Advertisements on websites suck. There’s no reason in explaining to anyone why, as they already know and have embraced the joys of ad blocking. And if you don’t, then stop reading as you lack the experience to understand what is written below. Have a nice day.
If I was willing to put ads on SJ, I could probably make some decent money. A few years ago, the going rate was paltry, and the trade-off between the suck of advertising and the anticipated revenue clearly favored foregoing ads. What kind of jerk would subject readers to the nightmare of advertisements in exchange for lunch money?
But times change, and as it now stands, the volume of readers here would produce enough revenue to make it worthwhile. So why not? It’s not as if I’m not a total capitalist. The short answer, for me at least, has been that if I hate ads so much, how can I put anyone else through them.
I recently added the donate button on the sidebar. The reaction has been, to say the least, rather astounding. I expected nothing, and instead, many readers have been remarkably generous, with money and barbecue. I rejected a few donations, because I know who some of you are, and refuse to take money from people who can’t afford it or have already contributed greatly by your efforts to SJ. But I greatly appreciate the thought.
But SJ isn’t a business. Maybe it should be, but it’s not. Others have tried to make the leap from blog to business. Above the Law was, perhaps, the most successful, having built up an audience on David Lat’s wit and its near-lockdown of Biglaw inside news, from associate raises to snarky gossip.
In the process, however, it found itself required to not only fill every inch of the joint with ads, but to take on any writer, no matter how utterly craptastic, willing to mail something in. It’s become the repository for some of the best, and absolute worst, content available. And it’s about to find out just how deep the hole goes.
Another effort to turn a blog into a biz is the Puddle. It’s real name is Lawyerist, It’s primary proprietor is Sam Glover, who goes in and out of being my buddy according to how mean or helpful I am. His business model is to post advertising for such luminaries as Ali Shanti (a/k/a Alexis Neely), which should tell you a lot about his demographics. Whereas ATL goes for biglaw wannabes, the Puddle goes for the readers who are too stupid to know they’re being scammed.
One might see this as a bad thing, but not Sam. Recognizing that his core reader is desperate for business and utterly clueless, it allows him to publish posts so insipid that they will kill brain cells upon contact. But hey, Sam isn’t in the business of not making people stupider, but selling advertising. Which is why he posed this question:
So if I can’t publish my website w/o money and you all want to block the ads, how should I proceed?
— Sam Glover (@samglover) September 19, 2015
The obvious answer, of course, is get a real job. But that would be snarky, and besides, Sam has already given up any hope of practicing law in favor of being an internet impresario. We can all dream, right?
One suggestion, from no less an internet entrepreneur than Mark Bennett, was to ask for donations. And, for those who appreciate knowledge in the form of fortune cookies, he might get some, but not enough to bank on. But Bennett offered another idea, which was likely meant as a bit of snark, but actually has some merit: find a sugar daddy.
Sponsorship by a business of substance in the law may be the future of content survival. SCOTUSBlog went pro, under the sponsorship of Bloomberg Law. Unfortunately for Tom Goldstein, SCOTUSBlog had greater longevity than Bloomberg Law, and when your sugar daddy fails, so too does your sponsorship.
But the idea was, and remains sound. Many “legal niche” companies, from Findlaw to Lexis/Nexis, Avvo and even NoLo, which purchased the venerable Martindale-Hubbell when it failed to recognize that nobody would buy it’s 327 pounds of books of lawyer names in the future, try to create blog-ish content of their own as a draw to their real business, selling stuff.
They have failed. Miserably. It’s just not a simple thing to carve out a niche in the blawgosphere, produce content that people actually choose to read and establish some semblance of credibility. This ain’t Field of Dreams, kids. Just because you post it doesn’t mean anyone will come. And just because you puff yourself doesn’t mean anyone buys it or gives a damn.
But then, there is a connection to be made here, between the blogs that have created an organic audience, the ones where people come to read even though they don’t have to, and the businesses that want that audience as their own.
Aside from SCOTUSBlog, there has been almost no sponsorship of blawgs by businesses that sell to lawyers. This may be because businesses don’t see an advantage to it, though it has happened with apparent success in other bloggy niches, most notably mommy blogs and fashion blogs.
There are pitfalls, of course, The sponsors can’t be slimebags, as it reflects on the blawg’s choice of getting into bed with them. Think the Alexis Neely problem for the Puddle. At Fault Lines, there was some sponsorship discussion with a start-up, which was rejected because the business was not something I could endorse in its current state. Sure, money is good, but not if the price is credibility and integrity.
It would seem that Sam’s dilemma could be resolved with some sugar daddy love, particularly given his chosen audience. If they’ll read the Puddle, they can be tricked into buying anything. What sponsor wouldn’t want that?
The big question, however, is whether businesses that sell to lawyers will come to recognize that they can’t create their own in-house blogs and would do far better to put their money into sponsoring a blog that has already gained traction. From what is happening out there, it doesn’t appear that they have come to this epiphany yet. And if not, then maybe the answer to Sam is take that assistant manager job at Dairy Queen if he needs to put food on the table.