The Secret to Making Money from Blogs

You can't make money blogging, or at least you can't make much. At least not now. Well, actually nobody knows. I don't have any ads on this site, the main reason being nobody has ever asked me to put their ad on this site. Maybe advertisers are missing a huge opportunity!

But I think I've figured out the secret to making money from blogs. Get someone to pay you to monitor them.

That's the conclusion I draw from Deborah Brown's op-ed (subscription required) in the current PR Week. Deborah Brown is senior director at Peppercom, a much-awarded small firm with offices in New York, San Francisco and London. She's got a common-sense approach to what she calls "digital media" that reminded me of the John Prine lyric, "It don't make much sense, this common sense don't make no sense no more."

For example, she says:

It’s also critical to understand that your company cannot state the same key messages via digital media that are allowed in other marketing initiatives such as advertising. With digital, the customer is in complete control. You need to understand how to communicate and connect in a new environment in which you have little or no control.

This is true, but it is fast becoming a cliche. Realizing you have little or no control is good Zen discipline, but pretty soon the clients are going to start asking their PR people for something more than a list of "what-not-to-do's." From my perch, I think we're at the point where an old economic idea, "Creative Destruction," needs to be applied to these new realities. From Joseph Schumpeter's Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, written in 1942:

schumpeter.jpg(T)he contents of the laborer's budget, say from 1760 to 1940, did not simply grow on unchanging lines but they underwent a process of qualitative change. Similarly, the history of the productive apparatus of a typical farm, from the beginnings of the rationalization of crop rotation, plowing and fattening to the mechanized thing of today–linking up with elevators and railroads–is a history of revolutions. So is the history of the productive apparatus of the iron and steel industry from the charcoal furnace to our own type of furnace, or the history of the apparatus of power production from the overshot water wheel to the modern power plant, or the history of transportation from the mailcoach to the airplane. The opening up of new markets, foreign or domestic, and the organizational development from the craft shop and factory to such concerns as U.S. Steel illustrate the same process of industrial mutation–if I may use that biological term–that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in. . . .

"Industrial mutation" — there's a term I'd like to see the PR blogs use more often! The fact is, in a breathtakingly short period of time, mass communications has undergone a profound mutation, to which the PR industry and current practices might not successfully adapt.

In PR Week, Brown quotes Christopher Barger, "Blogger-in-Chief" at IBM, saying the customers "want relationship building" and not "traditional messages." From this article and dozens more like it all over the PR blogosphere and trade media, you get the idea that some PR industry leaders see "relationship building" as just another tactic in the PR professional's arsenal.

I don't think so. Training in the PR industry is notoriously poor, but from what I remember, it's mostly about dealing with the news media, elements of good writing, client relations and "managing for profitability." There aren't many PR agency GMs who could instruct staff to go forth and help clients "build relationships" via "digital media" and have any confidence in how their employees would translate those words into action. Chaos would ensue. It might be funny like "The Office" is funny. But a client shouldn't pay for people to do something they aren't qualified to do.

I don't mean to knock Deborah Brown. Her article is good as far as it goes. She has a clear view of the mutation process, and how control is slipping away. The rather tentative tone of her article is probably appropriate. Nobody really knows what to do, and she doesn't pretend to either.

However, she did make one suggestion that made me laugh.

Monitor…monitor….monitor…know what’s being said about your company, but know when it makes sense to react.

Digital monitoring: It's a tactic PR people can certainly do. It's just like media monitoring, except more billable hours, since, according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project report,

As of last December, 35 percent of Americans had posted to a blog, created a Web page, shared online photos, or otherwise generated content. That proportion is more than double the 16 percent that had posted any content to the Web in January 2002, when Pew first researched the topic.

spy-vs-spy1.jpgCan you imagine how many of those posts mention a brand-name company, one that might have PR people in-house or under contract? Monitor… monitor… monitor… monitor… monitor… monitor… monitor… monitor… monitor… monitor…

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Mother Russia Wants More Children

The news that Vladimir Putin's government in Russia is offering 250,000 rubles — the equivalent of more than two years' income for the average Russian worker — to mothers who agree to have second children reminded me of one of the first news stories I ever wrote, for an undergraduate journalism class at Berkeley in 1976.

That was during the time of the refuseniks — dissident Russian scientists, engineers, writers and academics, most of them Jews, who were trying to emigrate but were denied permission by the Communist government. I was assigned (or I assigned myself) to cover an event featuring Professor Gail Lapidus and a scientist who, after waiting almost a decade, finally had gotten out. I recall his first name was Martin, but I would butcher his last name if I tried it now.

At the time, Lapidus' research was focused on the role of women in Soviet society. Then, as now, the Russian population was aging and its economy stagnating, in part because its women were declining to have children. Here is what a Russian woman of today told Fred Weir of the Christian Science Monitor:

"A child is not an easy project, and in this world a woman is expected to get an education, find a job, and make a career," says Svetlana Romanicheva, a student who says she won't consider babies for at least five years. She hopes to have one child, but says a second would depend on her life "working out very well." As for Putin's offer, she says "it won't change anything."

