Special Meta Mailbag

Submitted by Brian on June 17th, 2009 at 12:48 PM

Instead of writing a 1,500 word comment in response to this comment on my Blogs With Balls review I thought I'd turn it into a mailbag. Warning: meta. No Michigan sports content herein.

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.

The way advertising works is all the stuff is loaded from an external source—which is why Ad Block works. So they know exactly how many loads they're getting and of what without anyone having to tell them. Bots don't read javascript and all the ad tags use it, so that problem solves itself. The fundamental unit of advertising revenue is 1000 pageviews, which constitutes a "CPM" unit, so if you average $1 CPM you're getting a dollar for 1000 pageviews.

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.


Michigan Arrogance

June 17th, 2009 at 1:24 PM ^

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.

so gsmimms wasn't there?


June 17th, 2009 at 2:01 PM ^

He was there.

He even had this quote: "Think i disappointed some by not fighting anyone, but really the guys that were there were good guys, and deserved to live. I am not really a mean guy, as long as i have the opportunity to not have to listen to stupid people."

Source: http://gsimmons85.blogspot.com/2009/04/my-thoughts-on-spring-game.html

Other Andrew

June 17th, 2009 at 1:37 PM ^

Your point of view is extremely useful to all the amateur bloggers in the room. One (perhaps naive) question: Can WLW or UNIX be used in conjunction with Blogger? I'm just not prepared to pick up and move somewhere else yet...


June 17th, 2009 at 1:41 PM ^

I just gave a quick looksie to the old MGoBlog (well - Brian puts a link and you click on it - its only polite) - and I smiled to myself when I read the following in the post for Zone Stretch:

EVERYTHING WENT WRONG in 2005, the Year of Infinite Pain. Beset by injury, poor play at critical positions, and ill fortune, Michigan stumbled to a 7-5 record in their worst season since Jim Harbaugh's broken leg sent the 1984 Wolverines into a 6-6 tailspin.

Ahhh... Good Times!!


June 17th, 2009 at 1:44 PM ^

Well, 'aight, check this out, dawg. First of all, you throwin' too many big words at me, and because I don't understand them, I'm gonna take 'em as disrespect. Watch your mouth.

Yinka Double Dare

June 17th, 2009 at 1:47 PM ^

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.

We've had independently-organized (by Pete Gaines) Deadspin gatherings for a White Sox game each of the last three years. This year I think 30 to 40 people showed up, and at least 20 met up at a bar before the game and went out after the game. Leitch showed up for the first year, which is where the video of him doing live band karaoke to 'Last Caress' came from.


June 17th, 2009 at 1:55 PM ^

Brian, this was very useful as I had just set up Drupal on my machine and was working on making a test site. But one thing you didn't cover is where you are currently hosting your site (where is the server?) and where did you register the domain name?


June 17th, 2009 at 5:21 PM ^

Domain registration is basically the same everywhere; mine is at Dreamhost. I get my hosting for free from my brother, who runs an active message board (http://ufck.org) and has space to spare on a dedicated host.

Cheap shared hosting should be fine until you start getting into serious traffic, though, and I thought Dreamhost was pretty good.


June 17th, 2009 at 2:08 PM ^

Hey Brian, (great article by the way) what's your personal opinion about AdBlock? My policy is: use it by default, then disable it for 1. sites you like enough to want to support and 2. don't have grossly irritating ads. So you're good, now that you got rid of that dating site ad. I know I'm taking money from your pocket by using AdBlock, but I feel that it's my bandwidth (OK, not when I'm at work), and it's my right to ignore your ads as much as it is your right to use them.

(FYI for AdBlock users: you are NOT downloading the ads from the site, so he's not getting ad impressions from you if you use it. So if you thought that was the case, you are mistaken.)

Also, speaking of "monetization", can you put up a link to the official mgostore? I'd like to buy a shirt, and I think having something like a New Shirt Design Contest would be a fun fundraiser.


June 17th, 2009 at 5:19 PM ^

That's pretty much my opinion too. I plan on implementing a subscription option for people who would like to rid themselves of ads without feeling dirty about it; it would be like two bucks a month.

New shirt store is coming in approximately one month, and I think we'll have a shirt design contest to go along with it: good idea.


June 17th, 2009 at 2:15 PM ^

The way advertising works is all the stuff is loaded from an external source—which is why Ad Block works. So they know exactly how many loads they're getting and of what without anyone having to tell them.

sooo... please explain to me in terms that a simpleton like myself can understand - i use mozilla with adblock - if i use adblock on this site - do you get less money from the 75 times i obsessively check this page per day? or does it not matter? i will gladly disable adblock on this site if it gets more money to you.


