Monday, December 15, 2008

Blogging for Dollars in a Recession: Challenges and Opportunities

One story I haven't seen yet is how the economic downturn is affecting sports bloggers. There are conflicting reports on how the recession is affecting blog revenue so far. On the one hand, Nick Denton, founder of Gawker Media (parent of Deadspin) is on record as saying "We were up 39% in the year to November -- but even we are planning on a 40% decline in the ad market over the course of the cycle," and ""We're not starting any new blogs--better to err on the side of pessimism." B5media and Gawker are both changing the way they pay bloggers to be less dependent on page views, and thus in many cases paying bloggers less.

However, studies show that spending on Internet advertising (and thus, blog revenue) will increase during this downturn. For example, Zenith claims that "online’s share of the overall market globally will go from 8.6% in 2007 to 13.8% in 2010, up from a previous prediction of 13.6%." So what will the actual economic effect be on blogs in regards to revenue, stories covered, resources, and traffic? I asked a few blog entrepreneurs and contract bloggers for their opinions on how this economic downturn will affect their business. Surprisingly, the overall mood was optimistic, but with a few caveats.

Part 1: Cautious Optimism from Blog Entrepreneurs
One of the biggest concerns for me is how this recession will affect the reader. For example, Jason from TheBigLead said the following:
"Outside of the obviously polarizing topics - hatred of the BCS, Kobe or LeBron, the Cowboys - I'm finding some of the most popular links to be the the economy-related ones I add to the roundup each morning. I've been trying to closely follow the economy for the last couple years, and when I began posting obscure doom and gloom links in January, the emails started to pour in from the casual sports fans who tune into the site for the humor more than the nuts and bolts." (emphasis mine)

The question is, do more concerned readers mean less page views? Overall, big blog sites appear to be meeting their growth targets. Brian from AwfulAnnouncing believes that because the Internet is so important to most readers, they'll cut the Internet (and their connection to blogs) last when looking to save money.
"I personally don't think that the recession will ultimately affect Sports Blogs on a whole...I do think that most readers check blogs at work to kill time, and in turn, a lot less when they're at home. If workforces are being trimmed across the Country, that could lead to less hits, but I don't see that as something that would hurt the more widely read sites out there.

Another side of things is with people losing their jobs, one of the necessary tools needed to find a new one is the Internet. So those who are looking to trim excess spending probably won't be getting rid of their connection. In the end, I think there might be a small downturn across the board, but Internet entities will be some of the least hurt by the economy." (emphasis mine)
Part 2: Contract Bloggers Anticipate Minor Challenges
Many bloggers who get paid do so as part of a larger site umbrella, whether that's Rick Chandler at Deadspin or one of the many contributors at AOL Fanhouse. I asked some of those bloggers for their thoughts on how the economic downturn would affect them.

Dan from Red Sox Monster , which is affiliated with Western Massachusetts news, seemed reasonably optimistic about the future of sports blogs, even though he also alerted me to Nick Denton's pessimism on the future of blogs in this market and the Zenith study I quoted above:
"Media of all kinds have taken a hit with the sour economy, and it stands to reason that blogs would be no different. However, there are plenty of reports out there that suggest Web revenue is still growing...If we can take those sort of reports seriously, it'd seem to me that blogs -- especially established blogs -- will still be OK."
Stephanie Stradley, who blogs both for AOL Fanhouse and the Houston Chronicle, told me it becomes even more important to write stories that bring in revenue and traffic--even if the blogger isn't particularly interested in a given topic. For example, I'm sure some sports bloggers may be bored of writing about Erin Andrews or the Burress story by now, but as long as the hits are there, the stories will get written. She said the following:
"All companies are looking to cut costs, so as a writer you have to be someone who is adding value. Value in blog terms means being a worthwhile destination and page hits. Different writers get page hits in different ways, but certainly some sorts of stories beg for page views, even if you don't really feel like writing about it." (emphasis mine)
Jon Pyle of has done contract work for sites such as Sports Illustrated and the National Lampoon. He was probably the most optimistic blogger I spoke to, as he felt that bloggers are already used to overcoming adversity and limited resources.
"But being accustomed to doing more with less, bloggers are poised to flourish in uncertain economic times while journalists struggle to adapt. Perhaps a case of Darwinism at its best (or worse, depending on your perspective). It's not that bloggers are better writers by any stretch of the imagination but they are uniquely equipped to survive in the impending "new" media environment."
Part 3: A Rise in New Blogs and Contract Blog Work?
The fact that intrigued me the most in my limited interviews is that all the contract bloggers I spoke to thought that there might either be more work for contract bloggers, or more blogs starting during the recession.

