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Blogs: The next big thing for advertisers?

Juan Cole, a professor at the University of Michigan, explains why he sees a future in something called "blogcasting."

The Wall Street Journal published a column Thursday describing attempts to quantify various things about Web logs--including how many there are, how many Americans read them and what the blogs link to.

Many of these questions are driven by Madison Avenue--i.e., U.S. ad agencies, which are interested in the advertising potential of blogs.

In the world of blogging, any form of censorship actually creates opportunities for those immune to it.

As I see it, the problem when it comes to advertising is that blogging appears to be a form of narrow-casting. Advertisers like broadcasting. You place an ad on even a low-ranking cable television show such as "Star Trek Enterprise" (while it was still limping along) and about 3 million people see it every week. You place an ad on even a popular blog such as MyDD and, according to, a network of bloggers that promote and sell blog advertising, that ad gets 146,000 page views a week. Blog search company, on the other hand, measures a blog's popularity by looking at how many other blogs link to it.

Many of the problems of measurement are probably intractable, but the advertising issue has already been solved by's Henry Copeland, with the concept of networked ads (which I prefer to call blogcasting).

Any group of bloggers can set up a network, as a group of liberal bloggers have done. Altogether, the Liberal Blog Advertising Network can provide an advertiser with a million or so page views a week in one fell swoop. The ads will appear on all the blogs maintained by members of the network, so they become a form of broadcasting, or blogcasting. Blog readership is demonstrably growing, and pretty soon such networks will be able to compete at least with cable television for ability to reach viewers.

The column in the Journal, which was written by Carl Bialik, says some advertisers want to measure unique hits rather than page views, because they don't want to pay for the same person to see the ad more than once in a week. Why? No one can be sure what page views are measuring. Page views are counted every time a browser accesses a site (though at my server, my number for "referrals" or browsers coming to the site from elsewhere is higher than that for page views, for some odd reason).

Lots of people read blogs at university computer labs, Internet cafes, or at offices with shared computers, so that one Internet Protocol address may in some cases actually represent several different people over the day. Moreover, my understanding is that a lot of big service providers, such as Comcast, cache pages the first time they are accessed by a customer and thereafter tend to serve the page from the cache at their server, so that a lot of readers of a blog may not reach all the way to the bloggers' original server, to be counted as a unique hit. And, of course, it's possible for a reader to copy an entire blog entry and e-mail it as HTML, ads and all, to friends.

A lot of that is done, and it's impossible to measure. Still, I think that between tools like and counting page views, some estimation of advertiser value can be arrived at that will make the business model work.

Do I worry about blog advertising corrupting the medium?

Not very much.

In my view, the corporate news media have been harmed by consolidation (which means multiple news outlets have only a few owners, all of them big wealthy corporations) far more than by advertising. It is an editorial decision whether to insist that the news division make 15 percent profit or whether to keep it as a loss leader. They had advertising in Bill Paley's day, too, but at that time CBS news was a big, relatively independent operation. If you have only five CEOs making that decision for virtually all television news, and if they are competitors, then there is a real danger that they will all sacrifice news to profit.

I expect journalist cooperatives (both professional and amateur) to emerge over time and do podcasting, and eventually Webcasting with video, finally breaking the current semimonopoly in broadcast news.

But because with blogging the price of entry is so low, you can never have ownership consolidation. It will always be a distributed medium and therefore very difficult to control. If professional bloggers emerged who came to be unduly beholden to their advertisers and started not covering certain stories or spinning them for the sake of their sponsors, other nonprofessional bloggers would just step into the breach. If corporate media bought up a few big bloggers, they would still have to compete against literally millions of independents. And if any of the independents were providing what the audience wanted better, the traffic would shift to them. In the world of blogging, any form of censorship actually creates opportunities for those immune to it.

Technical limitations and expense make it almost impossible for anyone now to start up a new 24-hour-a-day news channel. But anyone can start a blog. I expect journalist cooperatives (both professional and amateur) to emerge over time and do podcasting, and eventually Webcasting with video, finally breaking the current semimonopoly of broadcast news.

So it seems to me that the blogcasting approach to advertising--together with the survival of lots of independent blogs--is the best of all possible worlds.

And ad blogcasting may finally begin to address a key problem in the business model, which is that blog advertising rates are ridiculously low. Bloggers are essentially offering a front-page panel for what a small classified ad would cost in a small-town newspaper, and the circulation rates may be similar.