Millions of bloggers can't be wrong.
Despite my repeated attempts to interest comScore in a quickie study on the blogs for their PR purposes, they haven't bitten. There is, however, a small body of research emerging on the blog phenomenon, which I've set out to collect and analyze here.
Several recent news reports have cited the number of blogs being published worldwide as 4 million. As best I can tell, that number comes from a study from Perseus, published late last year. Perseus' estimate, however, counts only blogs hosted on eight specific services, excluding many blogs hosted on independent domains and elsewhere, notably those published with the popular tool Movable Type.
More recently, in late February 2004, the Pew Research Center released a study based on phone surveys of 2,515 online adults it had conducted a year earlier, which found that 2 percent of respondents had their own blogs. Based on Pew's estimate that 126 million U.S. adults are online (as of December 2003), that works out to 2.5 million U.S. adults who blog (note that Perseus' 4 million estimate included blogs worldwide.)
The same Pew study, however, noted that a more recent 2004 survey suggests that up to 7 percent of online U.S. adults, or 8.8 million people, now blog. That year-on-year growth rate of bloggers would be roughly consistent with blog research firm Technorati, which tracks more than 2 million blogs and adds some 10,000 new blogs every day.
As a professional researcher, I take all of these numbers with a pinch of salt. So there may be 2.5 million U.S. bloggers, or there may be 8.8 million. The real question such numbers help answer is, "Is it bigger than a bread box? Are we talking small, medium or large?"
Remarkably, when the Pew study first came out, AP spun the story as 2 percent being a surprisingly small number of bloggers (CNN.com attached the headline to that story: "Study: Very few bloggers on Net".) Yet, blogger Rogers Cadenhead notes that Pew's low-end estimate of the number of blogs is more than the 2.2 million copies that USA Today prints on regular weekdays, the country's biggest newspaper.
Whether it's 2.5 million or 8.8 million, we're still talking about the number of blog writers, not readers. The same Pew study, fielded a year ago, found that 11 percent of respondents read Weblogs with some regularity. Last summer, I conducted a survey for the email services agency Quris, in which we included a question about blog readership, which similarly found 10 percent of the 1,691 respondents regularly read Weblogs (see details of that research in the table "Characteristics of Weblog Readers" below). Bearing in mind that those numbers have doubtless grown in the year since those two surveys, that is still 13 to 14 million Weblog readers. Furthermore, I would venture a lot more people are reading Weblogs without realizing those sites are called Weblogs.
Super-popular blogger Glen Reynolds, of Instapundit.com, leaves his traffic logs open, where we can see that he averages around 100,000 visitors a day and more than 2 million uniques a month. Considering that he's only one guy, that's astounding. By comparison, HoustonChronicle.com reports 1.5 million unique monthly readers. Granted, Instapundit is one of the most widely read bloggers out there, but it puts the phenomenon in perspective.
Meanwhile, Matt Drudge -- who hates to be called a blogger, but he is, so he should just get over it -- hinted to Radar Magazine last year that he earns more than a million dollars a year selling banner ads on his hugely popular DrudgeReport.
The Quris research shows that blog readers skew somewhat younger than average Web surfers, are power-users of the Net and media junkies in general, spend more money online, and consume a disproportionate amount of literature, pop culture and electronics. No big surprises there for anyone who reads blogs, but the bottom line is that this segment sounds like an attractive demographic for advertisers.
Yet advertisers, particularly mainstream ones, still haven't embraced blogs. Another study by BlogSearchEngine.com from December 2003 found that only 13 percent of 610 bloggers surveyed currently run advertisements. The study didn't elaborate, but the majority of those are doubtless using Google AdSense. There are a growing number, however, that are beginning to sell ads for real money.
BlogAds is a 2-year-old ad network catering specifically to bloggers, which lists some 200 blogs that each have at least 3,000 weekly ad impressions available. CEO Henry Copeland declined to specify how much revenue any of his customers were taking in through the system, but he suggested that more than a few were "kicking ass" through their blogs "in terms of how much they take home and job satisfaction" compared to ordinary journalists.
One of the sites in his network, for example, DailyKos.com, written by political maven Markos Zuniga, charges $700 and $600 per week for the top ad positions on his site and $300 a week for the rest. Last week, DailyKos.com featured a total of nine ads, which, by my calculation, should have grossed Zuniga $3,400 for the week. At those rates, Zuniga could afford to take six weeks off a year unpaid and still pull in over $150,000.
Most BlogAd advertisers are promoting niche products, more akin to classifieds or the small ads in the back of The New Yorker than to display ads for big brand companies. The medium, Copeland suggests, is ideal for "products that have a sensibility, not commodities, those looking to find audiences with a particular mindset."
Entrepreneur Nick Denton has launched Gawker Media, a family of stylish Weblogs on themes such as media gossip, politics and electronics (with more properties on the way). These "nano-publishing" sites (i.e., one writer per site) have already begun to appeal to more mainstream advertisers. Using traditional online ad formats like banners and skyscrapers, which are less common on most other blogs, the Gawker sites have already played host to advertisers including Jose Cuervo, Absolut Vodka, British Airways, Warner Brothers Music, Intuit Quickbooks and the John Kerry campaign, among others.
The coarse language, no-holds-barred subject matter and sloppy editing of many blogs will be hard for more conservative advertisers to embrace, Denton says (his site Gizmodo lost an advertiser recently due to its coverage of a dildo bicycle seat, for example). Blogs can be "conversational, potty-mouthed sometimes, edgy, controversial," he says.
"It's barroom or coffeehouse conversation translated to written media, and the fact is a lot of mainstream advertisers are uncomfortable with that. On the other hand, there are advertisers that want to reach the Gawker demographic: urban, 25- to 34-year-old, metrosexual-verging-on-hipster. They are the influencers, the people who make all the trends. Smart advertisers who are not going after the mainstream market have to be comfortable with the language of that audience. I'd rather get less money from cooler advertisers than bore readers."
Source: Quris "View From the Inbox" research, n=1,691, July 2003
Rick E. Bruner is an Internet marketing consultant who blogs at ExecutiveSummary.com, BusinessBlogConsulting.com and Bruner.net/blog, among other places.