What Happens When Blogs Grow Up

Toward the end of a post at Reuters about a change to its RSS feed content, Felix Salmon notes that Gawker seems to be making a move “away from being a big blog and towards competing directly with the likes of nytimes.com for serious online traffic.” He further predicts (and got Gawker owner Nick Denton to confirm) that the next step would be “to rejigger the home pages” of his blogs towards an edited format.

While Salmon calls this the beginning of the end of an era, that period that it marks the end of (for Gawker) is called “childhood.”

The blog is the microwave oven of the publishing kitchen:  it’s fast, convenient, and gets ideas heated up and out on the table quickly–without a lot of deliberation, mess or hassle.  A blog is a fantastic toolset for anyone who wants to get a site started quickly and publish with ease.

But it’s no surprise that when a publisher gets serious, it brings bigger appliances to bear.  Publishing done right creates experiences for readers.  The format of sequential entries is simplistic.  For any publication to get successful with a broader audience, it’s only natural that it must present not just a series of stories but a point of view on what’s important.  As Gawker’s traffic ambitions and business sophistication grow, so must its  presentation of itself to its audiences.

In this case, the surprise is not that publishers like Gakwer will grow up and out of the blog format:  the surprise is that this format has done so well for them for so long.

The New Generation of Media Moguls

Simon Dumenco wrote at AdAge this week about the billionaire benefactors of old media:  the Sulzbergers, Rupert Murdoch, Bruce Wasserstein, Sam Zell, John R. MacArthur, and more.  He laments their aging, and in a subhead asks “where’s the next generation of Richie Riches willing to take losses on worthy media properties?”

It’s easy to take a melancholy view that the good old days of media are behind us.  But “who wants to take a loss?” is the wrong question.  Let’s get real:  The future of media had better not be about finding philanthropists to fund it.  It needs to be about creating successful businesses.  Those successful businesses will create wealth, not consume it, when they deliver content and experiences that are worth paying for by advertisers and consumers alike.

So who are these emerging emperors of the digital media age so far?

  • Steve Chen & Chad Hurley – YouTube defied the idea that media is created in publishing houses.  It’s a liquid marketplace for video content that consumer can’t get enough of as evidenced by 20 minute average visits.  To do that, they’ve merged content created by consumers, entrepreneurs, and media industry alike. While it hasn’t proven to monetize yet on-site, the concept alone was rewarded with a $1.65B purchase.
  • Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook reaches over 100 million per month in the U.S. alone, and is an addictive communications medium by which we connect to the world around us. Mark redefined content so broadly that it now includes anything anyone would want to share – whether it’s personal photos or articles or games or brand experiences.
  • Biz Stone and Evan Williams – Twitter has become the de facto network for propagating fresh content among distributors.  It plays a major role building audiences not only for itself but for every other media property.
  • Steve Jobs – Apple has redefined the music industry and remade the consumer experience of music.  By changing how music, video (more recently), and book (soon) content is consumed, Jobs has exploited consumers’ love of experience:  it’s not just the content that matters, but how we consume it.
  • Jeremy Stoppelman – More than anyone else, Yelp has successfully merged the notions of community and content:  and in the process, they have created the most successful example of a local content empire without an empire’s worth of payroll expenses.
  • Mark Pincus – Zynga has redefined media consumption by creating games in the social networks, and by moving well beyond advertising to get revenues.  Mark has literally created a new category of media.

Each one of these figures has created a new model that matches the digital age.  And, in fact, every one of them has done it by breaking with traditional publishing to interleave content and consumption so that they are inseparable.

That interactivity of content and consumption is a defining difference between the new world of media and the falling empires of legacy publishing.  Those who master the synergy between their audience and their content can transform their consumers into far more than just a target for advertising:  their audience participates in building the empire itself.

(Missing anyone?   Post a comment with your thoughts.)