February 12th, 2006

Blogging and the Elusive Mass Audience

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Here’s a confession — before I started blogging, I never read blogs. These days, it seems I read little else, but it took becoming a blogger to make me a blog reader. Is it possible that bloggers are the only people who read blogs?

According to a recent Gallup poll, blog readership was either flat or slightly down in 2005:

Gallup Blog Stats

But according to David Sifry, the blogosphere is still expanding rapidly:

Sifry Blog Stats

So what are we to make of these statistics? I can’t help recalling a quip I made in Too Much Media, for which I was much harangued at the time:

When we’re all creating media, who’s going to be left to consume it?

If there are more people blogging, but no increase in the number of people reading blogs, maybe blog readership has actually been siphoned off by blog writing. I know that the time I spend writing this post is time I might otherwise spend reading other blogs.

I’m sure I’ll get completely slimmed for saying this (and what follows), but a lot of my blog reading is motivated by my will to write — sure, I read lots of interesting things on blogs that I may never write about. But it’s the writer in me that pushes me to be an avid reader.

Which makes me wonder — how much of blog writing and blog reading is a completely closed system, both self-referential and self-absorbed?

Which brings me back to that elusive mass audience — the 80% of Americans who rarely or never read blogs. (Which reminds me of the percentage of people who’ve never heard of RSS.) Are most Americans not blog readers because they have neither the time nor the inclination to be blog writers? If you look at the ratio of blogger to non-blogger commenters on this and almost any other blogs, it’s quite high.

Maybe blogging doesn’t want or need to be a mass medium. But if we do want to reach a mass audience, then maybe we need to take a long, hard look in the mirror — or maybe we need to stop gazing at ourselves in the mirror.

UPDATE
I’m hopping off the wagon long enough to point to this New York Magazine article on The Blog Establishment, which gives a mainstream treatment to all of our navel-gazing.

UPDATE #2
Paul Kedrosky hits the nail on the head — blogs are not yet mainstream because they still reflect their geek origins as to topics and content:

Only when the proportional representation of entertainment, technology, culture, politics, and sports in blog “top 100″ lists matches that in the broader media economy will we know that blogging has truly become mainstream.

As Paul points out, this evolution is already happening, but it’s not there yet. And it’s a natural evolution in any new medium — it happened with the Internet — when blogging itself is no longer the story, the medium will have matured, and arrived.

  • Bodnar Blog has a good post with references to a "New York Magazine" article on blogging:
    http://www.esoos.com/archives/...

    Mike

  • Scott, that's a great post!

    I spend a lot of time doing casual market research. I ask people questions every day. Very informal. I also have been developing a consumer electronics product and have been paying good money for in-depth formal consumer market research.

    The numbers you're quoting ring true with me and I don't think they're misleading at all, but provide a bit of insight. Blogging is a niche, and I really do agree that part of the motivation for reading is the desire to write. Of people I've preached "blog, blog, blog!" to, the only ones who really stick with it are the ones that want to be involved themselves.

    I liken the whole experience to a good group discussion. You can learn a lot more by being involved in the discussion than listening.

    I also think "edge competencies" are in their infancy when it comes to blogging, and better technology will make things more fluid and easier to consume. I want something which is much better than memeorandum. In fact, I can easiliy imagine a "Harper's Magazine" format completely populated by automatically selected and formatted blogs. Maybe this flies in the face of "owning your space" and my first inclination is to say "no I don't want that". But, that's my perspective as a blogger. I think the audience perspective might be quite different.

  • I tend to believe Sifry's stats are highly misleading. As far as I know, though they eliminate splog, they count every demo, every one-day wonder, every long-abandoned toe-dip, as part of the "cumulative" number. That number will then almost never decrease, and increase very rapidly with hype and marketing.

  • Yahoo whitepaper on RSS adoption (and My Yahoo user RSS awarness) here if you're interested:

    http://publisher.yahoo.com/rss...

    It may not say "most" don't know though... I've slept a few times since I read it.

  • I would imagine so... there are other blogs... I mean websites, for me to pursue in the future. I don't think it will happen all that quickly, though. We've likely got years before blogging is not a new communications and marketing tool to the masses.

    As far as whether people know it's a blog, you might be surprised. Outside of politics and business, a lot of blogs don't even refer to what they do as blogging. Look in the health and wellness field for one. Publishers are transitioning slowly away from ezines to the blogging format, but they see no need to talk about it with their audience.

    And Yahoo itself says that most My Yahoo users don't know it's RSS under the hood. So I feel pretty confortable with that one.

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