Pam has already touched on David Freedlander’s piece about the decline of independent blogs 10 years down the road. There are many things that are true in his long piece, but he somehow doesn’t manage to ask the rather obvious question — where’s the money?
The fashionable explanation is that “Twitter and Facebook have passed them by.” Hogwash. There has certainly been a consolidation of blogs for survival at places like Daily Kos and Firedoglake, but that means traffic has gone up, and not down. If it was still possible to keep blogs afloat, news outlets (blogs and otherwise) wouldn’t be dropping like flies.
The reason increasing numbers of blogs can’t keep the lights on is simple – Google. As I wrote on Bytegeist recently, news advertising revenues (both online and off) have tanked since 2000, and that money is going straight to Google, who passes pennies on to news outlets for every dollar they receive. Every news outlet from the New York Times on down is struggling in its wake. Because Google has eliminated the competition by crushing it or swallowing it up with nary an antitrust peep from the FTC, news outlets (including blogs) are forced to take whatever they want to give.
Premium advertising has historically gone for between $8 and $12 per CPM (thousand impressions) at online news sites, and Google charges similar rates. But last month at the height of election advertising, when ad revenues used to be at their highest and provide the money that political news sites would live on for the rest of the year, Google passed on a mere .42 cents per CPM to FDL and many other outlets.
This part of Freedlander’s article gave me the biggest chuckle:
What’s left of the Netroots say they aren’t finished yet. They point to the handful of candidates for office this year that they got behind, like Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, as proof of their relevance—never mind that most of the Democratic establishment lined up behind them as well.
Freedlander doesn’t say who said that, but both Warren and Baldwin — candidates that the netroots certainly have stood by — have refused to even take the calls of advertising representatives of the blogs. And you can add Jon Tester and Sherrod Brown to that list. (And, as John Amato has noted, the unions too.) If you’re giving money to these candidates, their ad dollars are going straight to Google in exclusive deals through their expensive DC consultants — many of whom mark the ad rates up 100% and skim the bulk of your donation rather than buy direct from publishers.
FDL has responded by moving into spaces where there is tremendous public interest, but little media coverage:
- Marijuana policy with Just Say Now, which is the largest marijuana Facebook page with almost 2 million fans (which Facebook is trying to kill by charging people to reach their followers)
- Civil liberties on the Dissenter, which follows Wikileaks, Occupy, Keystone XL and other groups
- The continuing housing crisis and the mortgage fraud scandals at FDL News
Election periods are always uncomfortable for us, not only because of the audience split Pam notes (which shows little sign of healing), but also because it’s the purview of the main stream media and if people want to engage in electoral cheerleading there are other places with a much bigger megaphone we simply can’t compete with. FDL has consciously moved out of that space as a matter of survival, both financially and audience-wise. There simply isn’t any way to keep the doors open and the lights on if you’re counting on the Tammy Baldwins and the Elizabeth Warrens to be there for you.
So I’d like to see David Freedlander do a follow-up piece on the economics of blogging since Google has been able to gobble up its competitors and beef up its profits by squeezing publishers around the world out of business. All publishers know about it and complain behind the scenes, but few are willing to speak out for fear that Google will screw them even harder.
Because until the public starts demanding that the FTC step in and break up Google, things are only going to get worse.