No one can escape the economic bad news sweeping the world at the moment….or can they?
Blogs will likely fare well no matter what the economic downturn delivers to the broader market: advertising may actually increase, and most blogs and bloggers are small scale enterprises with little or no debt, who can survive on lower incomes than heritage media companies. But there is one thing you need to be considering now, and that’s a question of focus. Lots of blogs are writing about the economic crisis (us included) and it’s difficult to ignore what is going on and not write about it. But that news may be polluting your focus. You need to make a judgment call as soon as possible on what is the best focus for your blog in bad times. We’ve discussed various verticals in previous posts, and I hate to generalize, but this is the split to need to consider.
Are you a topical news blog, or are you an escapist blog?
Do your readers turn to your blog to escape bad news, or consume more of it?
Escapism in bad economic times grows
One rarely mentioned story (if you work in the industry you may have heard it) is the effect of the Great Depression on entertainment. During the early 1930’s, attendances at movie theatres throughout the Anglosphere skyrocketed to such an extent that the period became known as Hollywood’s Golden Age. They may well do so again during this economic meltdown, but the differences today are that people can get their dose of escapism at home as well, through big screen televisions, or via the internet.
A June 2008 study from Blockbuster, although one that should be taken with a serious grain of salt, found that 88% percent of those surveyed indicated they planned to stay home more in an economic downturn. To stay entertained 87% said they would use their home entertainment center more. Now while that last figure doesn’t say they’ll be reading blogs more, it does say that they’ll be seeking to escape bad news at home by increasing their entertainment consumption.
The trend is the same, from the 1930s to now: when times are bad, people seek to escape bad news through entertainment.
News doesn’t grow
Figures for newspaper circulation rates in the United States only go back to 1940, at least from the National Newspaper Association, so I was unable to obtain data for sales rates of newspapers during the Great Depression. But from those figures we find that newspapers were slightly down during the economic troubles in the 1970s. The drop wasn’t huge, but after nearly uniform growth to that point, 1973 became the high point for newspaper circulation in the United States, followed by small declines until the nearly the end of the decade. Statistically the declines aren’t significant enough to say that news suffers during hard economic times, and newspapers did have competition from television as well, but what we can say is that news doesn’t grow when times are tough.
The growth market is in escapism, so what is your blog doing about it? If you’re a news blog, your focus isn’t going to change, and you should seek to be the master of what you do, but that’s only a small part of the blogosphere.
You may be better off pretending that the economic crisis isn’t happening, at least on your blog. People want to escape the bad news, and most verticals offer opportunities to provide that. A celebrity blog will keep writing about celebrities, a gadget blog about gadgets, a scrapbooking blog about scrapbooking etc, but without mentioning the bad stuff. Some will call this fanboyism, but at its root it’s all about being positive, and offering an oasis of content that is away from the doom and gloom. Nearly any space can do this, even those covering web stories, such as startups. There will always be good stories, the trick is to not let yourself be consumed by the negatives.
The split doesn’t have to be a one size fits all focus though. There are times you’ll want to cover bad news, and it fits with what you’re doing. But you need to consider balance: how much is acceptable to your readers, could this be damaging your site as a point of escapism, would tweaking the balance help your reader numbers, in either direction?
Conclusion (and what we’ll do).
Let me finish by talking about The Inquisitr, not because I like talking about us all the time, but because I can use it as a practical example.
Our strengths are that we don’t just do tech, so we have the fun stuff and the celebrity stuff as well, but obviously we are still primarily a tech blog. I’ve written numerous posts, as have the team, about the bad news, and I think there’s worse to come. But likewise, I’m also concerned that we don’t over do the negative stuff, at least not as a sole focus of posts (for example, I don’t believe this post is overly negative). We will be refining that balance, probably from next week, once we see where the bad news is heading, and the outcome of that refocus likely being less economic bad news posts at this stage, because I believe we are well suited to tap into the escapism that is about to boom.