Paul Miller resigned from Engadget the other day. Engadget is an AOL company and Paul resigned because of the growing view he sees at AOL that content is becoming a commodity.
Indeed he is right. More and more large companies are taking the view of Mao Zedong that, “quantity has a quality all its own.” Leaked AOL documents show their desire to pump out more “content” to get more pageviews to get more ad revenue. Their recent purchases of the Huffington Post and Techcrunch are part of this trend of trying to grab as many pageviews as possible.
AOL isn’t alone. Yahoo purchased a content farm, Associated Content. Demand Media’s recent IPO gave them a market capitalization larger than the New York Times. USA Today has added Demand Media content to their online travel section.
It seems that there is a very big budget arms race going on with very larger media players all based around pumping out tons of low cost content and amassing as many pageviews as they can.
How can an individual blogger compete with this? We don’t have the budget, staff or Google authority to get away with even a fraction of what the big boys are doing.
The answer is simple: we don’t.
You can’t win if you try to play their game. It’s impossible.
If you are an independent blogger you have to think like an insurgent fighting a modern, organized army. You need to engage in asymmetrical warfare.
Insurgents can’t buy aircraft carriers. They don’t have jet fighters. They probably don’t have anything more than old pickup trucks and AK-47’s. They have to think outside of the box and do what they can with what little they have.
Likewise, as a blogger you might have nothing more than a hosting account with WordPress and a Twitter account. It might seem like you have an impossible fight on your hands, but if you rethink the fight, you can achieve some big things.
- Terms of victory are different. Occupying forces have to win. Insurgents just have to not lose. The big military force have expenses many orders of magnitude greater than the people they are fighting in an asymmetrical war. AOL needs tens of millions of unique visits and billions of pageviews to break even. They have expensive office space and (comparatively) large staffs. You are probably a single person with almost no overhead. Getting 1% of the audience, or even less, could be a huge victory for a single blogger, where as it would be failure for a big player.
- You are committed. An invading force will eventually pull out. The people who live there can’t leave. The people who are fighting for their homes and family have a much greater incentive to fight. Everyone who works for AOL is an employee. They might get fired tomorrow or leave for a better job. Unless you die or decide to quit blogging you probably aren’t going anywhere.
- Locals know the landscape. One problem occupying forces have is knowing the local culture, language and landscape. Guerrilla forces know the locals and where to hide. Likewise, a company like AOL, nor any of their websites, will ever be able to develop personal relationships with their readers. You will wont see meetups, discussions in comments and personal opinion in the large corporate blogs like you will in smaller blogs. Being a person and being personal is a huge weapon for the little guy.
Remember, the great promise of the internet was never making more money. It was reducing costs. This bodes well for the little guy.
You might never get the traffic of an AOL blog, but that doesn’t matter. You might only get 1-10% of the traffic, but you can have 100-1,000x lower costs.
You can find success in a world of SEO’d content farms by just redefining victory, using the tools at your disposal, and playing to your strong points.
Viva la blogosphere!
10 replies on “Bloggers, Content Farms and Asymmetrical Warfare”
Inspiring Gary! Glad you decided to dust off this blog and share your thoughts in longer form. Great metaphor too.
“Unless you die or decide to quit blogging you probably aren’t going anywhere.”
— I quietly passed my 4 year anniversary last month, and look forward to another 4+ years ahead.
Are you sure that you didn’t attend the Strategy & Policy portion of the US Naval War College with me, Gary? 🙂
NICE post, and right on.
Where’s the thumbs up button? Heh, ok, there isn’t one, but in my mind, I was clicking it. I’ll just go tweet the post instead to show my approval.
It really is a matter of looking at the internet landscape and realizing that there’s enough there for everyone. Most of us need such a tiny slice of the pie, that all we have to do is work hard to obtain it. And it is work, no doubt, but it can supply us with enough – even with the content farms expanding around us – as long as we use the talents we have, the creativity within us, some elbow grease – and a little luck never hurts either.
I kind of giggled a little with all the warfare talk, but good write up.
Love the article as it addressed a concern my group of local bloggers has discussed. However, one aspect you didn’t address is when the enemy plays dirty. What about when those occupying forces hire local insurgents to blog about local things, thus giving a “local” aspect to it. Examiner.com (as well as others I am sure) has been doing this… boo! Double boo!
But, I guess there is still enough of the internet to go around, right? #hopefully
you do the same thing. You get personal. You meet your readers. You speak in your voice. You do things that a company and employees of a company simply can’t do.
If they are pumping out 300 word SEO articles, you do 1,500 word in-depth stories. You go to other sites and leave insightful comments.
You will probably never get more traffic than Examiner.com. You don’t have the money or resources. The sheer act of pumping out tons of traffic means they will always get more search engine traffic.
You can however out social them, out personalize them and out write them.
Everything isn’t about traffic. You can have a much better reputation even if they cleaning out the internet sewers with SEO.
@Gary – I’m with Sheila, I dig the military analogy. I think in those terms all the time, actually, even if I am a pacifist 🙂
Nice pep talk for us indie bloggers…but am I the only one here who, um, appreciates the irony of seeing an ad for one of those notoriously low-pay blog writer gigs in your Google Ad sidebar?
@Dominique Bloggers are publishers. Writers are writers. Even if someone does them both, the roles should be clearly defined and understood.
Everything I spoke about was in terms of being an independent online publisher competing with large online publishers.
Freelance writing is a whole other can of worms which doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with running your own blog.
…also, I’m pretty sure you know how Adwords works.
Gary, you are the Che Guevara of the blogosphere.