches resigning and similar stories of minority interest, but will read it regularly as another source of journalism. As people get used to engaging with current affairs through the Internet, an increasing number get their news through websites, they will become far more amenable to the idea of reading blogs. This will mean a far larger proportion of the blog readership will be from beyond the minority who find party political gossip interesting. In turn this will provide a stimulus to blogs which are more broadly engaged.
At that point I think the blogosphere has to shift towards analysis as most bloggers lack the resources to either report the news quickly or regularly do investigative work. As such, I think the blogosphere will use its great strength, a diversity of opinions, to be the main format on the Internet in which current affairs are debated and where people can go to either confirm or challenge their own beliefs on the significance or implications of new events reported in the mainstream media. In this world aggregating sites like ConservativeHome become the gatekeepers to a world of opinion complementing the reporting infrastructure of the mainstream media. This is different to the role originally envisioned for the blogs, that of being an alternative source of news reports to the mainstream media, but plays to the natural strengths of a self-publishing medium where most of the writers are writing in a small chunk of their spare time but where a far broader range of writers will respond to each issue.
Matthew blogs here.