Sunday, April 30, 2006

Blogging and Political Action (plus secrets of successful Web sites!)

Every month I meet magazine publishers who are resisting adding blogs to their Web sites, primarily on the grounds that blogs are just a time-consuming fad. My counter-argument (for the political magazines) is simple: if they're not part of the blogosphere, they're losing politically engaged readers.

A new survey from Blogads backs me up. ClickZ News reports:

"There are multiple blogospheres," suggested Blogads CEO Henry Copeland. "These people actually run in packs and the packs have very distinct characteristics."

Political blog browsers may be the most engaged in the blogosphere. The largest portion of the bunch read five blogs each day, and over 18 percent spend 10 hours each week reading blogs. In the last six months, 70 percent contributed to a cause or campaign online, 41 percent spending $100 or more. In that time, 60 percent bought software and clothes on the Web. Eighty-seven percent of these big blog consumers purchased books online, and 52 percent spent $100 or more. Fifty-five percent spent on publication subscriptions in that time.

Over 72 percent of these readers are male and the largest age group, nearly 27 percent, is between 41 and 50 years old. In addition, more than 77 percent have a college degree, while over 20 percent have a family income between $60K and $90K. Fifty percent are Democrats, 20 percent Republicans and nearly 20 percent independents.


Is readership of blogs coming at the expense of print magazines? There's no hard survey data that I know of offhand, but the answer is almost certainly yes. If liberal and progressive (and largely affluent) readers are turning their hard-won attention to blogs for news and interpretation, while at the same time donating more and more money online, then that's bad news for magazines that still see Web sites as simple online brochures for the print product - such a list includes progressive flagships like Harpers (which has one of the worst Web sites I've ever seen for a magazine of its category), as well as many smaller titles.

The Blogads survey does provide numbers on total media consumption which reveal that blogs dominate the field- not suprising, since this is a Blogads survey and blog-readers responded. It'll be interesting to see what the survey says next year and how the trends develop over time.

The survey also provides numbers on the magazines (print and online) read regularly by respondents. The most popular progressive print-based magazines include the American Prospect (28% read the print edition, 77% online - a suprising result, given that the Web site isn't anything great); Harpers (79% print, 25% online - not suprising), Unte Reader (75% print, 27% online - also predictable), The Nation (50% print, 58% online), and Mother Jones (whose readership is split fifty-fifty between print and a fabulous online product). Of those five, The Nation is the most popular title. My client Utne is, alas, the least popular of the progressive magazines. The Web-only Salon is by far the most popular title among those who responded to the survey.

The Blogads survey also found that 53% of bloggers blog to keep track of their own ideas, 50% to let off steam, 36% to influence public opinion. An amazing 75.5% of respondents wrote or called a politician at the state, local, or national level during the previous twelve months. Thirty eight percent had attended a political rally, speech, or organized protest of any kind. Thirty-six percent attended a public meeting on town or school affairs. Twenty percent have worked for a political party. Twelve percent had made a speech at some point during the previous year. And so on. Bottom line: those who read and write blogs are tremendously active in the real world. Blogging translates into political action.

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It didn't suprise me to see that The Nation and Mother Jones are popular among blog-readers, with fifty-fifty splits between online and print readership. Both magazines successfully answered a question that many publishers never ask: what is the primary purpose of my magazine's Web site? The answer to this question shapes everything on a Web site from navigation to content, and accounts from differences among successful sites.

On one hand, the primary purpose of The Nation site is to sell subscriptions to the magazine (or so the publisher once told me). Its secondary purpose is to raise money. You can see these twin priorities – which are in some ways at odds with each other, in that one is for new readers and the other for existing – manifest throughout the site. See that “Subscribe” and “Donate” are the first two items on the top navigation bar, and that there is little Web-exclusive content besides blogs. Opportunities to donate (and forward articles to friends, a critical form of viral marketing and content distribution) appear at the top and bottom of every article.

In contrast, the Mother Jones Web site is intended to stand on its own as a publication; it is an autonomous editorial project of the parent nonprofit, with its own revenue streams. Note that the simple, clear, above-the-fold navigation menu starts with editorial items (unlike The Nation, which starts with Subscribe and Donate), with subscription and advertiser services at bottom. Opt-in email capture gets pride-of-place beside the nameplate.

I also want to highlight how the “MoJoBLOG” is positioned under the nameplate. This is the most current content the Web site can provide, and so it is prioritized. Under that, the homepage presents a feature well with the print issue sourced, as well as Web-only content. The Web site sells subscriptions to the magazine, of course, but the revenue emphasis is on fundraising, ancillary product sales, and other sources that are not tied to the print product. Note also that at the bottom of all Mother Jones Web features, there’s a note with links: “This article has been made possible by the Foundation for National Progress, the Investigative Fund of Mother Jones, and gifts from generous readers like you.” Never miss an opportunity to ask for money!

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