The Tyranny of Numbers

September 15, 2008 — 8 Comments

Why is it, in 2008, that blogs in Australia are still not considered mainstream by many, still derided by the media and rarely breaking big news, unlike blogs in the United States, where blogging is mainstream, blogs are often the first port of call for breaking and big news, and where the line between blogging and the media has become so blurred that it’s difficult at the top to tell them apart?

We know that there has never been a break out blog in Australia that targets Australian news. We have great bloggers in many fields, and are strongly represented in the blogosphere, perhaps statistically more so than our population would dictate, and yet our blogging success stories tend to be global stories. Your Darren Rowse or your Yaro Staracks, even the likes of Tim Blair, News Corp deal aside, relied on an American audience more than an Australian one. There are prominent bloggers in Australia who do write for an Australian audience and I don’t seek to belittle what they do, but where’s our Andrew Sullivan, our Drudge or Daily Kos. Why don’t we see our own version of Michelle Malkin on TV, or a Robert Scoble turn up to the opening of an envelope?

There are several schools of thought. That we are behind the United States is a given, and I’ve usually put the figure at 5 years. The blogosphere here feels like the blogosphere in the US in around 2003, prior to the 2004 Presidential election where blogging came of age. There’s the psychological argument that Australian’s aren’t as open as our American friends, that we are more reserved and less likely to publish what we think at will that has stifled our progress. There is a good case against heritage media, who takes nearly every opportunity to bag blogs and blogging, fearful of competition as their glory days pass and the end of their business models are nigh. But there’s one factor we can’t change, one factor that continues to stifle local growth in blogging, and that is numbers.

Numbers dictate that there is not a big enough audience in Australia to sustain mass locally focused and profitable blogging.

It’s why I’ve never launched an Australian focused blog. Some people were suggesting to me last year that there needs to be a TechCrunch for Australia. My response was that there’s not a big enough audience here to sustain such a site. I’ve looked in past years at other vertical spaces, and I keep finding the same problem: great idea, audience is too small.

The reality is that for most wanting to make blogging a full time living in Australia, they have to target an overseas audience.

There are some exceptions. There’s the Auto blog guy who is suppose to be turning 6 figures on a car blog on a address. I’d bet though that most of his traffic wasn’t Australian. There’s people like Bronwen Clune and Paul Montgomery, who have turned their blogging come tech plays into reasonable money earners, through a combination of tapping into some premium advertising and working in desirable niche spaces. Allure Media’s Gawker titles are going ok the last I heard, but they had a couple of advantages: a pile of money to hire journalists up front, and a redirect deal with Nick Denton that saw Australian traffic hitting the US sites ending up on the Australian sites. Crikey is going where no Australian blogging network has gone before, buying in some great talent and traffic to give them a solid start out of the gate.

But that’s pretty close to it. I may have missed a few, so apologies if I’ve missed you (and please don’t be offended) but I can say with clear certainty that at most I’ve missed is less than I can count fingers on my hands.

No amount of spin changes the fact that we have a small market with limited opportunities. I don’t believe that this means that some won’t make it, nor do I believe that it would be impossible to build a blog today and score the breakthrough we collectively need, but it is that much harder for us all. We’re better of respecting that the tyranny of numbers works against us, and being more creative in response.