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Niche Blogs and The Long Tail of Content

Written by Mike Rundle on August 18, 2006

Just like with every business, the ultimate goal of what you’re trying to achieve becomes clearer 1) the longer you’re in business and 2) the longer you’re thinking about your business. We’ve been running 9rules in its current state since Summer 2005, and Paul had it for two years prior to that, so we’ve been “thinking” about 9rules for quite some time. In that time we’ve come to realize many things, but my most profound personal realization came only recently.

Back in November, Paul talked about 9rules being The Long Tail of publishing, where our model lets us have multiple blogs on the same subject while in other content networks that would be considered a no-go. That’s one part of our model that fits into The Long Tail, but there is a deeper and more profound aspect to our business that I find more interesting, but before we get into that I should explain what this “long tail” thing is.

According to Chris Anderson, The Long Tail is the concept where in a marketplace unconstrained by supply (near-infinite choice of products or services) a demand will continue to be there for even the most obscure products or services. His hypothesis is based on data from Rhapsody.com (among others) where he learned that 98% of the total songs offered, or close to two million songs, were purchased/played at least once per quarter. This is contrary to the 80/20 rule, where he first assumed that 20% of the songs were purchased and those accounted for 80% of total revenue — wrong. He found out that when an inventory is no longer constrained by shelf space (books), or movie screens (movies), or hours in a day (radio), user demand will continue to exist for even the most obscure items and the aggregate demand for these items makes up a huge chunk of a company’s sales. He goes on to show how if you add up the sales for every video not available at Blockbuster or every book not available at Barnes & Noble (but available from Netflix and Amazon), it accounts for 25-50% of those company’s total sales figures and the gigantic untapped market The Long Tail represents.

So, okay, The Long Tail as applied to movies, music, or books works pretty well. But what does this have to do with 9rules? A whole lot.

See we consume Internet content regardless of whether we think the site we’re on is popular or not because we don’t care, all we care about is if the site has content that matches our interests. Traditional media is based on the concept of “hits”, where a hit could be described as the intersection of marketing & word of mouth: a pop song that sucks but still gets radio spins, or a book that is nonsense that is on the front table at Barnes & Noble. Old media was all about creating and fostering these hits because that’s where people thought all the money was, but in new media we see that niche content and interesting content trumps “popular” content every time, and that’s where 9rules comes in.

At 9rules, we’re not interested in the hits, we’re interested in the best niche content. Many blog networks start new blogs on technology, gadgets, and gossip not because they’re bringing a fresh perspective or brand new content to the arena but because they’re emulating existing blogs on those topics that they consider to be “hits”, or, blogs like Engadget, Techdirt, or The Superficial. The problem with emulating existing hits is that they are hits for more reasons than just their content, in fact I’d say that most of the Technorati 100 are on there because of external factors that have nothing to do with their content. Scoble worked at Microsoft for awhile which gave him certain notoriety, Boing Boing has been around forever and is edited by veritable Internet superstars, TechCrunch rose to popularity because Michael was intimately involved in the startup scene before he started blogging and brought his connections with him, The Huffington Post is run by Arianna Huffington and she’s famous, Seth Godin’s blog is there because Seth is a well-known author and speaker, and so on. If you look at nearly all blogs on the Technorati 100, it’s difficult to say they made it there solely on the quality of their content and not because of any external factors. These external factors (marketing, word of mouth, author fame, notoriety, etc.) do not guarantee quality content, but in the world of popularity I’d say that author fame trumps quality every single time, and that’s my point. So many new blogs are trying to emulate their heroes on the T-Rati 100 when they should actually forget about that and just develop their content and form their own niche, because the audience is already there waiting for them.

