India Uncut

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Friday, May 13, 2005

A few thoughts on blogging

I saw myself on CNBC a few minutes ago, and flinched. The soundbytes they showed of me made me sound all braggy and vain, mentioning the high pageviews I got during my days covering the tsunami. If you saw the show and wondered what I was talking about in the soundbytes, I was referring to two of the qualities of blogs as a medium of journalism: how bloggers are not subject to a news cycle; and how they are not constrained by space. I had elaborated on these points, and more, in my piece, "Blogs – The New Journalism".

Rajesh Jain, Peter Griffin and Pradyuman Maheshwari were the others who were interviewed, and they all spoke well. I had blabbered through most of my chat, so obviously they showed just a bit. But what had they asked and what were the responses I couldn't articulate well? Here they are, as I remember them:

One, did I see any traditional online-only publications (OOPs) becoming sustainable businesses?

My answer: Difficult. Slate, Salon and others have tried and have not succeeded. One reason is that they are competeting not only against other OOPs, but also against the websites of mainstream media (MSM) publications. The websites of the Wall Street Journal and the Economist and the Guardian, for example, have far lower costs because they get their editorial content free. So they are spending, really, on mainly site management and server space. Also, the amount of marketing they need to do is far less than OOPs because they already have powerful existing brands. Thus, it is impossible for an OOP to compete on cost, and more expensive for them to build their brand.

Two, why are blogs different?

My answer: Blogs, to begin with, have relatively low costs. Secondly, the attention of the reader of an OOP, or even an MSM publication, is diffused: he has lots to read, and may not be looking for anything specific. The reader of a blog, on the other hand, has come there to read one particular writer (or group of writers).

Also, all bloggers blog for love. Anyone who does it for money learns within a week of using Google Adsense that there's no money to be made right now. (Some bloggers do make good money now, but they didn't begin that way.) Because they do it for that reason alone, the intensity of their commitment shows through to the reader. Heck, I'm a professional journalist, all around me I see jaded journos for whom that next article is just part of their job, a chore to be done. Bloggers bring more passion and more life into their work.

Many outstanding journalists like to blog because, as Andrew Sullivan put it (via Peter), it allows them to "seize the means of production". (I know I'm repeating myself. Sorry.) No editors or publishers to deal with. All these factors raises the integrity of many blogs, and readers sense and respect that, and write about it on their blogs. The best bloggers, thus, build their brand virally. And their costs are low.

Three, so how will blogs make money?

My answer: there are two things neccessary for blogs to make money (in the Indian context, at least). One, readership will have to reach much higher. In India, certainly, the readership of the top blogs is far too little to have an impact on either MSM or the world in general. Two, micropayments need to become ubiquitous. Would I pay, say, Rs 40 (US$1) a month to read my favourite blogger? You bet I would. Would I pay five times that much to read a basket of five of my favourite bloggers? Yes. Maybe I'm an aberration; or maybe I'm not. I don't believe that people mind paying for quality content on the web. (It was once believed that no one would pay for music online, in the Napster days, but look what iTunes has achieved.) But it is irritating to go through that process of filling in credit card numbers and all the rest of it. Once micropayments become ubiquitous, and paying such amounts securely takes one mouseclick, I believe subscriptions will become a viable business model. But that is years away.

And, of course, there's also this.

Update: Yes, OOPs is an original acronym.
amit varma, 10:43 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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