The economics of letting your audience blog somewhere else

Spotted isolated bits of chatter over the weekend about this piece from Nate Silver, who used the available public data from Quantcast and elsewhere to make some assessments of the Huffington Post’s business model when it comes to unpaid contributors and their blogs.

Here’s Nate’s thesis:

“Although The Huffington Post does not pay those who volunteer to write blogs for it, this content represents only a small share of its traffic. And, to put it bluntly, many of those blog posts aren’t worth very much.” #

The rest of the analysis proves out that idea, which I’m not terribly interested in. It’s a fun game to play, evaluating traffic and revenue based on bits of public information, but I think there’s a less tangible benefit to hosting what essentially amount to “reader” blogs — even if the “readers” happen to be famous people or politicians.

The benefit in question? These readers are far less likely (I’m making a big assumption here, no research backing this up yet) to blog somewhere else.

So instead of diluting that long tail of niche content (this may be a nice way to put it, in some cases) across hundreds or thousands of free Tumblrs and blogs and Blogspots, the Huffington Post and others like it have provided a technology platform to would-be bloggers. Perhaps even to celebrity dilettantes. In return for hosting these blogs — which at scale cannot be an expensive technical tally — HuffPo gets to add another mug to its stable, another self-promoting-but-not-enough-to-get-their-own blogger to stretch that long tail out.

A few interesting metrics I’d love to see on these “reader” blogs:

  • Bounce rate: Do readers hit these posts and leave, or do they get sucked in by the gaping maw of the HuffPo photo galleries and top 10 lists in the right rail?
  • Search traffic: Do readers find these posts in search engines, or are they coming to HuffPo specifically for these authors?
  • Sell-through rate on these lesser blogs. Is HufPo monetizing the network in any interesting way?

Am I conflating HuffPo’s paid bloggers with unpaid? I genuinely don’t really know who gets paid and who doesn’t, but either way, I think my logic holds up:

The benefits of owning the platform for all these blogs, keeping the traffic moving under the HuffPo brand, keeping readers on their remarkably sticky pages, is as valuable (more?) as the revenue on the pages themselves.

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