A question for you, Felix: Are you sure increasing the number of bloggers
increases the value of the site? I think there’s a point of diminishing returns,
and I suspect, with 1,800 bloggers, HuffPo has already passed it. Those bloggers
don’t come at no cost — it requires staffers to recruit and monitor them.
It’d be interesting to see the distribution of HuffPo bloggers’ traffic; I’d
guess there’s a very long tail.
Assuming I’m right and a small fraction of the bloggers are generating most
of the page views, what’s the point? Why keep adding to the ranks? Or am I
totally naive about the economics here?
I would guess that on HuffPo, like on most such sites, there’s an 80/20 rule:
80% of the pageviews come from 20% of the bloggers. So I daresay that Jeff is
right, and that there’s a very long tail. And that yes, at the margin, there
is less of a return from hiring your 1,801st blogger than there was from hiring
your 108th blogger. But that’s not to say that HuffPo shouldn’t keep on hiring
For one thing, with 1,800 bloggers, you’re naturally going to have a lot of
attrition. Many HuffPo bloggers have never blogged before, and even (especially)
when they start off with vigor and zeal, first-time bloggers do have a tendency,
statistically speaking, to peter out to the point at which they’re really not
blogging at all. I’m sure that a large chunk of those 1,800 bloggers haven’t
updated in quite some time, which means that Arianna has to keep on hiring if
she’s to keep constant the number of active bloggers.
There are other reasons to keep on hiring, too. For one thing, if you’re Arianna,
opportunities, in the form of potential new bloggers, present themselves frequently:
there are many people who want to blog for HuffPo, and, if they’re suitable,
it would be downright churlish to refuse them. So I’m not convinced that much
time or effort is spent on recruiting. As for monitoring the content going up,
that’s a function of the number of blog entries, not the number of
bloggers. And since HuffPo is in growth mode right now, I’m sure it can handle
a slow but steady rise in the rate of entries going up on the site.
But the main reason to "keep adding to the ranks" is much the same
as the reason why record labels have A&R departments. While a lot of the
new bloggers will go straight into the long tail, a few of them will break out
and join the 20% at the top of the heap. My guess is that if you compare the
top 20% of Arianna’s bloggers today to the top 20% of Arianna’s bloggers in
two years’ time, the lineup will look very different. The site continues to
grow and evolve; there’s no point in simply deciding that you like what you
have and that’s that.
While I’m at it, I should also address this:
There will come a day when she has to choose between paying someone to keep
him around or losing a chunk of traffic when he sets up shop elsewhere. Without
questioning her sincerity, it’s possible to wonder how thrilled she’ll be
when that day arrives.
I think those days will be very few and far between, because bloggers
simply don’t join HuffPo in the expectation of making money from their blogs.
I can easily see Arianna’s bloggers often losing interest in blogging and not
updating their blogs any more. What I find more difficult to envisage is one
of her bloggers deciding to decamp elsewhere just for the sake of some uncertain
advertising revenue. But as I said
earlier today, if and when that does happen, Arianna will, yes, be thrilled
that she has managed to oversee the transformation of nascent blogger into a
And one crucial reason why is that I very much doubt that the loss of any one
blogger would occasion even a measurable, let alone a meaningful, reduction
in HuffPo’s pageviews. The franchise as a whole is vastly more valuable and
important than any of its parts. If Nick Denton can easily weather the defection
of Pete Rojas from Gizmodo to Engadget, then Arianna isn’t going to be worried
that any one of her 1,800 bloggers is leaving to blog elsewhere.
As for the PR angle of being called
a "robber baron" – I can assure Jeff that Arianna’s been called
much worse in her time. Consider this hypothetical: what if Arianna charged
her bloggers money for the privilege of being hosted on her site? (I certainly
pay hosting fees for my site, Typepad
charges bloggers on its site, and those sites doesn’t come with any kind of
built-in traffic boost, so it’s not all that unthinkable.) At that point there
would be a simple commercial transaction: Arianna would be providing a valuable
service to her bloggers, and charging for it, and it would be hard to criticise
her, especially since she would still have a full-time staff of employees monitoring
every post. But because Arianna’s giving this service away for free, she’s suddenly
a robber baron? The argument seems weak to me.
Consider the business model of the financial data arm of Reuters. Reuters asks
all of the world’s major banks to give it free access to their pricing data;
it then aggregates that data and sells it back to the very banks who provided
it, charging them a lot of money. HuffPo, by contrast, also gets its "data"
for free, but it doesn’t charge for aggregating or reading it – the whole
operation is based on the idea that neither contributors nor readers ever have
to pay a penny to anyone. The only financial transactions happen off to the
side, between HuffPo and its advertisers. I see nothing wrong with that model