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January 03, 2007

Web 2: Cultural Diversity, Adverts & The Long Tail

Currently there seems to be a debate going on about making money through blogs and websites for small organisations.

Media Studies students will recognise very general issues which occur whatever the kind of media you are using. This post suggests that many people think that it is possible for a small scale blog which is targetting a very niche audience is going to make some money through services such as Adsense which are offered by Google. (The post is from Anderson’s diary about his concept of the Long Tail).

The following quotation has been taken from another blog which is bemoaning the fact that the tiny amount of money generated from her site falls below the minimum amount that Google is prepared to administer:

I’m beginning to have my doubts about Chris Anderson’s long tail, the proposition that cultural boutiques can make a living from audiences on the Internet. One disgruntled publisher complains she’s owed less than the minimum Google can be bothered to pay her. And, as fast as she makes money, Google lifts the threshold. [She writes:] “When I started with Adsense in late 2004/ early 2005 the minimum was $25. Just when was about to hit the $25 minimum, they raised it to $50. Now that I have $45 in my account, the minimum is $100. Granted, I have a site with very low traffic, but how many website owners are getting screwed by Google? If the long-tail theory holds out, there could be millions of dollars of unpaid Google ads. (My emphasis).

I must say I don’t have much sympathy. Of course Google had a low starting point they were trying to encourage creativity which would ultimately generate successful people and Google a fair bit of money. I believe Adsense pays about a dollar a time if somebody clicks an advert on your blog. If you are expecting to magically make money from a tiny niche market you will be disappointed. People can still get a free blog from Google and Google Analytics provides an extremly sophisticated service which many commercial concerns can use to improve marketing or to try and make pages more popular. All these services cost money yet they are free.

I use Google Analytics on this blog. I’m interested in who is attracted to this blog and what it is that attracts them. For example I had 16 hits the other week from Chellaston in Derbyshire. I have also had hits from cities in Chile and in Australia as well as from China, Vietnam and Taiwan and a lot from the USA. I’m both surprised and pleased because much of this blog is targeted to quite tight audiences.

What is Google Analytics?

On November 13, 2005, Google announced Google Analytics, a free Web analytics service targeted at the long tail of small and medium-size businesses that lack a Web analytics solution. While “free” is a powerful word, the Urchin product on which Google Analytics is built is less than a Web analytics powerhouse. The offering will succeed at the lower end of the market, but won’t completely ruin the party for high-end vendors.

The above analysis comes from a business technology company Forrester Research who describe themselves as:
Forrester Research (Nasdaq: FORR) is an independent technology and market research company that provides pragmatic and forward-thinking advice about technology’s impact on business and consumers.

Their analysis of Google Analytics in full will cost you $50-00 if you are silly enough. They may wish to eat these rather expensive words by the look of the client base Google seems to be gaining. (Anyway no links to rip off artists like that!).

The point about Google analytics is that anybody is allowed to use to help them get some income from their site. As that isn’t this sites primary aim then I can use the tools for other purposes such as seeing whether my students are accessing the site. Criticise Google for giving us all a version of big brother if you like but they want you to make money and they seem to be doing all they can to encourage this by letting you study the audience you do have.

Creativity and Diversity

Of course I am interested in the possibilities of individuals or small companies making a living from working in this way! As far as I’m concerned blogs are a fascinating form of media. If people can make them interesting enough then an audience will appear. Audiences are fickle at the best of times as Ien Ang’s classic media book Desparately Seeking the Audience shows. (Please note the publisher is remaining nameless. I could put a link through and if they pay me I will, otherwise you will have to find it yourself. In other words there are lots of opportunities to offer a service to interested parties).

There is no reason why the web should be any different to any other sort of media in this respect. Cheapness of access is nevertheless democratising. Finally we might get to the point where audience and content interact to provide a genuinely new media paradigm.

Being able to publish in a range of different forms when you are ready to is genuinely liberating. Previously media companies were having to programme full schedules now the: what you want, when you want it how you want it culture that new media is developing means that good quality programmes, sites, etc. can be made available for years if need be.

Audiences will eventually decide whether these are worth bothering with. If nobody recommends them then they will die a natural death or adapt. (bit of cyber-Darwinian theory :-). But the woman who is complaining has been given free publishing opportunities, unheard of in the past. Given that it costs Google something to run I don’t think there are reasonable grounds for complaint. Let’s face the now $100.00 payout is miniscule for an advanced Western country. If you want money find an audience or else be happy that you can egoistically be speaking to a few afficionados worldwide.