Back in 1976, the notion of economic incentives was heresy. So, as I recall Professor Lapidus explaining, the Soviet government tried to trick women into having kids by getting them drunk.

Hearing this as a college student who spent at least a few hours each month at parties comprised of cheap beer and wine and dozens of single men and women at their reproductive peak, it seemed quite funny that the Soviets would use the same tools, but call it social engineering for the good of the People.

On long train trips, Lapidus said, at a certain point in the evening, the fellows behind the bar — acting on official instructions — would just start pouring drinks for passengers, in hopes that romance, and pregnancy, would ensue. Lapidus was very serious about this, but I'll never forget the sneaky little smile on "Martin's" face as she told the story. I guessed (but of course didn't write) that Martin had been a passenger on the Soviet Love Train a time or two.

Stuff I Didn’t Know About Baseball & Los Angeles

Did you know that if it hadn't been for the attack on Pearl Harbor, the first major league baseball team to move to Los Angeles would have been the St. Louis Browns, in 1942?

Did you know that the Browns had another shot at moving to Los Angeles in 1953, but chose Baltimore instead?

Browns logo.jpgDid you know that the Kansas City Athletics (who are now in Oakland) and the original Washington Senators (who are now the Minnesota Twins) toyed with moving to Los Angeles before the Dodgers did?

Did you know that the only reason Los Angeles was awarded a second major-league franchise after the Dodgers' arrival in 1958 was to thwart plans for a rival baseball league?

Did you know that the Angels' first owner, Gene "The Cowboy" Autry, was originally interested only in broadcasting the Angels, but was encouraged to buy the team when the Dodgers' Walter O'Malley vetoed the choice of Bill Veeck? (Veeck, the goofball promotional genius who revived the Browns' fortunes briefly when he hired a midget to pinch-hit, would have been a perfect fit for Hollywood in the early 60s. That's obviously what O'Malley was afraid of.)

You probably knew that the Angels played at Dodger Stadium from 1962-64, and when they played there, they called the ballpark "Chavez Ravine." But did you know that the '62 team was in first place on July 4th, and was a threat to overtake the Yankees that year until late in the season?

You know that O'Malley as landlord treated the Angels like dirt, so Autry moved the team to Anaheim. But did you know that Long Beach could have had the Angels, but when the city insisted the team call itself the Long Beach Angels, Autry backed out? (In Anaheim, they were known as the California Angels, until 1997, when they became known as the Anaheim Angels. Beginning in 2005, they took on the unwieldy name that only lawyers could love, "the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim." You know all about that.)

These bits of information about Los Angeles' baseball history are included in the Angels' entry in Wikipedia. Thanks to 6-4-2's Rob McMillan for pointing to it. I still can't get over that we almost got the Browns — a baseball team with arguably the most futile history of any major league franchise. In 1942, the L.A. Browns would have been just three years removed from the team that had one of the worst records in major league history, 43-111, a .279 winning percentage.

Of course, the Browns found success as the Baltimore Orioles. In fact, in 1966, the Orioles swept the Dodgers in the World Series, beating Don Drysdale twice and handing the great Sandy Koufax a defeat in the last game he ever pitched. 

Floyd Patterson, R.I.P.

Floyd Patterson.jpegWorld champion heavyweight Floyd Patterson, who died May 11 at 71, was remembered at a memorial today in New Paltz, N.Y.:

The Rev. Dan O'Hare, who met Patterson shortly after the boxer retired to New Paltz in 1973, said, "I didn't understand how this gentle, kind person beat up people."

O'Hare said he later saw photographs of Patterson helping up men he had knocked out.

Another picture, printed on the back of the memorial's bulletin, shows a smiling Patterson and the scar tissue on the knuckles of his big left hand, which the 190-pound boxer used to knock out Ingemar Johansson and retake the heavyweight crown in 1960.

Patterson's son, Floyd Patterson II, recalled going to a dinner where his father left the table for the restroom and didn't come back. He was found talking to fans. His son said Patterson would talk and sign autographs as long as people wanted him to.

Patterson won the heavyweight boxing title in 1956 when he knocked out Archie Moore. He lost and regained the title in fights with Ingemar Johansson and lost the title for good to Sonny Liston. Patterson retired in 1972 with a 55-8-1 record and 40 knockouts. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.

Patterson was the first boxer to ever to regain the heavyweight boxing crown after losing it, that history playing out over three classic bouts with Ingemar Johansson in 1959-61. He lost it the second time to Sonny Liston and lost the rematch, both times in first-round knockouts. After the Liston fights, Patterson continued his career long enough to get three more shots at the title, in 1965 and 1972 against Cassius Clay/Muhammed Ali, and in 1967 against Jimmy Ellis.

