To: The Awl, Subject: Before you die

Hey Sylvia and Team,

I knew about The Awl only when Sylvia was heading it. I discovered it last year or so and bothered to send in a few typos along the way. I loved the writing, I loved the off-current-affairs topics, I loved the esoteric posts. I loved Fran Hoepfner’s writing as well as music recommendations, specially since they pointed squarely to playlists on Spotify. Here’s a list of five posts that I have bookmarked. (There were probably more, but I lost some data from my RSS reader one day and didn’t bother to go looking for that)

Now The Awl is dying. People are celebrating this amazing blog/site/publishing platform. They’re talking about what a grand experiment it was, they’re talking about how it began and how it seemed to forever be bootstrapped (this is one of my failings – I do not bother with initial intent, so I don’t know when something will turn on me. I should be more careful of this). They’re relishing in the long list of people who ‘graduated’ from The Awl and the platform it gave to the many who now work elsewhere. They’re toasting to the feeling of having a personal blog but with an editor and getting paid to write on it.

Well I’m a little pissed. I discovered The Awl too late. I supported it too late. I want to discover more writers (and I sure am not going to use Medium to do it) and read more content and send more letters to the Editor. But they’re going away. At the end of the month, no less! I may be an infrequent reader of the site, but I don’t remember seeing any discussion with the readers, or any indication that it’s going under. All I see now are articles written in other publications by people who moved on from The Awl and know its inner workings. They’re waxing poetic about how there were never any investors, how The Awl always had a blog-y feel instead of a publication, how the end was inevitable because 2008-2013 was the time when small ad networks supported small blogs, but we all knew this was going to end some day.

Well, it did and frankly, if you’re in the business of publishing online, you should know one thing – ads are dead. Everyone, when they get a new computer, follow this format –

  • Open default browser
  • Download Google Chrome
  • Install Adblock

That’s the way this works now. If you don’t know that, well, sorry. If The Awl thought that life in the Adworld was tough because the site wasn’t targeted enough, here’s a tip –

2012 may have been the age of small ad networks, but 2018 is the age of ASKING YOUR USERS FOR SUPPORT.

Seriously, if writing apps (like Ulysses and Bear) can move to a subscription model, if The New York Times can politely remind people to donate, if the Guardian can ask for as little as $1, the least you could have done was to mid-2017 start a darn Patreon page. If nothing else, you’d see who out of the thousands of people who visit your pages found your content worth supporting.

But I get it, you’ve thrown your hat in the ring. You’ve decided that the thing you knew – ads – is no longer going to keep the virtual doors open and so it’s time to move on. So be it. I’ve followed my favorites on twitter and Instagram and hopefully will find some meaningful voices on Medium (ugh) and indie blogs (have you heard? they’re making a come-back. ping me, anyone, who needs help setting up a WordPress blog for ~$3/mo). In the meanwhile, I’ll be looking for ways to start my own Awl, in memory of this interesting ‘experiment’.

The Awl is dead, but its marks remain.

 

 

Photo by maritimeantiques

The Secret History of Blah

Let us begin.

The world is full of interesting things. Wonderful creations that change your lives, make it easier to reach for the stars or talk to your loved ones. There are countless people toiling away in garages, labs, offices, and corners of public spaces, working on their masterpiece. They will soon release their creation into the world and you will wonder, “how was that even made? What was the process of the creation of this marvelous thing?”Continue reading “The Secret History of Blah”

Tech Bloggers should sell their articles

tl;dr – Tech bloggers should sell articles to News companies, much like Reuters and AP have done in the past.

GigaOm Pro is an interesting service. While most of the tech blogging industry is ad-supported, it has a subscription based model. It’s not unheard of, but surprises me that it works. I don’t have any numbers, but the fact that the industry pays good money to read and listen to GigaOm Pro analysts seems to point to a healthy business model. Why does GigaOm Pro work? Because it is attached to a name, that of Om Malik. That name carries weight in tech reporting circles. People care about what he has to say.