For example, Stephanie told me that
"One way the economic downturn can help blogging is that as a group, sports bloggers are much cheaper to employ than traditional sportswriters. AOL Sports, for example, has shifted in featuring its sports bloggers more and less on its contract sportswriters. Sports bloggers can provide tons of web-friendly content for relatively less money." (emphasis mine)
Dan mused if some of the readers who make jokes from their office chairs may finally take the plunge and become bloggers:
"One piece I am curious about is how many new bloggers will pop up due to layoffs. Journalists have made the jump for a couple of years, due to the weak newspaper job market, but what about all those other fields where frustrated writers are now being laid off.

The comment sections of blogs like The Big Lead and Deadspin and filled with lawyers and businessmen stuck at a desk all day wishing they could provide dime-store sports analysis and fart jokes and get paid for it. What better time to give it a try than when you have nothing better to do than look for a new job that could take months to find? " (emphasis mine)
Finally, Jon Pyle was the most enthusiastic of all the people I spoke to. He believes that the economic downturn will accelerate the trend toward using the web for news and information
"The impact of the economic downturn on blogs will be almost completely positive. Blogs should start to get more hits as people spend less money going out and more time at home in front of their computer. Not to mention all the unemployed folks sitting at home searching for jobs. People my age (26) probably value their internet service more than cable... especially now that your computer can essentially serve as your TV/DVD Player/Phone/Checkbook.

Since people are likely to spend more time on Al Gore's information super highway, the increased hits translate to advertising money for blogs. That means profitable blogs while newspapers and magazines are laying off staff wholesale, which will probably translate into better mainstream opportunities for bloggers. Bloggers are prolific writers, marketing/advertising savvy and cheaper than a "real journalist" which will give mainstream corporations a good return on their minimal financial investment without cutting content. To paraphrase the Simpsons, if you can't get a real writer get their "cheap [blogger] equivalent". By the way, if any big companies are looking for a blogger... I might be available." (emphasis mine)
Overall, then, it looks like paid bloggers are suprisingly optimistic about their future in the midst of this downturn. But what about bloggers who just blog for fun, and the many readers who make it possible for bloggers to get paid? On Wednesday, I'll publish Part 2 of this series. I'll focus on reactions from bloggers who blog as a hobby (i.e. for free) and from readers whose blog-reading habits may be affected by the economy, so feel free to e-mail me if you fall in either category and have an opinion to share.


  1. Very well done. My personal experience has proven what everyone you interviewed is saying.

    My site has seen tremendous traffic increases over the past six months. I'm not motivated by revenue generation, but I believe advertisers recognize that Internet ads are more cost-effective.

    I also agree that newspaper and magazine subscriptions - already falling - will continue to decline. While the Internet isn't completely free, it's still a better means of accessing information, immediate access at that.

    Really enjoyed this. I'll post a link to this later today.

  2. Hey thanks for your comment! I don't pay attention to college ball until March either so when someone asked me to do that piece I was like, um.... oooook. But glad I learned it! Tuned in to the games yesterday and it was fun to know what was going on!

    Really like your site esp this article! Looking forward to part II. As a new blogger who just quit her "stable job" its a bit scary to see what could happen to the sports bloggin world!