The Long Tail of Internet Content

On the Web there are millions of choices for content, and the people who consume this content don’t care if it’s coming from a 14-year old in Germany or The Pope himself, as long as 1) it’s interesting to them, and 2) it’s of a high quality. Look at how much time people spend browsing through YouTube videos or reading MySpace profiles compared to how many hours of TV they watch or how many newspapers they read, that’s the sign right there that in this near-infinite supply of content readily available, consumers will find the content they like the best and not what other people *tell them* is the best. This Long Tail of content consumption on the Net is where blogs fit in perfectly, because no matter how obscure your content subject or niche, there will always be an audience looking for your content.

The problem is making yourself known to that audience.

And that’s where 9rules comes in.

  1. Lars Smith Says:

    My own blog occupies an extremely small niche, Conservation Finance. What I found surprising was that so much of the ongoing conversation takes place with other bloggers in the same or closely related niches, not with general readers posting comments.

  2. Daniel Nicolas Says:

    Very Very Very, nice article. I like the train of thought and the idea. 9rules isn’t the most popular sites, it’s the best network of niches (?).

    TV/Newspaper/etc telling you what is best vs you deciding what is best = really good point too. The tides are turning. =)

  3. viperteq Says:

    Great article. Like Daniel, I also felt the train of thought and I liked how you explained everything without resorting to Technobable. Very cool.

    You must’ve been an Applied Economics major in College huh?

  4. Mike Rundle Says:

    Thanks guys! Frank: Paul calls it my car salesman talk :)

  5. Lelia Katherine Thomas Says:

    Wonderful entry here, and very true, I think. I am somewhat of a living niche market, I think. I’m one of those people who if I see something on a bestseller list, I’m actually hesitant to purchase it, as I often find the politics and big-money marketing campaigns that drive such things somewhat distasteful.

    I think there are a lot of people out there like me, definitely. People who like to look for what interests them, not what they’re told should interest them by the masses. It’s not to say some of the big-name/big-fame content isn’t good; it’s just to say there is a lot of content by “average folks” that is just as good, if not better.

    (P.S. – I do think MySpace is the devil, though. :D)

  6. bv Says:

    i follow some of the ‘9rules network’ and it simply appears to be a ‘fraternity’ type idea. i’m not saying you guys are not doing something thats relevant but your posts tend to be ‘we rule’ and the rest don’t get it.
    i’m holding on for a while to see what happens… before i toss the feed.
    nothing personal… my 2 cents… which doesn’t equal 9.
    peace.
    bv.

  7. MoneySupermarket News Says:

    I can vouch for the long-tail. I use it successfully on the Financial Blog I help to run. Unlike 9rules we are interested in hits – the more the merrier! And I whole heartedly agree about myspace, I just don’t get it! Its ugly, its buggy and, well, i just dont trust it.

  8. Mike Rundle Says:

    Hey bv, as someone who’s witnessed fraternity and sorority culture firsthand (I never pledged but did live in a frat house, all my friends are Greek, my fianceé was in a sorority, etc.) I can tell you that 9rules is not a popularity contest. To get into a fraternity not only do you need to “uphold the fraternity’s ideals” (whatever that means) but they also have to think you’re cool or you’ll make them look cool as well, and that’s certainly not the case here.

    I can’t speak for the rest of the team, but I’d much rather have a random teenager from Europe in 9rules who writes about one topic extremely well than ANYBODY on the Technorati 100. The teenager might get 10 uniques a day, but that doesn’t matter to us at all, it’s all about the quality.

  9. Lelia Katherine Thomas Says:

    BV, I get the feeling you’re only reading the 9rules blog and not any of the blogs in the network? Naturally, the 9rules blog is about 9rules itself. Bloggers in the network don’t write about 9rules itself, though, unless there’s some special occasion for it. If that were a requirement, I’d be out by now. ;)

  10. Mattbob Says:

    “The teenager might get 10 uniques a day, but that doesn’t matter to us at all, it’s all about the quality.”

    Amen.

  11. Jeromy Boyd Says:

    You know, this was a very insightful entry. Here I was, seriously browsing around for the best (not nescessarily the largest though) blog directory / ranking site, anbd all for nothing. It iss pointless, and I decided to stick with TopBlogSites, and I don’t have a clue why.

