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business 2.0

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Viewing “blogging” (or blogging-related activities) as a means of making money is still fairly new. Whenever I’m not sure how to articulate how something should work, I tend to look at the entertainment industry, because I think it is the closest thing there is to how the “blogging industry” (or social media, if you’d rather call it that) might be structured. Below are some examples of the ways I think the two industries are comparable.

1. The people in front of the camera get the most attention.

In entertainment, actors get the most attention. The most popular and best paid actors are usually the ones who get the most attention, because they generally spend the most time in front of the camera. This is also true in the blogosphere, even though access to attention through social media is ostensibly democratic. Some bloggers spend more time in visible places: they have more readers, they have more followers, they attend and speak at more conferences. These people can be thought of as the “talent” segment of the blogosphere.

2. The most attention does not always equal the most money.

As the world of supermarket tabloids and reality TV demonstrates, appearing everywhere does not necessarily mean you are being paid the most. There are certain people who appear everywhere and are highly compensated, but there are also people who appear everywhere for other reasons. They might have a particular train wreck appeal that sells well, like the has-been starlets who frequent tabloids. Or, they might be well-connected and have access to particular outlets, like the socialites who have become famous for, basically, being famous (Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie, Kim Kardashian). Being visible and being successful are not always the same thing, but because people often confuse the two, sometimes being visible can lead to being successful, both in the entertainment industry and in the blogosphere.

3. There is a whole other universe of jobs that exist beyond those that get all of the attention.

If you live in Los Angeles, there is a good chance that your income is touched in some manner by the entertainment industry. People think of actors, directors, writers, and producers as the key players in entertainment, but they might forget that there are a ton of other people involved: lighting, photography, costuming, makeup, styling, set designers, set builders, publicity people, advertising people, agents, etc. The people you actually can see on the screen are only a tiny part of a giant thing that is the entertainment industrial complex.

The same is true for the blogosphere. Visible bloggers — “famous” or “celebrity” bloggers, whether they make their living from doing this or not, are only one tiny part. There are tons of other kinds of jobs — ad company owners, ad manangers, ad sellers, brand consultants, web designers, conference organizers, app designers, people who match up brands and bloggers for campaigns, PR reps, blog consultants, etc. We don’t really have names for a lot of the different kinds of jobs there are at this point, in fact.

4. Some of the less attention jobs pay far better than the higher attention jobs.

The high-attention jobs can pay very well if you manage to get one of the very top slots. For example, if you are an actor and you manage to make it to George Clooney’s level, then you are going to make tons of money. But not everybody who tries to be an actor is going to make it to that level. Not everybody is even going to make it to George Lopez’s level.

The thing is, there some of the less-attention jobs are far more lucrative than the higher attention jobs, because they involve putting together deals for both kinds of Georges. But to take those kinds of jobs, you have to be comfortable with spending less time in the limelight.

5. The higher attention jobs tend to come with an expiration date and/or worries about over-exposure.

Positions that rely on a lot of time in the public eye are more difficult to maintain for a variety of reasons. It is generally easier for younger, good-looking people to get jobs as actors, and in order to stay on top they need to maintain a perfect appearance and pay a team of experts to manage their reputation. Even with all of these safeguards, an actor has to be careful about the kinds of projects they take and alliances they make, or else they may become overexposed and jeopardize their overall value as a brand.

To a lesser degree, this is also true for popular bloggers. If they do not innovate, they risk losing their audience in the passage of time. If their blog’s story is tied to something that is time-sensitive (child rearing, their youth and beauty), they may have problems maintaining it as the center of a career in the long term. And, finally, working with too many brands, too often, can jeopardize the goodwill they have built up with their audience.

Remember back last May or June or something, when we were wondering what the fuck Dooce View definition in a new window was up to with her HGTV deal and buying a house and all that crap? And we thought maybe Dooce was going to buy a new house and HGTV would be buying it for her or paying her to fix it up or whatever, for a reality show? And then Dooce showed up on my blog and offered to invite me over for sweet tea View definition in a new window if she ever moved to LA?

Wasn’t that awesome?

What was I talking about again?

Oh yeah. Right. I still don’t know what is going on with any of that stuff.

