Why Do I Blog?

I thought Felix Salmon did an excellent job on this post regarding economics blogging. His correspondent proposes standards for and a reward to be handed out to the best bloggers. Felix declines. I decline as well, which I will detail later. There are already ways for financial bloggers to be distinguished against one another:

  • What’s the Alexa, Technorati, and Quantcast rankings of your site?
  • Do journalists call you to talk about financial issues? (Happens to me a lot.) Do you get mentioned in the paper? (Uh, not so much… the copy editors leave me on the cutting room floor…)
  • If someone Googles a given term, where do you show up?
  • How many hits do you get per day? How many subscribe to your RSS feed? E-mail feed? Seeking Alpha? Other?
  • Do you get mentioned by Abnormal Returns? The Kirk Report? Other linkfests?

The thing is, the web is a very competitive environment, with a lot of bright people. Switching on the web is easier newspapers or magazines.

But why do I blog? Let me answer that with a different question, “Why did/do I write for RealMoney?” Well, it’s not for the money, though I would earn more if I submitted my articles to RealMoney rather than placing them at my blog. I like explaining concepts to people and seeing the light go on. I like hearing that someone made a better investment decision because of my educational writings. I also enjoy the challenge of trying to tease out conclusions from dirty data, using an approach that is eclectic.

Oh, and the money? Sorry, not much there. Though my blog costs me $200/year, it makes roughly $1000/year. The $800/year of profit is not enough to compensate me for my time; given the time required, I’m not sure what would be enough. I don’t do it for the money; I do it for the audience. (I would make more if I submitted it all to RealMoney, but then the audience would not be as wide, and I would not be building my brand.)

Now some bloggers are anonymous. I will mention Equity Private and Accrued Interest. Both know their stuff, and they aren’t pulling anyone’s chains. If someone writes anonymously, and does not know their stuff, their readership will not grow, because it will become known through the comments at the blog — it will not appeal to the intelligent commenters that help build an audience.

Blogging is in many ways tougher than being a young journalist. A blogger starts with no audience, whereas a young journalist has an audience from the publication. The young journalist will be guided in what to write about by his superiors, and will automatically get edited. The blogger has to figure out what he can adequately say, and whether anyone really wants to read him. The young journalist will have discipline imposed on him, whereas most successful bloggers have to develop their own discipline — one consistent with their posting style and frequency. Blog audiences decay rapidly with lack of attention, and there is a lot of competition to be heard. Journalists succeed or fail as a group, and the individual journalist does not have a lot of effect on that.

That last point should be changed to when journalistic organizations succeed or fail, the journalists inside tag along. Their competition does not primarily come from bloggers, but from Craigslist (classified ads), Google (targeted advertising), Ebay (targeted consumer to consumer sales), and Monster (Job ads and applicants), which dries up the real revenue streams. Plus, the younger demographic does not as easily pay for print subscriptions.

One other note — many popular bloggers realize that they could become a lot more popular if they head off in a sensationalistic direction, and a few do, with some cost to the truth. They do their readers little service. What I have stared down is that I could write only about stock investing ideas, and my site would be more popular. But those are far less certain than what I write about. I feel comfortable talking about my portfolio, which is over at Stockpickr.com, but individual ideas, particularly the controversial ones, have a lower probability of being correct.

Blogging is easier than being a journalist if you don’t care about being read. Anyone can go to Blogger or Typepad (among others), and start a blog in minutes. It is those bloggers who have something significant to say who will end up with an audience. I thank my audience that reads me regularly; I only hope that I can continue to be worthy of your time.

PS — I recently submitted my blog to Blogged.com, and the editor did not think that much of my blog. If you have a strong opinion about me, positive or negative, perhaps you could write a review. Again, thanks.