Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Is there life after The Huffington Post?

Several weeks ago The Huffington Post approached me with a proposal to republish Overgrown Path posts on their US edition. This opportunity clearly deserved serious consideration, and as part of that process I sought the opinion of some people in the industry that I respect. All the responses were thoughtful, but predictably they ranged from "fantastic - go for it!" to "don't under any circumstances nail your colours to that mast". One industry maven, whose opinions I have a lot of time for, responded positively and said "Without strong syndication or aggregation (like Huff) I don't see much future in blogging" and this set me off down the current path.

I happen to share that view of "I don't see much future in blogging" but am not convinced that syndication and aggregation is the longterm solution, because the problems runs deeper. The received wisdom is that micro-blog formats such as Twitter and Facebook have usurped macro-blogs like An Overgrown Path as the media of the moment, but I disagree. Instead my view is that classical music blogging in both micro and macro formats is losing its appeal because a number of high profile bloggers have sucked the genre into a vicious downward spiral. This spiral means blogs are fast becoming no more than an echo chamber for industry press releases and salacious gossip leavened occasionally by that perennial fallback for the creatively challenged, a YouTube video. Let's not forget that yesterday's corporately-cooked lunch is unappetising even when reheated by syndication and aggregation.

I do not claim to being an expert on social media, but it appears to me that not only is the future for blogging bleak, but also that the bandwagon for The Huffington Post and other aggregation and syndication distribution models is losing momentum. It is just a sample of one, but the most iconoclastic writing about classical music that I have read recently, Gavin Plumley on Philip Glass' Ninth Symphony, appeared in The Hudson Review; a journal that is not just subscription only, but also does not have a digital edition other than through the JSTOR academic network. Or maybe it is not a sample of one: the Guardian recently reported that the influential satirical magazine Private Eye has reached a twenty-five year circulation high, despite, or perhaps because of, not having a digital edition. Could it be the social media pundits cannot see the wood for the trees? Is a hybrid model of micro-tasters pointing at paywall/paperwall protected macro-content of quality emerging?

Regular readers will know I am not a fan of bandwagons, which means I have passed up the opportunity to become an unpaid but legally liable Huffington Post contributor. There are many reasons for this decision including my discomfort with their transparently one-sided reward model, and a concern that my writing would be constrained by exposure to a much bigger but very different audience. But the clinching reason for saying no simply shows how unwordly this little blog is. In eight years of blogging I have only written once about our cat, but I simply decided I did not want photos of Ginger appearing on The Huffington Post.

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Andrew said...

Blogging’s undoing will always be its financial unviability. But, of course, step under the umbrella of a larger organisation and its greatest asset – independence of point of view – will be sacrificed. It’s very hard to match ambition with the results possible with no money. Trust me: I think about it every day when I’m earning a living at work but not writing that multi part series on the history of violin playing I’ve been planning in my head!

Pliable said...

Patrick Hogan comments via Facebook:

"Bob,you walk the talk. Bravo!"

Elaine Fine said...

This is the problem exactly! Thank you for staying where (and as) you are.

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

Follow your bliss.

And I hope you're wrong about the demise of blogging. Blogs like yours are like challenging music - they may not be hip in the social network sense, but they challenge their audience to think and explore the nature of music and music making in ways mass marketed stuff will never be able (or want) to.


The current public discussion about the arts and the need to bring them back to schools is what has led the Huff Post to reach out to more arts bloggers.

Whatever you want to say about the lack of shared revenue, if you think the things you have to say could be interesting and helpful and reach a wider audience, then why not post there? If you would just rather not, that's fine...but let the public see some thoughtful and interesting discussions I say.

JMW said...

"Unpaid but legally liable..." Great line!

davidderrick said...

This may be naive, but I don't see why "echo chamber" blogs or affiliated blogs mean that independent ones will die. People read what is worth reading. The number of discriminating readers stays constant or maybe it grows.

This is sounding a bit like Norman Lebrecht. Whether you can afford to write a blog which pays you nothing or next to nothing is a separate matter, but people with things to say usually do find time.

sfmike said...

Peter Huestis at Princess Sparkle Pony's photoblog has long dubbed the site "The Huffington Thing" and it seems to become more unreadable with every unpaid writer they add. Let me echo Patrick Hogan on congratulating you for walking the talk.

My "Civic Center" blog doesn't have a very large audience but the readers who do check in regularly tend to be smart, influential and likely to rebroadcast anything original from my posts to the wider world. It's a wonderfully satisfying thing to start a meme that is taken up by enough people that it soon becomes common knowledge, and getting credit for the original idea is the least of my concerns.

As for blogs "fast becoming no more than an echo chamber for industry press releases and salacious gossip leavened occasionally by that perennial fallback for the creatively challenged, a YouTube video," why do you think I come to An Overgrown Path rather than the many sites which fit that description? So, it's a lot of work with little reward other than self-satisfaction, but you've done a great job and continue to do so. Plus, I've learned gazillions of weird and interesting things here, the BBC needs to have you kicking them in the ass, your links between music and spirituality are the most catholic in the small c sense imaginable, and I thank you.

Pliable said...

TH via email -

Bob, no offense, but I was quite surprised that Fluffington Post would
be interested in your thought-provoking and meaty ? sorry, herbaceous
--tangents. And I have to chortle at the term ?aggregation?. Wal-Mart
may see no future ?without strong aggregation?, but The Overgrown Path
is a boutique, or independent book store, where one languishes and
gets lost, and which strongly reflects the prickly proprietor?s

Sure, from time to time we have to visit Wal-Mart or taste the
salacious gossip (and the author whose books the Norwich Library
keeps on reserve for you), but in the end some of us need the
substance of blogs such as yours, or of small circulation rags like
The Hudson Review.

Your last two sentences made a lot of sense in explaining your
decision. Please stay ?unworldly? and remain being yourself.

Congrats on your decision, and a chunk of (sustainable) tuna to Ginger.

davidderrick said...

And hmmm to this: "that perennial fallback for the creatively challenged, a YouTube video."

I post them a lot. It is to share things as widely as possible that I can't bear not to share. Whether anyone listens to them is another matter. Yes, there may be lazy pr motivations for others!

Andrew said...

davidderrick: I think most of us do it, but I always feel slightly ashamed of myself for it! Pliable's comment raised a smile here because it is quite true.

davidderrick said...

Andrew, Thanks. Don't want to make too much of this, but no, I don't agree it's true. Or it isn't for me. I've spent half my life trying to get tone-dead (I wrote that, not tone-deaf) people to listen to things, usually unsuccessfully, and I suppose this is the last shred of those hopes. That may make me a bore. It does not make me "creatively challenged".

Andrew said...

David; fair enough. There are different ways of doing and it can be a very useful tool. I think there can be a tendancy among some bloggers, though, to think "Argh! I haven't posted anything all week! Quick, find a youtube video!". I know because I've done that before. But blog and let blog, I say.

davidderrick said...

Andrew, Indeed! And I never said I wasn't lazy!

Have just subscribed to you.

mrG said...

I'm applauding loudly -- there are more reasons to write than simply (shallowly) wanting something economically viable. Making money is easy, it's the making sense that is hard. I also applaud the recognition of the one-sided contract; I had a similar run in of my own some years back with an aggregator: why should I give MY writing to YOU so that YOU can reap the advertising revenues from all the eyeballs I might attract? I was more popular then, more spunky.

but the truth of the internet world, whether you see it as a sad or happy truth, is just as Momus said back in the 90's: in the future everyone will be famous to fifteen people! and I applaud that idea because it means we can abandon the silly notion of immediate gratification from peer support and get back to the grand classical ideal of writing because we must.