But look, if I really wanted to be a real journalist and try to stick to stuff I knew about for sure, I’d have very little news to write about here, because very few of the people I write about will tell me anything until like 10 months after the fact. Like for example, now I know for sure that Dooce was in the market for a new house, just like we guessed she was way back in June. It turns out that it only took us a few weeks to find out that that particular wildly speculative instinct was correct, because the Armstrongs announced the fact that they had bought a house just a few weeks after that. (Go us! though.)

And hey, here’s another thing we speculated about in the comments that it turns out we were correct about — remember when Dooce cancelled her SxSw appearance to go to Los Angeles last March, but she wouldn’t say why, and we thought that perhaps it was for some kind of HGTV or otherwise entertainment-bidness related reason? Well, it turns out that it was!

If you read Jon Armstrong’s recent post, you will have noted that one of the things they did in Los Angeles was sign a deal with CAA. Now, for those of you who don’t already know, CAA stands for Creative Artists Agency, a large agency out here known for representing big time celebrities and other big shots in the entertainment industry. And because Jon Armstrong talks about CAA, links to the main page of CAA, mentions a “production company” they have started in a nearby paragraph, and talks about being relieved to finally have “professional dealmakers” at their disposal, this all points to a lot of important entertainment industry related goings on at the Blurbodoocery! So exciting.

I did a little digging, and it turns out that, while Dooce does seem to have signed signed a deal with CAA, it might be more specifically correct to say that she signed a deal to be represented by CAA Speakers, the division of CAA that handles professional speaking circuit deals. CAA Speakers represents a ton of people on the professional speaking circuit, many of whom you have heard of, and many of whom are getting extremely lucrative speaking deals on a regular basis from corporations across the country. Public speaking can be a good business to get into, particularly for people who have already made a name for themselves in other contexts, and hiring somebody to broker deals for this kind of thing seems like a good move.

Naturally, I was curious what it might cost to get Heather Armstrong View definition in a new window to come to speak at one of my (many) upcoming events. So I contacted CAA Speakers and inquired about her going rate. According to Amie Yavor, a representative at CAA Speakers, the cost to have Heather Armstrong speak would be $12,000 plus first class airfare for one to and from Salt Lake City (FYI since I live in Los Angeles, this stipulation would run me an extra couple thousand).

Heather Armstrong spoke at Hallmark Headquarters in 2008, and there is some evidence that she might have had paid speaking gigs elsewhere (Sunstone Symposium in 2008?) since then; however, I have not been able to find a reference to public speaking engagements since she signed with CAA outside of the appearance that is scheduled for later this month at Alt Summit. My assumption is that she won’t be charging her quoted fee for that conference, because to do so would in effect bankrupt the conference, unless they have far more lucrative sponsorship deals than I had imagined. On the other hand, I don’t think that all private speaking deals are necessarily going to be accessible to the public, so how many gigs and how often Dooce is speaking is anybody’s guess.

In any case, private speaking gigs can provide a good living if you can get them. This clears up a lot of questions for me, actually, about the goings on at the Blurbodoocery. Kudos to them, I hope it works out.

Several of you have asked why I haven’t discussed Heather Spohr and Brittany Gibbons’ new endeavor, Mouth Media, and especially, the event View definition in a new window they are planning in Las Vegas, I Still Do. Here’s the deal: Heather and Brittany are friends of mine, and I had originally planned on recusing myself from a discussion of their project because I wasn’t sure I could be objective. I’m still not entirely sure I can be objective, but I’m going to try. However, since several people have asked me to weigh in on it, and because I’ve discussed it with both Heather and Brittany, and they have both said they are willing to hear feedback, good and bad, in order to be more successful, I’ve decided to go ahead and discuss the event here. I hope you guys will weigh in with your thoughts in the comments as well.

1. Mouth Media is a free-form company that is designed to help them retain profits without using a third-party ad network or agent/PR company.

When I initially read Mouth Media’s “About” section, I thought, what is this? What is this for? Because there is not really anything exactly like it out there right now, and it wasn’t immediately clear to me what they planned to do with it. But after thinking about it, I realized that whatever they had planned for it would involve taking ad networks out of the monetizing equation and saving more profits for themselves. And so then I started thinking more about it and decided it was a good move for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that any time you attempt to take the ad network out of the equation you are on the right track.

