A note of encouragement to niche blogs
Yes, some smaller Weblogs, Inc. titles are shuttering; no, this isn’t the first time there’s been a pub-purge, and I doubt it will be the last. WIN will create new blogs, and some will stick, some won’t — the ones that don’t take hold will be closed and ever more will be created. It doesn’t take a genius to see the money’s in the big brands, and focusing on those is a smart business decision for both WIN and Gawker, as well as other macro-micropublishers. But I really don’t think that’s the case for (self-employed) micro-micropublishers. Niche blogs run by talented, dedicated writers have a better chance at success than ever before — perhaps just not with a larger blog network.
Nick Denton wrote a bit on Valleywag about the realities of the new-new-media world where niche pubs have begun to die off as the major brands rise to the top (i.e. the usual land grab stuff). It smacks of his hunkering-down piece in the Times, and while both make very cogent points, the message is clear: niche blogs be warned. I can’t possibly disagree more. Niche blogs are still and will forever be the lifeblood of the blogosphere; when Gizmodo (and even Engadget) started, even they were considered niche blogs. Hell, they’re still considered niche publications (they sure aren’t general interest). Obviously things have been put in perspective at this point, but without a vast network what we now call niche blogs, a huge amount of the content Engadget and Gizmodo links to, for example, might never be unearthed. Likewise, nor would those long-tail readers click through on links back to the big names. The professional and amateur blogospheres are surprisingly symbiotic, and I can’t imagine Engadget being as successful as it is without the support of other bloggers.
What’s becoming increasingly clear is that as the business changes, so must the business model for pro blog publishers. For WIN it’s starting to look a little more like the record business. At a certain point perhaps you can have too many artists on your roster, and not every album cut goes gold. The top 10% earns the lion’s share while we wait and see which act is the next to get some notoriety; the winners do effectively pay for titles that don’t make it (until they get cut), but new titles are started all the time. The total number of WIN titles may be trending down, but the sellers sell, and niche blogs, like independent music, continue to thrive.
So again, there is nothing wrong with independent music and publishing. Reading and writing zines (and early blogs) and listening to indie rock is where I come from. Pete and I have this long standing joke about our next blog post-Engadget, which would be the absolute definition of a niche publication, something only a few hundred people would probably ever read. Whenever anyone asks what I’d write about if I were just today jumping into blogging, there’s absolutely no question that it’d be some unplundered spot where you can get in good and early, own it, and define that space, however small.