June 17th, 2009 at 5:18 PM ^

I'm not actually sure. Adblock is all client-side so I think it might count as a pageview to the ad companies anyway... but then again, it might not. Honestly, a 5 or 10 dollar donation would cover all but the most obsessive reader's ad contribution for a year, if you're ethically conflicted.


June 18th, 2009 at 12:49 PM ^

I just wanted to say to other people out here, especially subscribers to rivals, that if you are willing to pay $100 a year for a subscription to rivals, this site is worth at least that much. That is what I have been giving for the past two years, and I would like to encourage others to do the same.


June 17th, 2009 at 3:02 PM ^

Interesting article Brian. I had a sense that there was far more behind-the-scenes management issues with a blog than was let on by others. At this point, I wonder if trying to make a living in blogging is really an option anymore. Whereas people who started blogs in mid 2000s were avant garde and were able to create a "brand" with limited competition, is it still possible in today's saturated markets to really carve a living out? This seems especially true in sports - unless you are really out there with some Sabermetric-style measurement system for fantasy sports, or luck into being picked up by a major player like Yahoo or ESPN - it seems like the field has been plowed so heavily that there just isn't any soil left to grow a market. I'd be interested, though, if anyone else thought this was the case.


June 17th, 2009 at 3:49 PM ^

The behind the scenes things are all good to know, and they are definitely true and important. But the bottom line is that you need to produce content people want to read. Everything else will eventually take care of itself.

Something that I saw mentioned in the last BWB thread was that bloggers have a passion and love for their topic that most reporters don't. This is a differentiator between good blogs and bad blogs. It is also what can make blogs more appealing to the consumer/reader, but at the same time makes them much more dangerous than newspapers. I think somewhere there is a balance between the proper amount of fandom/passion and just the facts.

There has definitely been plenty of saturation in the market as well but I think there are still opportunities out there. Unique and quality content is key, if you write about the same thing the same way as everyone else, there is no value added.

"Making it big" and getting picked up by ESPN or something like that is going to take an extremely talented and lucky person. Just like any other field you are going to have to catch your breaks.

I'm rambling, but I absolutely love this topic. Great post Brian.


June 17th, 2009 at 3:57 PM ^

I totally agree. The best and worst writing I've read has been on sports blogs, though good blogs tend to give you insight and perspective that only the best journalists can provide. Reading mgoblog honestly reminds me of reading some of those great SI articles they used to put out. Just chock full of information and opinion in equal amounts.

I don't think making it to an ESPN-type site is realistic for all but a minute percentage of people, but I worry that lots of bloggers do start off with the hope of "making it big." That's why, it seems, so many blogs seem to be comprised of snarky comments, little factual analysis, and the (not so) occasional picture of an attractive female. The fact mgoblog doesn't stoop to such a level is what makes it great.


June 17th, 2009 at 4:00 PM ^

Great point in your second paragraph. Blogging is a lot of hard work. If you start out with the illusion that you will "make it big", you are going to quit in month.

You have to truly enjoy doing it, the money that you make isn't going to really change that.


June 17th, 2009 at 5:12 PM ^

I think there's been saturation in some niches. If you're starting a general sports blog today you're paddling uphill, to quote our defensive coordinator, in a serious way. But I don't see any reason there can't be an MGoBlog or MetsBlog or Celtics Blog or Athletics Nation for every single major professional team and big college athletic programs. Most markets there remain extremely open, with the big blog in the category bringing in 2-3k pageviews.

Heck, even in the Michigan market there are a number of successful blogs that, in time, could grow to full occupations. What Dylan's done in basically one year with UMHoops is impressive.


June 17th, 2009 at 3:18 PM ^

that, having only just now read the comments Brian linked to at the top, expected this post to be 1,500 words about Sarah Spain's breasts?

[email protected]

June 17th, 2009 at 3:19 PM ^

Thank you, Brian, for this post. There's approximately 3.78 metric dumptrucks full of knowledge here--enlightening to readers, commenters, and bloggers alike. Again, this is deeply, deeply appreciated.

Ty @ The Lions in Winter

Josh Ellison

June 18th, 2009 at 10:10 AM ^

I read MGoBlog almost exclusively via Google Reader. How do RSS subscribers factor into your traffic metrics? Although being available via RSS seems a prerequisite for writing to a decent-sized audience, would you prefer, ceterus paribus, for readers to visit MGoBlog.com proper to read the posts?


June 18th, 2009 at 5:28 PM ^

Don't know what more to say.

I've actually found that Gimp is better than my ancient (5.0) photoshop version.

Other than that, all of it was very, very, very helpful!

Thank you!!!