However, an alternative is that if you are a small-time publisher who is unlikely to ever get those few dollars from Google, why not all club togther and donate to the one lap top per child project. For $100.00 or around £60-00 you can get a child in an underdeveloped country a good computer. Indirectly this is increasing your market so do the world a favour and get that money out of Google’s accounts if it bothers you.

Publishing opportunities

Thanks to Google for allowing lots of people to play with these new technologies and affording some the opportunity to create new cultural voices for nothing. If you are publishing poetry you usually pay the printer for the priviledge, and you feel proud if you get your money back. Most poetry publishers do it because they feel a creative urge often it will only be read by people with similar interests and that’s fine.

In the world of Jazz Derek Bailey and Evan Parker both excellent and highly experimental musicians were making music more for other musicians than for a wider public. Miles Davis made a good living and was popular and so does Jan Garbarek, on the whole their music is less experimental. Often not to many people’s tastes but to enough to enable them to go on making their style of music.

Whatever kind of media you are working in you can either make your art / service with a wider audience in mind or you can target a very narrow audience. At the end of the day it is the audience which drives cultural diversity, not advertising, nor the artist. Without audiences cultural creators are nothing. If people are so egoistic that they only want to make a cultural creation for their own benefit that’s fine, just don’t whinge when you don’t make money from it.

This doesn’t detract from the original argument put forward by Chris Anderson in Wired Magazine:

In the tyranny of physical space, an audience too thinly spread is the same as no audience at all.

On the above link you can find his original concept of The Long Tail.

Is Diversity Necessarily Good Quality?

A point worth making about the issue of cultural diversity is that just being diverse doesn’t necessarily equate to being good in terms of the quality of what is produced. What it does mean from the perspective of cultural citizenship is that many people are finding a voice in ways that were previously impossible. Hopefully the better ones will be able to make a living
without compromising their ideas for the sake of commercialism. Sometimes all people want to do is to communicate thier ideas, and there has never been a better opportunity than now.

The advantage of web publishing as we move inexorably towards a networked society creating what I prefer to think of as a global city it affords opportunities for many. The metaphor of city is more appropriate than Marshall McLuhan’s “Global Village”. The physical city of Modernity liberated people from the claustrophobic control of the Local landowner and the Church. It is getting increasingly hard to disagree with Anderson’s argument that the networked society is freeing many from the ‘tyranny of physical space’ which was previously the prerogative of government or powerful media tycoons.

It appears as though Web 2 is finally begining to deliver on the original promise of the internet. There will always be crass commercialism and so-called ‘celebrity’ culture with sad people talking about ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ the home of has-beens and cheap publicity seekers. encouragingly vast new cultural spaces are beginning to open in a genuinely “popular way”. When I say popular I mean generated and growing from people’s own ideas rather than people being spoonfed with crass programmes like Big Brother keeping the ex public schoolboy ‘inventor’ happy in his mansion in Hampstead.

The Long Tail Market

The Long Tail in Media

So what then is this ‘long-tail market’ that people are doubting. Here is Anderson’s summary contained on his Long Tail diary

In Long Tail markets, hits lose their monopoly on culture as they share the stage with million of niche products. Minority taste rules.There are three basic types of participants in Long Tail markets: consumers, aggregators and producers (note that it’s possible to be all three; these aren’t mutually incompatible). The main effects on each are: * Consumers. Effect: Largely cultural. People have more choice, so individual taste increasingly satisfied even if the effect is an increasingly fragmented culture. * Aggregators. Effect: Largely economic. It’s never been easier to assemble vast variety and create tools for organizing it, from search to recommendations. Increased variety plus increased demand for variety equals opportunity. Also note that just as one size doesn’t fit all for products, nor does it for aggregators. I think the winner-take-all examples of eBay, Amazon, iTunes and Google are a first-inning phenomena. Specialized niche aggregators (think: vertical search, such as the real estate service Zillow) are on the rise. * Producers. Effect: Largely non-economic. I responded to a good Nick Carr post on this last year with the following: “For producers, Long Tail benefits are not primarily about direct revenues. Sure, Google Adsense on the average blog will generate risible returns, and the average band on MySpace probably won’t sell enough CDs to pay back their recording costs, much less quit their day jobs. But the ability to unitize such microcelebrity can be significant elsewhere. A blog is a great personal branding vehicle, leading to anything from job offers to consulting gigs. And most band’s MySpace pages are intended to bring fans to live shows, which are the market most bands care most about. When you look at the non-monetary economy of reputation, the Long Tail looks a lot more inviting for its inhabitants.

Well this blog seems to be largely agreeing with my audience analysis above and interestingly makes a lot of the the notion of a blended world of culture with material life interacting with virtual a core value. It is audiences that make the culture in the final analysis!


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