Blogging Hits Crossroads: A-Listers Giving Up
An old colleague of mine used to joke he was one of millions whose job it was to “feed the internet.” This past November, an alumnus of a prestigious writing program in Louisville, Ky. told soon-to-be-alumni his blogging career was short-lived because, like a bad girlfriend, his blog constantly needed him.
Those heralded A-listers we all looked to over the past few years? Many of them are hanging it up. Mike Arrington: handed over the TechCrunch reins to hired staff. Jason Calacanis: moved to email. Their chief complaints: fame. Too many haters, too much spit in the face.
This week’s quitter is Dan Lyons, the Newsweek writer who rocketed to blogsopheric recognition because of his satirical blog, The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, now soured on "another high-tech fairy tale." His reason: there’s no money in blogging. The day the New York Times blew his Fake Steve Jobs cover, Lyons says, “more than 500,000 people hit my site—by far the biggest day I’d ever had—and through Google’s AdSense program I earned about a hundred bucks. Over the course of that entire month, in which my site was visited by 1.5 million people, I earned a whopping total of $1,039.81. Soon after this I struck an advertising deal that paid better wages. But I never made enough to quit my day job.”
Every tech blogger’s Silicon Valley heyday nemesis—which has reduced staff to exactly one blogger—Valleywag was quick to note Lyons scored a book deal out of his little experiment with popular anonymity. And it was well deserved. The Fake Steve Jobs idea was a well-played stroke of genius.
This crop of A-listers aren’t the first to have blog-related meltdowns. They may be, though, the first to really go and stay gone. Self-proclaimed original blogger Dave Winer is known for periodic threats to stop blogging. Yet, he still blogs. Robert Scoble, chief among the famous-for-blogging-and-I-wrote-the-book-on-blogging elite, is prone to emotional denouncements of the craft and self-imposed mental health hiatuses. Yet, he still blogs, though to a lesser degree.
Some people just can’t help it. They have to blog. Like it’s a sickness. Some are victims of their own success. Fame isn’t, by nature, for everyone, even if fifteen minutes has been edited down to five public-commentary-abusive ones. And still yet others are disillusioned victims of hype and zeitgeists.
This list of types could go on and on. There are as many reasons to blog, or not to blog, as there are people. One thing is for certain: we seem to be at a blogging crossroads. Sadly (but perhaps naturally), pivotal, transformational (and sometimes bloody) moments are often misconstrued as deadly ones. Blogging has reached a crucial moment in its evolution, one where competition for money, credibility, and attention has never been fiercer. The weak, those whose prime devotion is getting rich, getting famous, getting laid, or getting approval will be culled. In the end, as in the beginning, it’s about purity and (some type of) artistic integrity.
When I was in the fifth grade I joined the basketball team along with 40 of my friends. I was a chubby ten year old counted among the first who would give up when faced with laps and suicide sprints and leg lifts, pushups, and sit-ups as the coaches sought to weed out the weak and uncommitted (and produce a more manageable basketball team). And, after a week, I nearly ran home to enjoy Grandma’s gravy and biscuits in my-body-doesn’t-hurt peace. My mother, though, reminded me of my commitment, and by the middle of the season—when the coach had become fed up with his starting fast little waifs—I earned my starting forward position and never felt better about myself.
Blogging, I think, is at a similar moment in its development, a moment all writers (and other content producers) must struggle through until they form a key component of their wills that says never give up.
I find it interesting that as soon as negativity about the economy set in, especially among those tech bloggers who thrive on bubbles and print journalists suddenly out of a decent-paying job who are forced to turn to blogging or dry cleaning, the negativity surrounding blogging also set in. Not enough money. Too many haters. A waste of time and energy. All hype no delivery. A cause of undue stress, obesity, and myocardial infarction. These were the same people, back when that bubble was still good and cozy, once so jazzed about The Secret, this century’s remake of Norman Vincent Peele’s The Power of Positive Thinking.
True, the average blogger pulls in a mere $5,000-$6,000 per year, and that average is obscenely skewed by the top one percent of bloggers pulling more than $200,000. True, there are more abandoned blogs than active ones. True, content in a world that values cheap, short, and easy has been reduced to embarrassing values (I saw one ad on craigslist offering $1.50 per “article”). True, there is worldwide competition for diffused and dwindling ad dollars. True, there has been a deluge of marketers, spammers, and professional bloggers (a.k.a. writers) and “mainstream” media types pushing out the wild and wooly (and unreliable and piggybacking and libelous) amateur, citizen journalists. True, viewers, readers, and fans can be nasty.
Welcome to the media business.
The good stuff lasts, the chaff separates from the wheat, the cream rises to the top, all that. The earliest bloggers and the self-sustained content producers may not like the idea that the blogosphere is changing and will require an old law of media: Content is king, but the king answers to his god, the network.
Save for a few shining stars (think, using radio as an example, Howard Stern an Rush Limbaugh and their hundreds of millions) and stellar independent publications, the network is what will save the blogosphere and content producers. It’s always been tough for individuals to make it in media without a network behind them, paying them good (even great) wages to produce, while the network aggregates and sells content and collective audiences to advertisers.
Like it or not, the corporation is going to have to enter the blogosphere, and by irony, will ruin it in order to save it. Luckily, unlike the past, there will be wider avenues via user-generated media for quality content producers, so long as they have the passion and will to walk those avenues. Besides, writers write, bloggers blog, regardless.