Why is this relevant? Because good writing is always rewarded. Newspapers around the world have always depended on wire services like Reuters, AP and BBC, to name a few, to fill their columns and inform their readers of news from around the globe. This makes sense for two reasons – it is cost-effective and companies such as Reuters and AP can be trusted to do the right reporting in a timely and impartial manner. I have seen news reports being replicated in different newspapers without any change simply because the headline was followed by a reporter’s name and a small (Reuters) mention.

Today, the Internet, in its goal to be an open sharing platform, has skewed this reporting standard. Companies such as ABC News and NYT often quote a blog post or a tweet and wrap their own story or analysis around that. This works so long as the original writer isn’t a paid professional writer, like when I write on this blog. But when the quoted links are tech blogs and independent writers who lose out on page views; and thus ad revenue, this becomes a lousy proposition for the bloggers.

I believe that tech blogs should become similar to Reuters and AP in their reporting. Traditional news companies cannot afford to send reporters to every tech event, nor are they invited to do so. Tech blogs have reached the level where if you’re not writing well or covering the latest topics, you’ll get laughed off the Internet quicker than it takes to set up a Tumblr blog. So, instead of keeping in-house writers, news outlets can take articles from tech blogs for a fixed price, along with deeper analyses and more contextual content. They could do this without compromising the quality of the writing. Not every tech blogger would qualify for a payout, but those who have proven their worth will be able to earn more than just page views on such a program.

Why would this work for news companies? Right now it’s a free-for-all. They can quote anyone, attach a link and bet that no average reader will click on it, all for free. The benefit of paying up? Syndication. Right now, tech news trickles down from everyone who was on the scene and this means that everything links back to the tech blogs. By offering to pay for their writing, media companies will be able to get their hands on exclusive content without having to link to any blogs and without having to worry about legal issues related to trackbacks.

The negatives for tech bloggers are not negligible. The first is that many companies will require bloggers to officially become journalists to protect them in case of First Amendment issues. This will require that the following question be addressed – is a blog post talking about a recent event a news report or an opinion? I myself believe that it is an opinion, since the writer does not necessarily have the required training to be impartial to the subject. This debate has often played out against bloggers. The other issue is that upon paying money, the company will require the blogger to not publish the article on their own blog, as this would duplicate the syndicated article. This hits the blogger exactly where it hurts. Tech bloggers write on their own platform for the single purpose of gaining popularity; which can then be converted into money using the traditional means of sponsored posts or advertisements. The work around would be for tech bloggers to either accept less money in exchange for permission to post the article on their blog after a fixed period of time or write a short article on their own blog while syndicating a longer, much more detailed version for the news media. The final problem is that this move would take us away from the open nature of the Internet where RSS feeds and pingbacks allow a level of sharing that doesn’t exist on any other media platform. I do not know how negatively this will affect the Internet, but it would not be a small change.

In conclusion, I believe that tech bloggers should strike deals with traditional news media to provide them with syndicated news feeds. This can mean that tech bloggers do not need to depend solely on advertisements on their own platform to earn a living. This will benefit news media outlets because they will get accurate, real-time news and analysis from people who are in the field and understand the context very well. There are still a lot of issues that need to be resolved before such a step can be taken, but the idea is worth looking into.

Interesting sub note – The Wikipedia page for Syndication lists print syndication as “where individual newspapers or magazines license news articles, columns, or comic strips” but web syndication as “where web feeds make a portion of a web site available to other sites or individual subscribers”. In web syndication, there is no mention of licensing, money or purchase of rights. This is what Riptide has concluded to be the problem with news reporting on the web.

Editor: Anna Tarkov [ADN|Twitter]
Note: I’d love to thank Anna for her help in editing this article. She provided me with invaluable help in getting the message across and pointing out some of my idiosyncrasies. Anna is a journalist from the Chicago area and she’s steeped in the digital life. She runs a personal blog here.