One of the popular thoughts is that “small is the new big.”  Although many respected blogging experts say it, is it really true that small niche blogging can be wildly successful and profitable?  A few quotes to think about:

Previously I was a strong believer of the “small is big” philosophy.  However, AOL’s culling of three small niche blogs–pvrwire, divester, and bloggingohio–challenges this theory.   If with the full support of the Weblogs, Inc machine these blogs cannot survive, is niche blogging a profitable model?

I recently interviewed some of the bloggers displaced by the closing of these niche blogs – Tobias Buckell, Willy Volk, and Eric Brodeur.   The writers feel that the Weblogs, Inc network system is conducive to the production of good content.  They are happy to continue to work under the Weblogs, Inc system.  These talented authors do not feel that the blog network system handicapped them.  Why then did they fail? 

I recently discussed this with Jason Calacanis who is closely tied to the AOL/Weblogs, Inc organization.  I had assumed that Weblogs, Inc believed that niche content was part of its foundation.  For example, it is listed in DMOZ as “creating trade weblogs across niche industries in which user participation is an essential component of the resulting product.”  However, Jason disputes this:

Actually, it was not *built* off of small blogs at all. Our growth was based mainly on our big hits like Engadget, Autoblog, TVSquad, and Joystiq. The smaller blogs didn’t play much of a role in growing the company.

If you think Calacanis thinks the niche blogs can be profitable, think again.  Although he has publicly stated he would like to buy these blogs, it is not for the money: 

Frankly, I wouldn’t try to make them profitable. I would run them at breakeven for the fun of it.

People frequently use the AOL/Weblog Inc purchase figures to estimate the value of blogs based on one criteria or another.  Calacanis suggests that it is the system, not the content that makes Weblogs, Inc so valuable:

When AOL bought Weblogs, Inc. they didn’t buy the blogs. They bought the management team and the system for running blogs. The systems, software, and best practices Weblogs, Inc. created are used today at AOL’s other blogs like TMZ. The brands were icing on the cake for AOL to a certain extent. When you buy a small company like Weblogs, Inc. you’re basically buying the people, thats’ why it’s so important to support those people once you get them inhouse.

(You can read the entire Calacanis interview in my previous blog post.)

Being a part of the highly successful tech-recipes blogging cooperative, I am frequently asked if a particular topic is a good foundation around which to build a profitable blog.  I believe the popular ”find a niche and fill it” may be too simple of an answer.  Although optimistic, this theory is leading many young bloggers down the wrong direction.

A niche can be too small to generate adequate content, enthusiasm, and traffic.  The advertising value of a topic can be so small that monetization of the blog is not possible.

Diving, the state of Ohio, and personal video recording–these niches were filled.  They were filled by high quality authors producing high quality content.  However, even with the help of a very successful network supporting them, the blogs did not succeed. 

Small still appears small, indeed.

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