Here’s the other issue: monetizing opportunities and techniques in social media right now are changing constantly — they are changing daily, even. You cannot afford to be waiting around for monetizing opportunities to be presented to you. If you work to create relationships with brands on your own now, then when an idea comes to you, you can pitch it right away. Mouth Media is Heather and Brittany’s company for doing this type of thing without an ad network acting as their broker. The description is loose because the projects and the monetizing opportunities in social media are largely unformed at present.

2. I worry, as always, about trust capital View definition in a new window.

When Heather and Brittany announced the Las Vegas event I was hesitant. I had reservations — I still do. As we know, I have been questioning how comfortable I am with corporate sponsorship in general lately, though when it is clearly separated from content (as it is here) that makes a huge difference for me. Still, I would guess there is going to be corporate affiliation with Heather’s and Brittany’s personal brands as a result of the event, and I do not know if this will impact them long term. I question whether or not there may be a finite number of brands you can work with in this kind of capacity before people get sick of it. I tend to think that people expect an ostensibly “big” company like BlogHer View definition in a new window to be using corporate sponsorship for its events (though they still get flack for it, of course), but Mouth Media is a partnership, so it will still be strongly associated with Heather and Brittany as individuals. Because of that, I think there may be a psychological block, i.e. this is not a promotional event thrown by a company, it’s a party thrown by two women for their friends. The same event, but an important distinction in how tolerant people are of the corporate element.

3. Events are the easiest thing to monetize in social media right now.

That said, events are wildly successful in social media right now. Conferences continue to propagate and sell out all over the place. People not only go to them, they will pay lots of money to go to them. This event that Heather and Brittany are planning does not pay for your travel or accommodations (but they don’t make any money off that, either, by the way), but it’s also free when you get there. So it’s a far better deal than a conference, for much the same thing that most of the conferences are offering. I’ve been to conferences, and with a few notable exceptions, they do not offer much except for the opportunity to meet and network with bloggers. That is what Brittany and Heather are offering here, in a smaller environment. Events are highly successful and brands are very excited to be a part of them, and I would guess they’re happy to not have to dance around the useless conference tracks and tedious keynotes with the same people making the same speeches that don’t say anything or mean anything to anybody or impart any useful knowledge. This is a smaller BlogHer with all the stuff that people hate about BlogHer taken out of it. That is a huge plus, both for the sponsors and the people who are considering attending it.

4. There is a difference between the reaction of the blogger-reader and the reader-reader.

So, as I said, Heather and Brittany are friends and even with my reservations I want this event to be successful for them and their brands. So it’s troubling to hear this kind of stuff from the peanut gallery: “She’s throwing herself a wedding with sponsors,” or “How is this any better than the Mighty Summit View definition in a new window?” I’m going to attempt to break this down without being overly biased, and you guys can straighten me out in the comments if you think I’m failing. First, let me say that popular bloggers like Heather and Brittany have audiences comprised of readers who have blogs and a much larger group of readers who do not have blogs. The reception of readers who do not have blogs versus those who do — and those who are active in this community and on Twitter — tends to be different from the readers who have blogs. The “fans,” the larger part of the audience, are not nearly as harsh about this kind of stuff as we, the bloggers, are.I would guess it has to do with the fact that they are not really participating in a “community” as such, but really just reading blogs. They don’t expect reciprocity or anything, so they don’t care as much about people having high traffic levels or becoming popular or getting better deals or any of that stuff.

What I’m saying is, even if the initial reception of this new event is frosty, it might be mostly coming from one segment of the audience and not necessarily indicative of the success of the endeavor. If the fans like the event, then it’s a success, and that’s all they need. And if that happens, then the other bloggers will copy their model and do it themselves, and it won’t matter that people were critical initially — this is what happened when Dooce View definition in a new window first ran ads. It’s very possible that this will happen with the Las Vegas event.

My second point, regarding how this event is different from the Mighty Summit: my thought is that it’s different because it’s not an exclusive gathering of preordained luminaries chosen by God to be sprinkled with pixie dust in the Napa Valley while sipping merlot in matching $130 gifted ballet slippers, and then traipsed about on Flickr feeds so that all of us at home who weren’t invited can feel bad about ourselves. So, while there are still the financial barriers to entry that are part and parcel of living in a capitalist country, potentially anybody can go to this event, they don’t have to be deemed important enough for it.

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