Blogging is big again, though of course it always was big, it was just science that was trapped in a small market, the pitfall to having domination by one site with a sketchy reputation. With $100 million exits for sites like AssociatedContent.com, which are wide-open forums for anything people want to write about, media companies are taking notice that user-generated content can be more than just marketing.
The latest to tackle user-generated content is Forbes magazine on its Forbes.com website. "Entrepreneurial journalism", they hope, will resurrect advertising sales that have lagged for the print magazine.
Forbes is presumably avoiding the pitfalls of previous large media companies, like the BBC, who managed to spend more money micromanaging user-generated content than they would have spent just hiring writers and shutting off comments, by letting users just go at it and hoping the community squeezes out rubbish. They are taking a chance, just like we took a chance doing user-generated science content; you can really hurt your brand if the quality is low.
Forbes is adopting the business model of their True/Slant site, which they had invested in and acquired to get the CEO to revamp Forbes.com. Forbes will pay its writers on reader volume, just like we have done since inception, recognizing that great writers aren't inclined to make media companies rich for free (1).
That means the writers are responsible for their own marketing, just like here. Sure, they will bring an audience but a passive approach to getting out in the world and relying on internal traffic that is spread among many is much less effective than bringing an audience that wants to read you.
Like us, Forbes.com recognizes that the miracle of compounding means everyone, regardless of traffic numbers, will make more money based on what traffic they do generate. Anyone who has put Google AdSense on a personal site and made $.20 per thousand visitors recognizes volume matters in the base rate you earn.
True/Slant, and now Forbes.com, also avoided the Scienceblogs.com issue by giving advertisers their own pages right up front - Forbes is about money so their contributors won't balk at the obvious economics or advertisers being there, whereas Scienceblogs bloggers had to walk a fine line between pretending they were only about outreach while enjoying contract rates based on the revenue the site earned - including when the bottom dropped out of advertising and their work no longer generated enough revenue.
Forbes.com brought True/Slant into the fold when it had around 300,000 uniques per month, so less than half our size but still a model that showed it worked and could be integrated into their platform.
Lewis D'Vorkin, True/Slant CEO (and former Forbes editor) is now Chief Product Officer at Forbes.com, and sees user-generated content as the future.
"Quality in the magazine is about craftsmanship," he told AP reporter Andrew Vanacore. "On the Web, quality is different. Quality is about timeliness, relevance, engagement. There's no beginning, middle and end on the Web."
Obviously there will be a place for traditional Forbes craftsmanship in the future of media and the assumption is kooks won't drag down their brand. One advantage they have is that their writers and readers are money-based so a socialist or libertarian crank isn't going to cause a mass departure - economics lends itself to fuzzy ideas. True wide-open blogging in science can't really exist when status and credibility matter more than money - and that bodes well for the new blogging efforts at Wired and Scientific American, where in return for giving quality science writers a larger forum the writers accept that only the media company makes the money.
(1) Science writers are distinct in this mentality. Academics proudly state they don't care about money so it looks a little disingenuous if they go to a new site and insist they need to be paid - the new sites should have little difficulty convincing scientists their corporate brand is better validation for researchers than money. It may work, though Nature Networks has had limited success, whereas under the sort of freeform science writing umbrella inhabited to various degrees by Scienceblogs.com (more blogging), Discover (half and half) and Science 2.0 (mostly articles, little blogging), the common denominator in their larger success than Nature Publishing has been that people are paid.
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