Addicted to novelty since 2001

Something to Blog About

Steve Maich writes about business for Macleans magazine, and has a blog on their site. He recently wrote a column (which, ironically, he mentioned on his blog) about the hype around blogs. Here’s the conclusion:

Will blogs fundamentally change the media business, or any business for that matter? Well, did do-it-yourself wine kits change the wine industry? Think about all the homemade plonk you’ve had to drink over the years. Sure, everybody thinks the merlot they stirred up in a plastic bucket in their basement tastes fantastic. But try selling it.

Though he’s a bit late to the anti-blog-hype game, he makes some good points. He does rely rather heavily on statistics from Pew Internet and American Life Project, an organization which I’m suspicious of since the whole podcasting survey fiasco. Maich correctly remarks that “there are wild discrepancies in the estimates of how many blogs are actually out there”, but then bases the rest of his column on some pretty dubious stats.

In particular, he makes light of the fact that “40 per cent of those who said they read blogs then said they didn’t really know what a blog was”. This doesn’t surprise me at all, and it’s utterly unimportant. Any time I explain what a blog is, I include the phrase “it’s just a particular kind of website”. Who cares if a visitor recognizes that a particular corner of the Web is ‘blog’ or a ‘website’?

But onto his conclusion that blogs will not ‘fundamentally’ changing the media business. This, I think, depends on your definition of ‘fundamental’. Did the Internet fundamentally change the media? Did television? Did radio? The answer must be yes in all three cases. Are blogs doing so? I think so, and here’s why:

  • If you haven’t, go read The Long Tail. It articulates the power of adding millions of voices to the media landscape.
  • Take a look at the numbers for mainstream media attention among the young. They’re in decline across the board. Fewer young people are reading newspapers, watching television and listening to the radio. What are they doing instead? Playing video games and
    using the Internet. Compared to the mainstream media, the blogosphere’s audience is in diapers.
  • If blogs aren’t impacting the media, how come the media’s so keen to get on board? Macleans now has six blogs on their site and the Vancouver Sun has a (pretty shoddy, if you ask me) blog column. Everybody else, from the Canmore Leader to the New York Times, are following suit in one way or another.
  • More and more consumers are becoming creative, contributing prosumers, which further threatens the top-down oligarchy of mainstream media. Kevin Kelly put it well in his recent Wired article: “A simple extrapolation suggests that in the near future, everyone alive will (on average) write a song, author a book, make a video, craft a weblog, and code a program. This idea is less outrageous than the notion 150 years ago that someday everyone would write a letter or take a photograph.”
  • It’s all about disintermediation. I could give lots of examples, but here’s the freshest. The Vancouver Canucks recently signed Richard Park. Normally this news comes in an article in the sports section, with a sound byte or two from Park. Now it comes straight from the source, via the Canucks’ blog, with an informal letter from Park to the fans. It feels genuine, and tells the story of how he was on a Disney cruise (gulp) when he heard the news. If I’m a Canucks fan, which channel do I prefer?

Blogs won’t topple the mainstream media, but they will fundamentally and permanently alter it. Just look at the story of Oh My News. There can be no question that it’s profoundly affected the South Korean media.

If don’t believe me, go ask the smartest people you know. That’s my litmus test for predicting the future, and they’re all saying the same thing: jump on the Cluetrain, or get left behind.

On a side note, it’s a pity that the Macleans blogs don’t offer comments. I could have left this polemic on Maich’s blog.