    Nevertheless, this was profound regarding popularity desire or content excellencce. On my other blog, I was very adamant on content exxcellence, and I was now leaning torwards the popularity aspect of; psht, forget that. Excellent! 4 thumbs way, way up; and a shovel to throw at the kitten!

  12. bv Says:

    no sweat. just an observation. i follow a couple of other 9 rules blogs but can’t think of them off the top of my head (have too many i track and rather blindly thru safari rss).
    anyway, no problem. just at times it feels a bit ‘elitist’ but maybe it’s simply my take on it or lost in translation or just simply the writing style.
    either way… mean no offense.
    peace.
    bv.

  13. Lelia Katherine Thomas Says:

    BV, no worries. :) But yeah, I figure 9rules can’t be too elitist with me here. :P

  14. Bloggers Buzz » Blog Archive » Niche Blogs and The Long Tail of Content Says:

    […] Mike Rundle over at the 9rules Network Blog has written of the Long Tail of Content and some of the philosphy of the 9rules network that can be summed up as: At 9rules, we’re not interested in the hits, we’re interested in the best niche content. […]

  15. bv Says:

    ok, i have saved this link in my dock. i don’t usually post…. yada yada…. yet this post explains a bit of what i mean:
    http://9rules.com/blog/2006/08/9rules-long-tail/
    railing on another persons success seems a bit trite and if i can say a bit shallow. there has and always will be the ‘big dogs’ etc. i find it curious that 9 rules seems to defend itself by saying that top blogs lack substance because they are popular. i can think of authors, musicians, poets, artists etc. etc. that fortunately, or unfortunately made it to the top… that certainly does not mean that their ‘content’ was inferior and/or less vital. that is a very myopic way to look at the world.
    ok, i’ll stop. enough said.
    there’s a lot more positive things to do with energy than to break others down. look at the world…
    you have a good thing going. leverage it and make an impact… don’t simply attack.
    peace.
    bv.

  16. Mike Rundle Says:

    Bv, it wasn’t meant to be an attack, just an observation. I went to the Technorati 100 and found that a large portion were popular simply because they were popular before they started blogging, or had such a significant base of connections that they levereged that for their blog’s popularity.

    “i can think of authors, musicians, poets, artists etc. etc. that fortunately, or unfortunately made it to the top… that certainly does not mean that their ‘content’ was inferior and/or less vital.”

    That’s exactly what I’m saying, and those are the people I’d *hope* to be at the top of the Technorati 100, but instead we see celebrities, celebrity blogs, technology pundits famous because of their job, etc. Trust me, I’d much rather see hard-working creatives at the top of the list but it’s not really the case. More often you see the best blogs written by the most creative people without much of an audience, and those are exactly the types of blogs we’re interested in.

  17. Bright Meadow » Sunday Roast: piracy is our only option Says:

    […] And to finish off, something insightful from Mike on content versus popularity and all that jazz. Yes, I should come up with a better introduction, but it’s late and I am fresh out of inspiration. Suffice it to say I read this article at work of Friday and it made me think. As ‘what made me think’ is the guiding principle behind the ‘Roast, in it goes. […]

  18. PaulStamatiou.com Says:

    Mike Explains the Long Tail Concept…

    9rules designer Mike Rundle explores the concept of Chris Anderson’s Long Tail and how it relates to 9rules in a great read entitled Niche Blogs and The Long Tail of Content. In a nutshell, there will always be great demand for blogs discussing n…

  19. Martin Says:

    no matter how obscure your content subject or niche, there will always be an audience looking for your content.

    100% spot on, Mike.

    My whole business experience is about niche subjects and the Long Tail – if it wasn’t for that, the little guy would never succeed.

    From personal experience, I believe a blog doesn’t even start to reach its potential until after at least 12 months. That’s when the long tail effect kicks in.

    For example, I’ve written posts that I’ve long forgotten about but 18 months later I’m still getting the odd AdSense click, newsleter signups from those posts.

