Monday, April 23, 2007

Blog Networks: an overview

This above chart shows rankings and other important detail for main sites of the top blog networks, followed with a chart of top individual blogs and news sites. This does not take into consideration all the blogs in the fold. These are just the flagship/main blogs. Except for Weblogsinc and Gawker, all other main sites may be number one in their respective sites.

Much has happened in the blog network business since the second half of 2005. Many blog networks came into being hoping to emulate the early success of Weblogsinc and Gawker.

However, much water has flown under the bridge since then. Sanity has returned and people are asking whether it is really that easy building long-lasting online media brands.

A brief look at the major trends:
1. Many blog networks since then have either folded down or were sold to bigger blog networks.
2. Blog networks as loose federation of blogs are still doing okay:, Federated Media
3. Blog networks started by Journalists: Om Malik’s Gigaom Network and Rafat Ali’s Paidcontent sites have made it in a big way.
4. The Techcrunch success story: Erstwhile lawyer Michael Arrington started Techcruch in the last quarter of 2005, focusing on Web 2.0 startups. Now the Crunch network has many more online properties in its fold and Techcrunch is ranked 9th in Technorati.
5. Many News organizations have started blog networks, which supplement their main offerings: BBC, Reuters New York Times, Economist and the Guardian have succeeded in creating useful and informative blogs.

What are the issues that play a major role in making or breaking Blog networks?

This brief overview aims to throw some light on the matter:

The importance of Flagship blogs
Flagship blogs/sites build brand and revenue.

Jason Calacanis, who founded the Weblogsinc blog network, often talks about the importance of creating Flagship titles. In the 2 years that the Weblogsinc blog network took to establish itself, it grew to more than 80 blogs at one time. However, AOL, which bought the network in 2005, has started pruning many blogs.

Three blogs, namely Engadget, Joystiq and Autoblog were the flagship blogs that were responsible for the network’s growth in a big way.

Similarly, the Gawker blog network has Gawker, Lifehacker, Gizmodo and Kotaku pulling the whole network.

Multi-author focused blog versus a Blog network.
This is an interesting debate.

There are many blogs and news sites that are huge – bigger than many blog networks.

The Engadget blog, for example has 15-20 contributors at any given time who contribute stories throughout the day. Engadget is organized and run along the lines of a magazine.

In fact, one blog network, Syntagma Media, which had more than 50 blogs, cut down on all redundant blogs and ended up with just 3 sites, which are now being run along the Engadget model – as magazines.

The problems with ‘100- blog’ networks

Not long ago, blog networks proudly shouted about the number of blogs in the network. However, as shown above, numbers have nothing to do with success.

Problem #1: manageability.

How do you supervise the content that goes there?
Story selection, copy editing, checking for copied matter - to manage 100 blogs, you would at least 10 editors, minimum. For cash-strapped startups, that is indeed difficult.

It is not surprising that most huge blog networks do not add any value – in terms of exclusive content. At most, the content is rehashed from RSS readers.

In this scenario, it is difficult a brand around highly atomized, keyword- focused, long tail blogs.

Then, you would need a sales team, or, at least a full-time sales manager.

Since, you don’t have unique content; you need an Evangelizer to promote the blog network/blog on social media sites, forums, etc.

Problem #2: Focus
How do you make a name for yourself?

Like many others in the blogosphere, most blog networks pile on to the usual topics – celebs/scandal/gossip, gadgets, gaming, cars, environment, and health, without standing out in any.

However, some blog networks are doing it with better focus:

B5media specializes in Celeb blogs
Sugar Publishing (owner of Popsugar and other blogs) specializes in female-centric coverage – style, celebrity, etc.

Problem #3: Getting advertising
A ‘100 blog’ network is in deep trouble if it has been unable to build flagship brands.

How do you convince a prospective advertiser about advertising on your ‘atom’ blogs, where traffic is anywhere 100-2000?

It is hard to convince these hard nosed people into sponsoring, say a gadget channel, comprising 20-30 blogs, as it would be hard for the client to gauge the effectiveness of message dissemination.

Problem #4: Paying the bloggers
It takes at least 2 years to put a up a successful blog. A top blog on Technorati is at least 32 months old.

Revenue sharing makes bloggers focus on the topics that bring in traffic – gossip, gadgets, etc. This is good for a while.

For example, B5 media reportedly pays its bloggers using this formula “$100 a month plus $1.50 for every 1,000 pageviews“.

( Via David Krug)

How long will a blogger in the west continue to blog in saturated topic area?
The traffic is bound to plateau after a while.

Not surprisingly, places likes India and China are the best places to run a 100/200 blog network, paying bloggers $100-200 per month

The above chart with the help of two useful tools from Text Link Ads:
Blog Juice calculator and Link Value Calculator

Correction 24.04.2007: John Evans from SyntagaMedia has pointed out that they still have 55 blogs in their networks, arranged across 3 channels.

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At 12:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blog networks will have to up their quality if they wish to survive.

At 7:29 PM , Anonymous Jeremy Wright said...

In the future, when reporting, it's generally best to at least fact-check. There are so many issues with this piece it's not even funny. Not just in relation to b5 either, but all around.

Best of luck in your future, and I appreciate the look at the industry, just not sure how useful it is to readers when the base info, facts and analysis are all off.

At 10:13 AM , Anonymous Ty West said...

I can appreciate this as a "broad" brush look at the current state of play in the blog network business. Dispite some innaccuracies, thank you for the overview.

In general I think most of the major blog networks have some soul searching to do. The ability to aggregate content is gradually coming out of the realm of the few and becoming more accessible to all. Links are becoming commoditized at an escalating rate. And bland, undifferentiated content has a shorter shelf-life than ever. The networks that make it long-term will be the ones that realize they are in the branding business, not the content business.

At 2:03 PM , Blogger Pramit Singh said...

Dear Jeremy,
The idea is not to do a Mckinsey/Forrester like analysis of blog networks.

1. I have worked for a blog network. Was the managing editor.

2. The main idea is look at how one may manage blog networks and how they are evolving.

Nothing to do with B5media or any other.


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