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Are the Days of Independent Political Bloggers Numbered? Digby and Atrios Chime In

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, October 19 2009

Is political blogging no longer a place for the individual, crusading voice? Do you have to be part of a group blog, and ideally backed by a big media property, to flourish in the national political blogosphere in the U.S.? Two powerful indie-bloggers, the pseudonymous Digby and the once-pseudonymous Atrios (Duncan Black), posted links back to my Friday post about Technorati's new top blogs metric, that in essence expressed nostalgia for those good 'ol days when all it took was a PC and a strong point of view to make it in the Big Blogcity.

Digby wrote:

It would appear that the days of the single, old country blogger like myself are definitely on the wane. I would guess that within just a few years there won't be more than a handful of the sole proprietor, uncredentialed bloggers of today even cited anymore, although there may be a few who survive with communities and a large readership.

I'm not surprised. The form is cheap and immediate and big media are desperately trying to find ways to stay relevant. It was only a matter of time before they co-opted the scene. But the barriers to entry are so low that it's hard to imagine that there won't inevitably be somebody crashing the party with something different. There's always an appetite for a new voice or a new format. But in the end, the blogosphere will probably end up dominated by corporate media and big money financed entrepreneurial projects. Same as it ever was.

And Atrios titled his typically one-line post, "On My Way Out."

But are these indie-bloggers really on their way out? Maybe their rank is down simply because there are more blogs with more incoming links than them, but they're still seeing healthy levels of readership and financial returns--in which case we should stop drafting their obituaries. (And the truth is that Digby's Technorati rating is still quite good, #28 on their current US Politics list, which--even with its existing flaws--is better than where I had her in January. And Eschaton should be listed around #60 on Technorati's list, based on its "authority" rank of 710, but as I noted in my Friday post, there are a lot of political blogs oddly missing from Technorati's US list.)

I emailed Digby and Atrios two questions:

I have two questions for you that might help flesh out the picture more clearly, since I don't think it's really true that old media blogs are necessarily taking up all the space that new, individual voices had once carved out.

The first question is, is your personal blog traffic down? If it is, then I suppose maybe something is happening here that is stealing oxygen from you. But if it's relatively stable (compared to years past, seasonally adjusted for the political timetable), then perhaps there's really not much news here...or the real story is that the overall readership of political blogs has grown...

Second, are you financially up/down or stable, in terms of what it takes for you to sustain yourself and your blog? Again, if the answer is down, then this is worrisome for the hopes of individual bloggers wanting to keep their booth at the county fair open. But if you're stable and sustaining yourself, perhaps we should make sure people know that, and we don't start feeding a meme of "don't try entering blogging, the big corporate boys have it locked down"...

Their answers were interesting. Atrios emailed back, "traffic is down but stable... it fell, but isn't falling more. Revenue fairly stable until few months ago. Still ok, but potentially worrying trend. advertisers and readers both (not all, but many) have always had preference for 'official' blogs or things which manage to present themselves as such."

Digby wrote me: "Speaking for myself, my traffic is stable (off by about 5% from the election year) but the finances are seriously shaky. There just isn't much advertising right now so that may be more a function of the recession than anything else." She added, "I'm affected by interblog linkage and the corporate blogs just don't link to independent blogs as much as we link to them. I think the technorati stats reflect that. And I do think that's going to affect the independent blogosphere."

It's worth paying closer attention to Digby's point about who links to whom. In essence, she is saying that when it comes to the link economy, indie bloggers are more generous than Big Media types, who she says mainly just link to each others. And I think she's right; the linking patterns discerned by our friends at Linkfluence show that in general, the blogs at big newspapers sites are far less likely to link to "regular" bloggers than the reverse. And this isn't a matter of one type of blogger (the indie), simply "leeching" content from the content generators, since Big Media bloggers are just as often doing their own opinionizing as much as they are reporting real news.

Whether we like it or not, this may well be a serious trend, one that doesn't bode well for independent bloggers.