    I see far too many bloggers that almost expect their blog to become a smash hit in under a month, and when it doesn’t they dump it.

    And that to me is sad, because if they continue with their niche and look ahead 1, 2, 3 years down the track well … who knows.

    I know that’s my game plan.

  20. aaron wall Says:

    And this is going to probably sound like a jerk comment (and it is not meant to be), but why does one need 9Rules to get exposure?

    I mean didn’t you just say that all those other examples you pointed out as doing well had some external this or that? And why is 9Rules the this or that which will make them popular?

    Aren’t overall web linking structures and search replacing the need for networks? And if I am really passionate about my topic most likely I would be giving any network more than it would give me back because most people are not that passionate, and I want to allow my links to vote for those I really want to help or really like rather than letting some intermediary decide for me what is quality and what is not, etc.

    I would argue that I had next to nill exposure in the grand scheme of things before blogging but seem to be doing well with my blog. I have never considered joining 9Rules though because I don’t see what value it would add to my blog for me to join.

  21. Skeptic Says:

    So you are applying Long Tail theory to Long Tail content I see. What’s next? Take all of the 9rules members and see how the Long Tail applies there? Or maybe apply it to Digg? Or go nuts and see what happens if you include the Technorati 200!!

    Here’s another thing to add to the thinking: popular blogs are self-propagating. I mean who goes to a ranked list and says “I wonder what’s right smack-dab in the middle” to start. Sure you can see some fluctuations (Engadget supplanting Gizmodo for the top gadget blog, although it probably has something to do with quality too), but for the most part its pretty darn easy to stay at the top…

  22. Dan Blank: Publishing, Innovation and the Web Says:

    Blog Niche…

    Mike Rundle looks at the meaning of “the long tail” and why it may be difficult to create an A-List blog:
    “If you look at nearly all blogs on the Technorati 100, it’s difficult to say they made it there solely on the quality of thei…

  23. Mike Rundle Says:

    Hey Aaron, thanks for stopping by and checking out the article, I never said that people need 9rules but it does help out when you’re first starting. You and I have both been blogging for a few years (me, back in July 2003) and I’m sure you can agree that starting out before we were “known” was a difficult time. When I started I was commenting on 20+ different blogs a day, cold emailing random A-Listers, and doing my best to get traffic. There was nothing like Digg or Delicious to bring you any type of extended recognition — getting readers was hard work.

    Now, there are a few hundred million more blogs than when I started so even if you start a blog and produce great content, it’s difficult to get the attention of readers. Yes, search engines make that easier, however for a person with a new blog that’s irrelevant when you could be on the 20th page for a keyword. Moving up in the rankings is possible, but you need the time and links to do so, and organically building an audience is definitely a process as I’m sure you can agree.

    Not everyone needs 9rules, but if an author is looking to grow his fledgling audience and instantly be recognized in front of his peers, joining 9rules is a good way to do that. Besides traffic and recognition, we also have a thriving community of some of the best content creators on the planet so networking with those people is also one of the many benefits.

  24. » Blog Archive » The Blog Columnist v.4 Says:

    […] Mike Rundle’s Long Tail – smart post from 9rules number two man, Mike Rundle who hits a home run with his ideas on niche targeting, blogging and the long tail. And then he sells the idea that 9rules can do it for ya. I’m a long tail guy and it was a good read … so read it! […]

  25. kapeesh Says:

    But authors are famous because they’re good !!! That needn’t translate to great content i agree, but the probability of there being good content on those blogs is surely MUCH greater.

  26. ptvGuy Says:

    Wow, what a heated discussion for a post that clearly states an underlying truism. It’s sometimes amazing what people will read into or infer from a set of words that is sitting right in front of them in print. The basic thesis of the article makes three important points:

    Well-written niche blogs will find an audience no matter how narrow their focus.

    I can certainly vouch for the truth of that.

    That audience will grow much faster if that blog is a part of an already existing, interlinked, and popular community like the 9rules network.

