Are blogs recession-proof?
That was the question swirling last week after Nick Denton, who owns Gawker Media, announced he was laying off 19 of his bloggers and suspending bonuses for his bloggers with the most Web traffic.
He had already raised some concerns earlier this year when he sold off three of his blogs, including wonkette.com, known for its political gossip.
He said he was trying to stay ahead of a difficult climate for advertising, and industry observers were inclined to sit up and take notice given Denton's success in the field. His worth from his new media endeavors was estimated at $290 million by the Sunday Times of London last year.
"The news about the job and bonus cuts will be demoralizing," Denton wrote in a memo to his staff that read more like a snarky blog post than corporate news release.
"The golden age of the blog is over, people will say Gawker Media is behaving like those big media companies that we mock so easily. ... I could give you my optimistic spin about the glorious future that awaits us on the far side of this downturn. But there is no escaping the fact that we're losing some excellent colleagues and the environment next year will be bleak. The one consolation is that there will be plenty of news for us to break - starting with this e-mail, which you are free to leak."
With about 114 staffers now, his operation is about the size of a newspaper newsroom in a midsized city. That's uncommon for blogs.
The majority are produced by one person or just a few. Blogs, by and large, have had a rapid but cautious infancy, especially when compared to the Internet startups a decade ago. Back then, investors threw billions at dot-coms, most of which shared three characteristics: They had unusual names. Their business plans could fit on a cocktail napkin. They had never made a dime. And many ultimately never did, leading to the previous meltdown on Wall Street (or maybe that was two "meltdowns" ago given the accounting scandals of the Enrons and WorldComs that followed).
Those dot-coms were like the hare; blogs are more like the tortoise, which may help them survive the economic storm and win the race someday.
Blogs are largely still mom-and-pop operations. The "barrier to entry" is low, requiring only a computer, an Internet connection and some free software. Hundreds of blogs do have sizable staffs, and many media conglomerates and other Fortune 500s now blog also. But by one estimate, 90 percent of blogs have no paid employees.
The blog tracker site Technorati published its "State of the Blogosphere" report this month and you could tell how far and fast blogs have come by the fact that most people would not be baffled by the meaning of a report titled "State of the Blogosphere."
When Technorati published its first "State of" report four years ago, it marked with glee the 3 million blog mark. It estimated then that about 12,000 new "weblogs" - someone split that into "we blog," leading to the term "blog" - were being created each day.
Technorati now estimates that there more than 133 million blogs, and about 175,000 new blogs each day. Companies that once likely sniffed at blogs are creating them to help promote products or serve customers. About 95 percent of all newspaper Web sites have blogs. And in one more sign of blogs coming-of-age, there are now spam blogs. Just like the parasitic spam Web sites, they attempt to snare you if you mistype the name of the blog you're seeking.
But the picture that the study makes clear - and this differs from the dot-com mania with its unfulfilled promises of vast stock options - most bloggers are not in this to get rich quick.
"There are probably easier ways to make money than blogging," said Jennifer McLean, head of marketing for Technorati. "I don't know of a single blog we talked to who didn't do it as a labor of love."
The vast majority of bloggers are in it for the intellectual stimulation, the satisfaction they get from the writing and the feedback. For personal blogs, the average annual investment is about $100. The average annual revenue, Technorati estimated: $120.
Nearly 80 percent of the 1,300 bloggers who responded to Technorati's survey said their prime reason for blogging is to "speak my mind on areas of interest." Only 2 percent described their blog as their primary source of income; 4 percent considered it their full-time job.
One-third of bloggers don't reveal their identities. Some said they feared their employer might disapprove of their blogs. Others said their employers might disapprove of them blogging while at work. (You think?)
Nearly two-thirds said blogging had helped increase their interest in their hobbies, and nearly half said they were better known in their field because of their blog.
Interestingly, about 7 percent said their relationships with family or friends had suffered because of stuff they wrote in their blogs.
But while the economy has already chilled many activities, nearly 100 new blog posts were written in the time it took to read this sentence. Numbers from various sources vary, but they roughly paint a picture of about 25 million people blogging in the U.S. (some have several).
In last summer's animated hit, the robot WALL-E finds that the cockroach and the Twinkie snack cake are two things capable of surviving to the end of man. If there's a sequel, WALL-E might find a blog, too.