In between the Liston knockouts and the Clay challenge, writer Gay Talese wrote a famous portrait of Patterson, "The Loser." I happened to check out The Gay Talese Reader: Portaits and Encounters from the library shortly after Patterson died, so I read the piece. It first appeared in Esquire when that magazine published the best non-fiction in the country. "The Loser" is truly beautiful, poignant writing — an honest, clear-eyed writer encountering a honest, insightful subject who had a great story to tell. (The Talese collection also includes classic portraits of Joe DiMaggio and Frank Sinatra.)

When Talese visited Patterson at his remote upstate New York training center, Patterson was in training even though, at that time, the boxing world thought Patterson was through — at 29. Patterson continued boxing for the same reason he started in the first place: "I liked beating people because it was the only thing I could do… Whether boxing was a sport, I wanted to make it a sport because it was a thing I could succeed at." But, contemplating his life, Patterson seemingly startles the near-invisible narrator Talese when he claims he is "a coward."

"When did you first think you were a coward?" he was asked.

"It was after the first Ingemar fight."

"How does one see this cowardice you speak of?"

"You see it when a fighter loses. Ignemar, for instance, is not a coward. When he lost the third fight in Miami, he was at a party later at the Fountainebleu. Had I lost, I couldn't have gone to that party. And I don't see how he did."

"Could Liston be a coward?"

"That remains to be seen," Patterson said. "We'll find out what he's like after somebody beats him, how he takes it. It's easy to do anything in victory. It's in defeat that a man reveals himself. In defeat, I can't face people. I haven't the strength to say to people, 'I did my best, I'm sorry,' and whatnot."

Patterson admitted to Talese that he brought a disguise with him — fake whiskers and mustache and a hat — to every fight after his first lost to Johannson. He won every fight from then on until Liston, but after Liston beat him, he used the disguse to slip away, first by car from Chicago to New York, then on an airplane from New York to Madrid, a location he chose upon reading the city's name on a sign at the airport.

"You must wonder what makes a man do things like this. Well, I wonder too. And the answer is, I don't know…but I think that within me, within every human being, there is a certain weakness. It is a weakness that exposes itself more when you're alone. And I have figured out that part of the reason I do the things I do, and cannot seem to conquer that one word–myself–is because… is because…I am a coward."

Amazing for a writer to get a 29-year-old world-famous and successful athlete to say things like this. Amazing that the young man could acknowledge that weakness within his heart — and then work his way back for three more legitimate shots at the top in the next seven years.

(Sports Illustrated recently interviewed Talese about the Patterson story and his other writings on sports. It's here.)

Lonely At The Top

You've seen all those Apple TV ads where the poor, hapless, Bill Gates'-tubby-nephew PC gets ragged on by a cool, Jimmy-Fallonesque Mac. All the cliche problems about PCs form the basis of these ads — the need for frequent reboots, the viruses, the poor interconnectivity. Very cute. You'd never know that PCs outsell Macs by something like 10-to-1. Apple's got the rep.

iPod.jpgBut Apple better wipe that smug smile off its face. In the market where they dominate, portable MP3 players, the company's getting quite a PC-like reputation. From a consumer column in the Guardian:

Apple iPod owners love their sleek machines. That's when they work. When they don't, they enter a twilight world where they discover their prized music player is considered by its manufacturer as nothing more than a throwaway item.

It doesn't matter that iPod lovers can spend up to £300 on their gizmo. Apple operates on the basis that the iPod life expectancy is a year, and that's it.

Complain that your £200 or £300 could have bought a fridge or TV that would be expected to last five years or more, and a customer services assistant will explain that a one-year warranty is just that, and no more.

Last month Guardian Money explained how the Sale of Goods Act sets out a series of basic customer rights. These are fleshed out by guidelines from the Department of Trade & Industry. The key in all discussions with retailers, which are the first port of call, is that goods should last up to six years, depending on their cost and expected durability.

In the article we told how a reader took a broken ClickwheeI 40Gb iPod back to the Birmingham Apple Centre. Staff said the cost of repair would exceed the value of the £300 model and refused a free replacement. Arguments that iPods are designed to be portable and take a reasonable amount of wear and tear fell on deaf ears.

Which? – formerly the Consumers Association – says consumers should argue strongly with retailers. While the DTI guidelines do not define how long specific products should last, a survey by Which? of manufacturers into how long they believe electrical appliances should last (not including Apple) found that all reckoned five years or more.

Apple has sold more than 2m iPods in the UK and it would be unfair to expect all of them to work without any problems. But judging from the postbag at Guardian Money, while it's easy to fall in love with the design and ease of use of iPods, they can at times be highly temperamental.

The 40Gb Clickwheel, now discontinued, appears to have suffered more than its fair share of problems. Apple says not. Its response, however, captures the dilemma faced by customers offered an extended warranty. Either the product is robust and the rare failure can be absorbed by the seller, or there is a widespread reliability problem which the manufacturer should deal with.

Apple, like most other manufacturers, refuses to accept responsibility for repairs even when machines break down within weeks of expiry of the one-year warranty.

You get the worst of both worlds: A balky product, and an arrogant attitude toward customers.

For all I know, the iPod's many competitors have the same problems. But I never read about them.