Niche Blogs and The Long Tail of Content

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 (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.