A couple of days ago I reviewed a recent Wheeler Centre talk that was not about the blogging economy. As the speakers failed to address the topic, I have decided to pursue it as some new data has recently been published that offers an insight into the economics of blogging and the motivation of bloggers.
A blog advertising agency recently published the results of a survey it ran about blogging. I first read some of the details on Mumbrella. A different version of the press release is available and details from the company that ran the survey were published soon after.
The survey is deeply suspect and problematic. Definitions are not clearly explained. Some of the data reported by Mumbrella is not reported by the the company. This is significant, but not surprising, given that it fails to support its business objectives.
Invitations to complete the survey were sent to more than 3000 people, presumably mostly blogger clients of the advertising agency (it does not seem to have been marketed to bloggers in general). 594 responses were received.
60% of the respondents were identified as clients of the agency, who are commercially oriented bloggers, although this ‘community’ is defined by the agency as participating in the ‘hobby blogosphere’.
I’ll start with the least doubtful part of the survey. Given the hobby context, is is plausible to accept (as Mumbrella reports) that only 6% of the survey participant bloggers keep blogging because of the revenue they have earned or expect to earn (note that revenue is not defined – it may be cash, free goods or services and free tickets to events with a significant cash value).
Nonetheless, this figure seems extremely low given the context. Why do so many bloggers run advertising on their sites while not expecting to make money from it? Why sell out without suitable compensation? This doesn’t make sense to me. As the survey was completed primarily by bloggers who have self-selected as being in favour of blog advertising, you would expect this number to be much higher.
The advertising agency does not report the 6% figure, which appears dishonest. It seems to have only published findings that it is comfortable with. In contrast, 49% said they blogged for personal satisfaction. These figures are only available on Mumbrella. Very curious indeed.
If this figure can be accepted, we can conclude that blogging is at most only marginally an economic activity. Money is not the currency that motivates bloggers – it is their own inner satisfaction as well as the external recognition of and influence on readers that primarily perpetuates the production of blog content.
As the most plausible aspect of the survey is deeply suspect, the rest is laughably lacking in rigor and integrity. Having already identified the survey respondents primarily as bloggers, it then uses them to represent blog readers. Typical bloggers cannot represent typical blog readers. Bloggers have insights into the phenomenon that audiences simply don’t have and this is likely to skew their perceptions and responses.
For example, it is reported that ‘78 per cent of respondents agree blogs are a better source of information than traditional and mainstream media‘. This is meaningless as this statement has been made primarily by bloggers, who have a clear conflict of interest in relation to this question. Of course they describe themselves as better than traditional media.
The claim that ‘81 per cent [of respondents] are noticing banner advertisements displayed next to the blogs they read‘ is equally suspect given that it is a statement made by bloggers who publish banner advertising managed by the agency that conducted the survey. Spot the multiple conflicts of interest kids.
So who are these bloggers? One prominent food blogger describes the agency’s clients as ‘food, fashion, mummy bloggers‘ and I agree with this. He contrasts their blogs to ‘technology and gaming blogs… that would mostly be [written by] men‘, which are not well represented by the agency.
Food blogging in Australia may be relatively gender equal, but 88% of the respondents of the survey were women. Apparently, 61% of the respondents live in households that earn over $75,000 pa. Only 32% of the respondents are over 35 years of age, yet 41% are married with children. That’s the fashion and mummy crowd. If we can believe any of this.
Merely for the sake of my own amusement, let me summarise the characteristics of this cohort: wealthy young bourgeois women who have the time to talk about and promote one of their hobbies – conspicuous recreational consumption (shopping is far more a hobby pursued by women than men). They are representative only of themselves.
While they are commercially oriented, they don’t need the petty income from advertising and so are not motivated by it, hence the survey results. Perhaps they choose to publish advertising because it makes their blogs look more like the advertising filled glossy magazines they are used to consuming.
Banner advertising is highly ineffective for advertisers because audiences ignore it. Returns for bloggers are meagre. The economics of blogging are weak and are getting weaker.
In a pathetic attempt to overcome this, the blog advertising agency in question has introduced a new form of promotion called ‘product talk‘. This aims to encourage bloggers (who will receive nothing but a free bottle of shampoo or whatever) to write spammy advertorial infomercial product placement posts. No longer ignored on side menus, the products will be in your face.
This is further evidence that there is no money to be made from blogging. When an advertising agency starts promoting payment in kind rather than in cash, it’s because there is no cash. Commercial bloggers are just underpaid freelance writers who are being exploited by corporate vultures.
Never mind that cash or product for comment is ethically dubious because it is always a conflict of interest. In writing this spam, bloggers can be as positive as they like, but they have to justify being negative:
Hmmm. How can a default setting of positivity be unbiased or fair? Gushy is not good. Food bloggers reviewing dog food is not good. I say fuck this banal corporate shit. Oh, I forgot, we’ve been told that ‘foul language or language that could get you into any legal troubles is not necessary and there is no reason to use it‘. ‘Any legal troubles’? What the fuck are you talking about?
Let’s all be nice beige banal bourgeois slaves to the commercial imperative. Let’s luxuriate in our Mcmansions and drool over dog food, while for infotainment we read spam that encourages us to spend every cent of our six figure incomes on shit. I love being middle class.