The Slow, Painful Coming Death Of The Independent, Conservative Blogosphere
Way, way back in 2001, when I got started in the blogosphere, the Right side of the blogosphere was bigger and more influential than the Left.
Well, in American politics, the energy tends to be with the party that’s out of power. During the nineties, that was the Right and a lot of websites like Free Republic and Townhall got big and burly as part of the opposition to Bill Clinton. The Right side of the blogosphere, that was just starting to come into existence in the very late 90s, managed to get off to a running start for that reason.
However, a funny thing happened in 2002-2003 — the left side of the blogosphere took off and eclipsed the Right side of the blogosphere. Liberals ferociously loathed George W. Bush, just as conservatives had detested Clinton, and they went online to congregate and get the information they needed to fight back. Soon, the liberal blogs were considerably bigger than the conservative blogs….although, and this is an often overlooked caveat, there were still a number of significant conservative websites, with large audiences, that many people don’t consider to be “blogs:” Lucianne, The American Spectator, WorldnetDaily, Newsmax, etc.
So, since that was the case, when Barack Obama got into power, you’d have expected that traffic on the Right side of the blogosphere would have surged just as it did on the Left side of the blogosphere in the early Bush years.
That didn’t happen.
Sure, there were a few outliers that took off: Hot Air, Redstate, and the Breitbart empire for example, but most conservative blogs have either grown insignificantly, stayed the same size, or even shrank. Most bloggers on the right side of the blogosphere haven’t increased their traffic significantly in years. Moreover, the right side of the blogosphere as a whole is definitely shrinking in numbers as bloggers that have had trouble getting traction are quitting and fewer and fewer bloggers are starting up new blogs.
Why is this? There are several reasons for it.
1) The Right is structured differently than the Left. We have a large, effective talk radio presence and Tea Parties for new conservatives to sink their energy into. So conservatives have more viable ways to get involved in the movement outside of blogging than the Left did when George W. Bush came into office.
2) The rise of social networking has peeled a lot of people off, too. A lot of people who’d have been haunting blogger comment sections five years ago are spending their days on Twitter and Facebook now.
3) The market has become more mature. It’s like laundry detergent: If you come up with a better detergent that’s superior to anything on the market tomorrow, good luck trying to get anyone to buy it when you’re facing Tide, Cheer, All, Wisk, and all these other established brand names that spend more money than you’ll make in a hundred lifetimes on marketing and can sell their product cheaper than you because they pump out a Grand Canyon worth of the stuff every day. Sure, it’s not exactly the same situation in the conservative blogging world, but good luck convincing tens of thousands of people that if they have time to read only one more blog today, it should be your brand new blog instead of Michelle Malkin or Instapundit.
4) The market has also become much more professionalized. When I got started, back in 2001, a lone blogger who did 3-4 posts a day could build an audience. Unless your name is Ann Coulter, you probably couldn’t make that strategy work today.
Instead, most successful blogs today have large staffs, budgets, and usually, the capacity to shoot traffic back and forth with other gigantic websites. Look at Redstate, which is tied into Human Events, Hot Air which connected with Townhall, Instapundit, which is a part of Pajamas Media, Newsbusters which is a subsidiary of the Media Research Center and other monster entities like National Review and all of its blogs, Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, and the Breitbart media empire. An independent blogger competing with them is like a mom & pop store going toe-to-toe with Wal-Mart. Some do better than others, but over the long haul, the only question is whether you can survive on the slivers of audience they leave behind. This plays into #5.
5) Most bloggers are not very good at marketing, not very good at monetizing, there are no sugar daddies giving us cash, and this isn’t the biggest market in the world to begin with. In other words, this is a time-consuming enterprise, but few people are going to make enough money to go full time. How many people can put in 20-30-40-50 hours a week on something that’s not going to ever be their full time job? Can they do it for 5 years? 10 years? 15? 20? This is the plight that 99.9% of serious, independent conservative bloggers face. This has already created a lot of attrition and over the next few years, as people realize that their traffic is more likely to slowly, but surely significantly deteriorate rather than explode, you’re going to see a lot more people give up.
Bloggers have asked me: So what’s the strategy to deal with this?
Really, it’s simple: Get big or go home.
Find a way to dramatically increase the size of your blog, expand into multiple websites that together are big, hook up with someone who’s already big, or accept that there isn’t much of a future in a small, niche market for you. Maybe that sounds a little grim, but unless something changes, independent conservative bloggers who haven’t already made it big don’t have a bright future.