Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Blogging Business

Two pieces on blogging as a business appeared in the last week. It was funny to read them. I am a blogger but felt that the articles were describing a different universe than the one we ordinary bloggers inhabit, and one which I don't even want to visit as a tourist, never mind living there. An example from an article in the New York Magazine:

To see just precisely how rich blogging can make you, it's worth visiting Peter Rojas, the cheerful, skate-punk-like editor of Engadget—and the best-compensated blogger in history. When I meet him one December evening in his bachelor pad on the Lower East Side, he's sitting at an Ikea desk bedecked with three flat-panel screens and looking relatively fresh, considering he's just come off another eleven-hour blogging jag. Like most A-list bloggers, he hit his keyboard before dawn and posted straight through until dinner. "Anyone can start a blog, and anyone can make it grow," he says, sipping a glass of water. "But to keep it there? It's fucking hard work, man. I've never worked so hard in my life. Eighty-hour weeks since I started."

For Rojas, the toil paid off handsomely. Last fall, AOL bought Jason Calacanis's company Weblogs, Inc., which includes Engadget, for $25 million. Rojas himself didn't disclose the precise amount he got from the deal, but he had a good deal of equity in the company and says that, technically, he doesn't need to work anymore. Nonetheless, he's still slogging away at Engadget because he's still obsessed with cool new technology. His idea of a good time is hunting down samizdat pictures of the latest Palm Treo. "I didn't intend to become a millionaire," he says, "but I wound up there anyway."

I of course intended to become a millionaire and decided that an obscure blog by a minor Greek goddess would be just the thing...

More seriously, though I dislike the idea of "blogging business", the development of a corporate framework for the largest blogs is most likely unavoidable. Nobody can do this all alone and grow big. Adding an office to the endeavor will cost a lot in lost spontaneity, however, and looking for advertizing income as the road to millionairehood is going to cramp your style and affect what you write. And you need to develop a business plan and to decide whether you are a boutique blog or whatever all that crap is called. I don't want to do that. Which makes me glad that I'm not one of the A-list bloggers.

Not that political blogs make quite the sort of money Rojas is raking in. Only the very largest are financially profitable and even then if one interprets financial profitability as meaning that a blogger can make a fair living from all that work. So far I have managed to almost cover the costs of blogging (including broadband!) from ad revenue and donations and I'm pleased with that. The snakes and dogs are not suffering needlessly and I'm having fun.

But the New York Magazine article also argues that the blogging phenomenom is already too old for new millionaires to be minted, and a Slate article concurs:

The Gullible Latecomers: In the end stages of any investment mania, the clueless and the greedy flood in. You know things are really poised for a fall when people who have no management experience and feeble business plans somehow manage to raise cash for ventures. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Pajamas Media. Last November, the collection of right-wing blogs (with a few lefties thrown in for laughs) grandly announced the closing of a $3.5 million round of venture capital financing. Roger Simon, the screenwriter-turned-blogger who is the CEO of the enterprise, promised "to change the way people report and access news and commentary." I don't know. It looks to me like a bunch of blogs with their own logo.

The first movers have all the advantage, and if you were an Echidne-come-lately you can forget about all that fame and money. This sounds so sad and defeatist, but only because the standards used are silly. We don't all want to be the Donald Trumps of blogging, thank-you-very-much. The day I find myself drawing a business plan for this here blog is the day when I move back to Olympus for good. Even cocktail parties with monsters are more interesting than business plans.
Added after some more thought: I want to clarify what I'm saying above by making it very clear that I wouldn't mind fame and money and working hard (the latter I do already) and that I'm not writing about sour grapes, really. It's more that what I want from blogging is not a business or a good financial investment. It's just a little learning, a few laughs, a little influence and a few worshippers in my temple. All this I get already. Plus the most interesting comments threads in all blogosphere.