    That makes sense since people won’t come to a site if they don’t know that it exists, and 9rules membership will not only make that known (from a widely trusted source) but will also affect search results in such a way that people searching for that kind of content will find it closer to the top of those searches.

    Aiming to go straight to the top by creating a copy of or another version of an already existing top site is not generally a good idea.

    Strangely, this point received the least attention and argument even though numerous people clearly put enormous amounts of time, energy, and money into doing exactly the opposite.

    I, for one, agree with the post. Thanks, Mike

  27. Beyond viral marketing. at Circle Six Blog Says:

    […] The result is a graph, similar to the one pictured here, that has a “long tail”. This applies to blogs in the blogosphere as they are separated into 2 groups (for the sake of convenience). There are the most popular (Boing Boing), comprising say, (The Technorati Top) 1000, and the rest of us. However, thanks to 9rules, Technorati, Digg and the like, we get our entries read by an overall larger number of people spread across a greater virtual space. Mike Rundle elaborated on this at 9rules. […]

  28. Chrismise.blog » Blog Archive » Eu blog, tu blogas, ele bloga + Last FM Says:

    […]   Tá certo que foi um mês atrás(tá nem tanto ;D) mas, queria falar do BlogDay. Ainda bem que o logo ja responde minha pergunta de por que ser 31/08 XD. Obrigada Mariana por me indicar na sua lista. Fiquei surpresa e feliz assim -> ^_______^   Nesse um ano que fiquei em hiatus teve blog que influenciou o cinema(vide o caso do Serpentes a bordo), blogs que são veículos de marketing(vide o caso do Copo Vermelho).   Ou blogs humildes e despretenciosos(vide este que você está lendo). Cada um sendo um pedaço do longa cauda da blogosfera(palavra feia. XD). ;D     […]

  29. Is niche blogging a myth? (Small isn’t the new big.) -- See One, Do One, Teach One Says:

    […] we’re not interested in the hits, we’re interested in the best niche content. […]

  30. Chrismise.blog » Blog Archive » Eu blog, tu blogas + Last FM + Angelina Jolie Says:

    […]   Tá certo que foi um mês atrás(tá nem tanto ;D) mas, queria falar do BlogDay. Ainda bem que o logotipo já responde minha pergunta de por que ser 31/08 XD. Obrigada Mariana por me indicar na sua lista. Fiquei surpresa e feliz assim -> ^_______^   Nesse um ano que fiquei em hiatus teve blog que influenciou o cinema(vide o caso do Serpentes a bordo), blogs que são veículos de marketing(vide o caso do Copo Vermelho).   Ou blogs humildes e despretenciosos(vide este que você está lendo). Cada um sendo um pedaço da longa cauda do mundo bloguístico. ;D     […]

  31. Mistakes That Kill Startups | Business Logs Says:

    […] 9rules only showcases high quality blogs because we thought it was a more valuable proposition then showcasing all blogs in all topics since that’s been done a hundred times over. Anybody can create a blog, anybody can write for one, and anybody can create a great or shitty blog, but creating a great blog takes the cumulative efforts of various skills — entrepreneurship, talent, passion, charisma — and that’s what we like most about the blog world. Although the generic litmus test for your blog’s popularity could be your Technorati rank or your number of linkbacks, that doesn’t really test the quality of your blog — merely the popularity — and we all know that popularity != quality if you’ve listened to some of the songs on Billboard’s Top 20 recently. Popularity can be bought (marketing, word of mouth, author fame, notoriety, etc.) but quality speaks for itself. Derivative Idea — Many of the applications we get are imitations of some existing company. That’s one source of ideas, but not the best. If you look at the origins of successful startups, few were started in imitation of some other startup. Where did they get their ideas? Usually from some specific, unsolved problem the founders identified. […]

  32. 21 Essential Posts about Niche Blogging - Bloggercamp Says:

    […] 8. Niche Blogs and the Long Tail of Content – the nuances of long tail keyword sets in a niche environment. […]

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