Industry analyst and blogger Jeremiah Owyang argues that the golden age of the tech blog is over. This is only part of the picture, suggests Stephen Pritchard.
“The tech blogosphere, as we know it, is over.” Strong words, perhaps, but this is the argument put forward by Jeremiah Owyang, analyst at Altimeter Group. According to Owyang, a combination of corporate acquisitions (think AOL buying Engadget and, yes, TechCrunch), talent turnover at the blogs, changing audience needs, and maturing business models are the reasons he sees for the end of a “golden era”.
It is hard to argue with Owyang’s first and fourth points, on acquisitions and business models. Large blogs, with professional staff, cannot survive without a wealthy financial backer, a solid business plan, or, ideally, both. And much of the turnover of personnel is, of course, related to Owyang’s first point, if not also to his fourth.
Whether audience habits are changing is more open to debate. Owyang, and other blogging experts he quotes, argue that only a minority of readers have the time and attention span for long-form content. Instead, they prefer sharing content on Twitter or Google+, via comments, and even through sharing video and images.
[Needless to say, at The Kernel, we believe there is significant demand for the sort of quality, long-form content that is disappearing from the technology industry, but which hundreds of readers have told us they crave. - Ed.]
Use of micro-blogging sites and content sharing services is certainly growing rapidly, but might say less about the underlying trend in audiences than the statistics initially suggest. Data from several technology publishers, for example, appears to point to a large number of “readers” being search engines, sharing services and other automated, content-scraping technologies.
And there will be humans who operate in a similar way, skimming through sites they have bookmarked, clipped in services such as Evernote, subscribed to via RSS or viewed only on Twitter. It is hard to equate that type of reader with, say, someone paying £4 for a paper copy of The Economist or $4.95 for the New Yorker. Nor do the blog sites always help themselves, by breaking articles into multiple, short pages. It might boost pageviews and search engine rankings, but it does little for readability.
“It is not hard to do long-form content, but it is hard to do it if you expect a quick buck,” says Stuart Miles, founder and chief executive of technology site Pocket-Lint. “We do our features and reviews on one page. Our engagement stats are above industry standards, and we don’t try to game the system.” But other sites, he says, purposefully break up stories to increase page views, as well as write headlines for the search engines, rather than the reader.
But, in analysing the changes in the tech blogosphere, it is important to distinguish between the work of bloggers – such as Robert Scoble, writing in a personal capacity, and that of publishing companies which happen to use a blogging engine, rather than creating pages for print in Quark or InDesign (The Kernel, too, runs on WordPress, but that does not make it a blog.)
Readily available, low-cost blogging platforms have been a great boost to start-ups and small publishers wanting to develop online content quickly; only a decade ago, doing something similar meant dedicated servers, custom HTML development, and hand-crafted content management systems. But the mechanisms for monetising content have not developed as quickly.
Aside from Google Ads, which some smaller blog sites have used to good effect, bringing in significant revenues means selling display advertising or sponsorship. That needs a sales team, and it needs pageviews. So it is no surprise that blogs are being grouped together under the umbrellas of large publishers, which have those resources: in the UK, IPC’s purchase of Trusted Reviews is another example.
At Pocket-Lint, Stuart Miles points out that it is becoming harder for smaller blog sites to bring in large enough revenues to sustain their business. The recent move by WinRumours’ Tom Warren, who has joined The Verge, could be the start of a trend.
But the need to bring in advertising does not affect the “true” blogger, writing in his or her own time, about a topic where they are an expert. There will continue to be strong bloggers emerging from the technology industry, among developers as well as marketers. Those bloggers, as Owyang suggests, might have to work harder to create a “personal brand”.
Or they might, as Loic LeMeur suggests, turn to other tools, such as video, to put their ideas across. After all, the tech media and blogosphere would hardly be relevant if they ignored the very advances they report on.