I’ve been reading blogs for as long as I’ve been writing a blog. Lately, a theme has been cropping up: Is blogging dead? (Imagine me wringing my hands there for added emphasis.)
I created my first website “home page” in 1994. Every now and again I’d hard-code in some pictures of what I was doing and where I had been, plus links to website I liked. Around 2000 I bought hosting space for it and in 2003, I changed over to the Blogger platform, which made it very easy to update. I’d post a few times a day, maybe adding a picture here and there. Like I use Facebook now. Then I went into a diary mode, combining the daily blurbs into one post every day or every other day. My traffic was steadily growing. I wrote (as I still do) about my life, the only thing that I’m really an expert on. I dabbled in humorous frozen meal reviews. I baked cookies on a webcam. Silly stuff, really. But both of those were really ahead of their time. Think about it.
Life bounced along merrily and then all of a sudden blogging became a business! Your blog could make money if you slap ADS on it! But first you have to find a niche! What kind of blog are you? A mommy blog? A food blog? A fashion blog? A design blog? A fitness blog? A gaming blog? Niche blogs make lots of ad money! Educational seminars and conferences popped up all over where (for a hefty fee, plus travel expenses) you could learn to be a better blogger! You could print a bunch of business cards, hand them out and pretend to be networking!
Suddenly, most of the blogs that I read stopped writing about “all of the things” and started writing about just one thing. That made me sad.
I gamely tried that too then I went to BlogHer Boston and later launched my dusty World of Warcraft blog. And I kept WoW Wanderings going for a while and saw decent traffic, even though I didn’t realize any revenue from it. I also felt weird segregating that part of my life from the rest of my life. (I’m bringing that blog back to life as part of my summer bucket list. I’m also launching another blog, too. So I’m still not 100% immune to the hype.) I put some Google AdSense ads up as I patiently waited to get onto the BlogHer ad network.
Out of all of the bloggers out there, only a few managed to make the big time: the morning news programs, the magazine lists, the bookstore shelves. A few of them got there through being great writers, photographers or cooks. Many more of them got there by being friends with the first group, or by slavishly copying/emulating that first group. They got to test drive cars and wear free clothes as long as they wrote ‘honestly’ about their experience. The rest of us got network ads designed to shuttle traffic from our blog to the more popular blogs – “See what MomOfEighteen says about Kleenex brand facial tissue!”
In 2010, I applied through the BlogHer network for “some potential business from a major pet food company, focused on a charitable effort to help feed shelter and rescue dogs and puppies.” Even though I have featured my dogs on my blog for years, I didn’t get a shot at one of the writing deals. But a “famous” mommyblogger who only had a dog for less than three months did. I gave up applying for sponsored content.
The rise of Facebook and Twitter (and later Instagram and Pinterest) took away a lot of interest from blogs, as it made it easier for more voices to be heard and, more importantly, voices of people that you already knew. My friend recommending a recipe naturally holds more weight than MomOfEighteen’s recommendation. LGN’s traffic nosedives, no matter how frequently or how sparingly I post.
My favorite fairy tale as a kid was “The Fisherman and His Wife.” You can read it here. Cliffs Notes version: Dude fishes up an enchanted flounder. Flounder promises that if the Fisherman lets him go, he’ll grant wishes. Fisherman lets him go. The Fisherman and his wife live in a pig-sty, so Wife asks Fisherman to go back and tell the flounder they want a small hut. He does. Boom! They get a hut. Then she makes him go back and ask for a bigger house, then a castle, then for her to be made a king, then an Emperor, then a Pope. Fish granted all of the wishes. She still wasn’t happy, so she made him go back and ask the fish to make her God. This went too far, and BOOM! Fish turned them back into the commoners in a pig sty that they began the story as.
I think that’s the path that the big money bloggers are headed for. First you want readers. Then you want AdSense ads. Then any network ads. Then you want your readers to be an audience. Then you want the best network’s ads. Then trips. Then sponsored posts! Then an assistant! Then a book deal! Then a multiple-book deal! Eventually, when you have a show on Food Network or run a marathon with a supermodel, your audience will realize that you’re no longer the quirky lady with the great writing voice that you were when you started.
The hardcore bloggers are changing. Some are employing others to write posts for their “brand.” Others are branching out into speaking engagements and running conferences and starting their own ad networks. And many have become addicts to the sponsored post machine.
They’re suddenly wearing Banana Republic sundresses when for the last 10 years they wore jeans and hipster band tees. They’re talking about how McDonald’s cares about kid’s nutrition when they used to brag about how they keep their kids away from fast food. And they LOVE Microsoft Bing and Windows 8, although you and everyone else know that as soon as they come back from Washington state they’ll be back to their iPhones, iPads and Macbooks. To me, that doesn’t speak to the integrity of the brand, but instead to the fierce desire of the blogger to make some money. It cheapens the blog much more than it cheapens the brand.
The popular bloggers might look at this (though they probably won’t see it, see above about my lame traffic) and say I’m suffering from jealousy and sour grapes. Maybe a little. Would I like to see some more traffic? Sure! Would I like make some substantial money off the blog? Sure! I’ve made about $75 and a free book on ladygypsy.net over the last 4 years. That’s not enough to cover domain names and hosting, in case you were curious. No big money, and a bunch of whammies through the years. And I couldn’t get through the book to review it. But I’m not willing to make the changes (whittling my content down to one subject, commenting on everyone’s blog all the time, having something tragic happen to me) needed to make that happen. And I’m okay with that.
So is blogging dead? No. Of course not. As long as people like me have the ability to put words to screen, there will be blogs. Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr have made it easier to blurb things out about lunch or where they’re shopping. But those are other services, and when they go down, so does your content. As long as I have this blog, I own my own words.
Now, is blogging as a business model dead? For most of us, it was never viable in the first place. These days I’d compare one’s chance to make a true living off of one’s blog to the same chance one has to become a professional athlete. Slim to none, and you’re going to spend lots of time and money to get to that point. Professional athletes have off-seasons.
But I see fewer comments on the big monster blogs as people realize:
“I came here to read what A. wrote about her family and job, not to read people that A. hired to write about crafts, fashion, and fancy chevron-patterned day planners.”
Or, “I miss B’s old photos. Now they’re all hyper-posed and processed through 18 Photoshop filters.”
Or, “I feel duped when C. writes a great post about keeping in touch with relatives through the mail, and then see at the bottom that Hallmark sponsored the post.”
In the end, my blog is still a journal. I’m not telling you how to make colored deviled eggs, I don’t create trendy outfits and I’m not a stay-at-home mom that will do a photo-heavy post on painting a chalkboard wall.
Confessions: Colored deviled eggs are terrifying. As a kid, we used to not eat eggs if the dye made it through the shell. If you like what I’m wearing, it’s because I exactly copied what was on the store mannequin. And I think chalkboard walls are stupid. Why would you want chalk dust all over your living room?
But I like my journal. And you do too (or you’re bored and that’s fine) , and that’s fine with me.
Is blogging dead? Not until this blogger is.