1. Any discussion on MSM- or corporate-owned blogs, e.g. Yahoo! Sports' SB nation? How does the company interface? Do the bloggers get a salary? Do they sell their own ads or focus on material? Are they profitable? Who gets the money?*
As mentioned, I missed a good section of the panel, but I have talked to a number of SB Nation bloggers and they report back that they get very little money from SB Nation. This is probably because of their low traffic numbers. Even the busiest college football blogs I've seen over there—SBN makes all their traffic data public—are doing like 2-3k pageviews per day, and at current CPM rates offered by ad networks that's somewhere between 3 and 10 dollars. Still, even on the low end you'd probably be making $100 a month from that much traffic, and then you've got other opportunities like text link ads and so forth and so on. I highly doubt SBN is profitable at the moment, as they took venture capital in January.
OTOH, Fanhouse and TSB and the Yahoo blogs just pay people as 1099 contractors and take the burden of monetization upon themselves.
My biggest problem with the SBN model isn't the lack of pay, as most people haven't put themselves in a position where that's the main thing to worry about. Until you're getting five digits of traffic daily, your monetization strategy should be "ignore monetization," as the rewards aren't worth the time and traffic, in my experience, grows geometrically. No, my biggest issue with SBN is lock-in: they own the URLs and the (sweet, sweet) software, so if you do happen to make a name for yourself and do happen to build a worthwhile enterprise, it's their enterprise. Leaving it means you leave behind all that linkage and archived content and brand equity and start all over. Let me tell you as a person whose ghostly old blogspot blog occasionally wins google fights and gets linked on other blogs: this sucks. They've got all the leverage.
There is a hard example of this kind of suckage, too: when Matt Hinton went from Sunday Morning Quarterback to Dr. Saturday, SMQB up and died. Hinton (and I, and everyone else) lost his entire archive. No one who is career-serious about blogging should ever cede control of their URL or their archives to anyone else.
2. Software. Software? Software... Software! Software [insert punctuation]
The full suite of stuff I use to make this blog go:
- Drupal is my CMS of choice, but I couldn't tell you if it's better or worse than Joomla or Plone or whatever since I've never used them. If you're not a developer (half-assed in my case), go with Wordpress.
- The posts are written in Windows Live Writer, which is by far the best desktop blogging software. It's not even close, and I've tried a number of them. I'm pretty sure UMHoops and MVictors have switched to it as well—there are telltale drop shadows on their images now.
- WLW has obviated the need for 90% of simple photo-editing—which is half the reason it's so good—but when I need for more detail on a picture I use an ancient version of Photoshop. GIMP is a free alternative I've used but it sucks unless you're used to UNIX conventions.
- Bittorrent supplies the games I cut up for UFRs, and I discovered after an inexplicably long, horrible search that various "AimOne" products were the simplest way to slice out individual plays from those videos. I watch the games in Media Player Classic, which has the best hop-ahead-hop-back hotkeys and convenient screenshot-grabbing abilities.
3. What's a click? What's a read? What kind of read generates revenue for advertisers? You say 2 M pageviews, but how do you check for bots, etc.? Anybody getting themselves reviewed? Web analytics, bler?
There are three main metrics simple enough to have passed into the general consciousness. They are:
- Pageviews. Hit F5. You've given me a pageview, and somewhere between a tenth and a half of a penny.
- Visits. You did not increment the visits, however, and won't do so until you visit again in at least 30 minutes. (I think. It may be less depending on who's tracking it.)
- Uniques. You certainly didn't increment uniques, and won't do so for a month.
4. Out-of-Blog Experiences: how do you translate 2 million blog readers into an active community? What kind of events work? Anything that generates revenue? Anyone have a successful "conference" of readers yet?
Well, 1) that's not two million readers. If I had two million readers I would currently be dictating this to my Wednesday eunuch whilst the most comely of my harem fed me pre-peeled grapes. Monthly uniques around here, as calculated traditionally, are around 100k, and Quantcast thinks about half of these are duplicates, so on average about 50k people check out the blog at least once in a given month. It's been dropping as the hard offseason hits, as per usual.
I am not aware of any successful reader conference in the sports blog world. MGoBlog had a spring game tailgate that featured about 10 people standing around freezing their asses off, though, and that was declared a success because no one got throttled.
As far as revenue: an active community certainly helps with pageviews. Since I moved from Blogger to Drupal and added the diaries and message board pageviews per visit have gone up about 30%. The goal there was to leverage (and focus) the community, though, and the pageviews were just an ancillary—though expected—side benefit.
5. Blog-to-Print: Who's exploring? Case stories? Does it translate? Is it worth it?
A few bloggers have published books, most prominently Will Leitch, a couple of the KSK guys, Orson Swindle, and Free Darko. Since none of those people are me I can't tell you how well they've done. More personally, Maple Street Press has been deploying bloggers to write an ever-expanding set of season preview magazines of which HTTV was the second variety to be published. They appear to be profitable.
One thing I've been considering is a Simmons-esque repackaging of blog content into a book heavy on annotations and explanations from the cold, hard distance of time. With e-publishing, finding the time to do such a thing is the main barrier there.
6. Web Sponsorship -- what's the value for the advertiser?
I'm not an ad guy, but my intuition: if we're talking about display ads like MGoBlog currently sports, the main value is in branding. It's the same sort of stuff that causes Coke to carpet-bomb the Super Bowl and the like. Clicks are nice but by this point are sort of peripheral to the cause. If we're talking about big takeovers like Gawker's successfully deployed, that's much the same thing only far less ignorable. It's all about getting your message in front of a viewer.
If you're talking about serious sponsorship, where one brand becomes a sort of flagship "brought to you by" thing, there I think the corporation is trying to leverage the positive associations readers have with a blog. As a consumer it's pretty easy to be dismissive of the Weed Eater Bowl but considerably harder when the Weed Eater guys are putting money on the table to keep the one guy who you really like up and going. It's one thing to buy space via which to distract a reader from his goal—most of the time the ads on this blog are a necessary evil of minor interest to the reader—and another entirely to buy a small portion of the reader's loyalty by allowing the blogger in question to go (or stay) full time.
I haven't seen any examples of this sort of thing AFAIK, but assume that it's coming. The catch is that it's the internet and certain people who don't like the opinions purveyed by your sponsorship or advertisement might not appreciate it. A brand sponsoring this here blog would have to consider what an Ohio State fan would take from it. The Maker's Mark kerfuffle is a good example of this: I just won't buy it now, no matter how stupid and irrational that is.