Why does one blogger become a millionaire, while another equally worthy blogger toils for years for little or no reward?
Of course there may be a number of factors at play, but an interesting article Blogs to Riches by Clive Thompson for the New York metro looks at this very issue from the perspective of why some blogs are so much more popular than others.
Thompson sites research by Clay Shirky of New York University who took a sample of 433 blogs and counted how many other sites linked back to them. Shirley found that a very small number of sites (the so called A-list) enjoyed hundred or thousands of links, while everyone else had relatively few links.
As Thompson explains:
“When Shirky sorted the 433 blogs from most linked to least linked and lined them up on a chart, the curve began up high, with the lucky few. But then it quickly fell into a steep dive, flattening off into the distance, where the vast majority of ignored blogs reside. The A-list is teensy, the B-list is bigger, and the C-list is simply massive. In the blogosphere, the biggest audiences—and the advertising revenue they bring—go to a small, elite few. Most bloggers toil in total obscurity.”
Thompson explains that economists and network scientists call Shirky’s curve “power-law-distribution” and that this kind of distribution occurs in many social systems, such as the employment of actors (there are a few well known actors, and many unknown actors).
The reason behind this, according to Thompson, is that human beings, when faced with a large number of options, will more likely choose an option that is popular with others. So people are likely to read blogs that are already popular. They’re more likely to link to blogs that enjoy a large number of links already.
As Thompson writes: “… even if the content among competitors is basically equal, there will still be a tiny few that rise up to form an elite.”
This means that first movers have a huge advantage, and because popularity breeds popularity, they can achieve a momentum that is difficult for others to emulate. This pattern is called “homeostasis”, which is the tendency of networked systems to become self-reinforcing.
The article also looks at some examples of popular bloggers who have made good, such as Peter Rojis, the editor of Engadget, who received a windfall when his publisher, Weblogs Inc, was sold to AOL for $25 million.
Of course the question of how to “cut through” the noise of thousands of other bloggers is raised in the article.
Arianna Huffington, of the Huffington Post, said that it comes down to being “regular and relentless”.
She also said that it’s important to link to other bloggers, especially “A listers”. Huffington also had another advantage, because she and her co-writers were quite well known, the mainstream press gave the blog a lot of coverage.
Another useful insight comes from Elizabeth Spiers, the founding editor of legendary blog Gawker, who has now launched her own blog empire, including the blog Dealbreaker. She is now focusing on breaking news, and explained to Thompson that developing a successful blog was pretty much about content.
“Blogging is increasingly becoming a survival of the fittest—and that all boils down to who has the best content. The blogs that are going to stand out are the ones who break news and have credibility,” said Spiers.
Thompson’s written a great article, and it’s well worth taking the time to read it fully.
Just to add a final comment.
What this article reinforces is that while blogging technology has removed a barrier-to-entry to the world of publishing for would-be publishers, you still need to get the fundamentals right. Who’s the target reader, who are the target advertisers, what will make your editorial compelling to the reader, what’s your editorial strategy for achieving this, and what’s your point of differentiation are all critical factors that you need to consider if you want your blog to be anything more than a hobby. The more things change in the world of publishing, the more they stay the same.