How will professional bloggers survive the recession?
There was a time when upstart bloggers with small operations felt like the sky was the limit. Their world seemed immune to the economic pitfalls plaguing old media. It's possible that time has passed.
On Friday, Gawker Media, which runs 12 blogs, announced it was laying off 19 staffers. The New York Times called the layoffs "an early indicator" of a Web advertising slowdown. In a memo to employees, Gawker founder Nick Denton (pictured in a photo montage at right) said that 2009 was going to be "exceptionally difficult" as advertising declines, and said "we have to prepare for the worst, now, rather than when the worst comes upon us."
Not the most optimistic statement for an already rocky week. But some news today calls into question the idea that all blogs are bound to suffer. Today, Giga Omni Media announced it had raised $4.5 million to continue to expand its tech-related blog network, which includes the likes of GigaOm, NewTeeVee and Web Worker Daily. The Huffington Post, which had a record number of unique visitors in September as the presidential campaign has heated up, "has seen no signs of a slowdown," according to Mario Ruiz, vice president of media relations.
Rafat Ali, founder of Content Next Media, which runs sites such as PaidContent.org and is owned by Guardian News and Media Group, is adding to the payroll: His company said today that it had hired two new writers and was looking for a few more. AOL's Weblogs Inc., which owns Engadget and about 40 other blogs, is hiring "more than a handful" of people, according to AOL Senior Vice President Marty Moe.
"We're having the best year we've ever had in terms of both traffic and revenue," Moe said.
Are we seeing a tale of two blogospheres -- one that will survive the coming advertising slowdown and one that won't? Or is Gawker just more realistic than the blogs that say everything is hunky-dory?
Matt Marshall, chief executive and editor of San Francisco-based tech blog VentureBeat, said that some blogs might actually thrive in this economy.
"Even in a downturn, advertisers want to make sure they get a return on their investment," he said. He added that blogs that focus on a certain subject can assure advertisers that they'll reach a certain demographic, making themselves even more attractive to companies with limited ad budgets.
Blogs that are owned by larger companies might be able to hold on a little longer. Content Next's Ali said his company's revenue was being supported by both advertising and the funding from Guardian News and Media Group. Moe of AOL said that "properties associated with a large player like AOL would have an enhanced ability to withstand difficult economic conditions."
But for many blogs, the old way of doing things is changing dramatically. Denton's memo made that clear:
We never used to talk about the business side of the operation. Traffic was the only concern; my belief was that juicy news would draw the readers and the advertising would take care of itself. We were patient; even if it took four years for a site to develop the audience that finally registered with advertisers, we had the time. No longer.
Now, Gawker Media blogs that don't generate the ad revenue they need to survive will become leaner operations. That type of thinking may reach other blogs eventually. Until then, don't look for any blogs to be spending money on lavish conferences or swanky trips around the world. That includes Giga Omni Media, despite its newfound cash.
"In the next year, everyone's going to be very cautious about where they spend their money," CEO Paul Walborsky said.
-- Alana Semuels
Photo montage: Nick Denton, founder of Gawker Media. Credit: Civixen via Flickr