Blogonomics: Leaving Seeking Alpha

I feel I have to mention Barry Ritholtz’s very public abandonment of Seeking Alpha. After they mistakenly edited a couple of his headlines, he put up an anguished post on his personal blog, asking if he should quit the relationship; the readers of his personal blog, unsurprisingly, said yes. Given that Ritholtz only joined SA "after considerable reluctance", it’s probably not surprising that he’s leaving now.

Since Barry is arguably the top finance blogger in the world, he of all people really doesn’t need Seeking Alpha to bolster his brand – the main reason people join the site. But I’m still not sure that, at the margin, his decision is the right one.

Barry gives three reasons for leaving Seeking Alpha, none of them compelling. The first is that reposts there are a "dilution of brand", which I don’t really understand. If brands get more exposure, does that mean they’re diluted, or does that mean they’re strengthened? More people read Barry’s content if he’s on SA than if he isn’t. For me, that’s a brand strengthening.

There is one source of dilution from SA: comments. One comments feed is, ceteris paribus, better than two: readers shouldn’t have to visit two different websites in order to read all of the comments. But the fact is that the commenters on Barry’s own site are a notch or two smarter than the vast majority of commenters on Seeking Alpha. Which brings me to another of Barry’s reasons for leaving the site: he can’t patrol the comments there. Fine. Leave SA comments for "the usual trolls and asshats", they’re not commenting on your site, and no one holds their comments against you. It actually reflects well on your primary site.

Finally, Barry thinks that "duplicative content weakens a site’s GoogleScore". I just don’t think this is true.

At the same time, Barry doesn’t consider the main reason to stay with SA: he gets more readers that way. Now it’s true that it’s hard for him to directly monetize those readers, as Bill Rempel points out at length. But on the other hand, these readers are pretty much by definition people who don’t visit his site – readers who are impossible for him to monetize.

And while Barry might not like the overall quality of the writers at SA, the quality of the readers (as opposed to the commenters, who are an unrepresentative sample) is pretty high, for one big reason: SA’s email alerts. Most executives simply have no time to surf the web for content, which is one reason why it took a long time for econoblogs to take off. But a lot of them have signed up for SA’s email service, which sends them a bunch of posts on their particular company or industry on a regular basis. And I’m often very surprised at the number of times that high-powered people get in touch with me after I end up in one of those emails.

In my experience, it’s not hard to get the executives at Seeking Alpha to change their ways: it took just one rude email from me, for instance, and suddenly they were linking directly to my RSS feed, which they never did before. If bloggers have issues with SA, I’d recommend they go to SA first, rather than simply picking up their ball in a huff and storming off home – although that is of course their right.

But Barry, like most fund managers, is an aggressive and competitive guy, and so it’s always going to be hard for him not to consider SA to be competition. As I say, he’s popular enough already that taking his stuff from SA isn’t going to make much of a difference – after all, he’s a regular pundit on financial TV, which is even better for brand-building. Frankly the best thing that Barry could do to boost his brand and pageviews is buy at the moment, potential readers are forced to Google him before they find him.

All that said, I would certainly welcome any alternative to Seeking Alpha which may or may not be launched by the people behind Abnormal Returns. The more blogs the better, and the more aggregators the better. Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend!

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