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A Changing Gun Blogosphere

In what probably ought to be a good sign that guns have gone mainstream, there’s been a pretty epic change in the gun blogosphere in the past year or so, namely the number of commercial blogs, or blogs that have been created solely for the purpose of making money, has exploded. As an indicator for the gun community, this is a positive sign, but I think it’s largely going to make it impossible for the amateur blogging community to grow, and could likely kill it over time. In other words, if you have an established amateur blog, you’ll probably hold on to your audience, but I’m betting starting a gun blog from scratch these days as a hobbyist is likely to be an exercise is failure, if your goal is to get a reasonable number (say 1000 visits a day) of eyeballs. I think this would be the case even if you’re exceptionally good at blogging. So why do I think this is the case?

Commercial blogs have a strong incentive to be self-referencing and not to link heavily, or at all, if they can help it, to outside sources. Every link you provide to another blog hurts your Google Page Rank and helps that blog’s Google Page Rank. There’s also the common wisdom that it’s good practice to keep people on your side, and not give them paths to stop reading your site and start reading someone else’s. So if you’re a commercial blog, you’re really mostly interested in generating original content, and not getting people into the habit of leaving your site to go read what someone else wrote.

In contrast, amateur blogging, which is what gun blogging has been for most of its history, thrives on the conversation that happens across the whole community, which generally means fairly gratuitous linking when it comes to hot topics. In this type of model, it’s easier for upstarts to get noticed, because if they join in the conversation, even if that means antagonizing the right people, they can carve out a place for themselves within the community. That brings me to the downsides of commercialization for the gun blogging community.

If your goal is to make money, you need a mass market product. To get a mass market product in the Googlesphere, you don’t necessary have to offer great content, or develop strong expertise in anything. You can do well just generating a lot of content and hitting on all the right keywords to draw in an audience. I think, as a community, we’ve benefitted greatly from people being able to carve out niches, and to concentrate on specific areas of knowledge, expertise, or just catering to different audiences. I think we’ve also benefited from the gun bloggers who are also activists in the issue, sharing their experiences. We’ve benefitted greatly from arguing with each other, and pissing each other off. None of these things are smart business, because they limit audiences, but they are pretty important for a community that has to be built on smart activism, and needs to argue about exactly what smart activism is. My fear with the commercialization of gun blogging, is that it will lead to lots of vanilla, mass market products. In other words, that the blogosphere turns into the online equivalent of the gun magazines many of us came here to get away from. While I believe commercialization is a positive sign, over the long run, I’m worried it’ll destroy the community of gun blogs that we’ve come to know.

DISCLAIMER: I am not suggesting that just because you make money that your blog is “commercial.” I’m speaking of blogs which are set up and run specifically with the purpose of generating income or as a business venture. If your ads pay for hosting and beer money, you’re not a commercial blog, you’re a hobbyist. I think it has to do more with why you blog than whether you’re making money at it.

23 Responses to “A Changing Gun Blogosphere”

  1. J says:

    I won’t mention which one but I belong to an online freelance site that mainly specializes in soliciting content, SEO and some guest blogging. That site has recently seen a huge uptick in requests for gunny related content for numerous upstart gun and shooting websites. I’ve largely stayed out of that fray but I can tell you that I’ve seen lots of the freelancers that land those gigs admit right up front that they know very little about shooting… just SEO.

    It’s probably a bad thing for new amateur bloggers but from a big picture perspective I think it’s another sign that guns, and the “gun culture”, are becoming more accepted and, thus, lucrative.

  2. Sean says:

    I imagine this will analogous to IT/software blogs. Only an elite minority IT bloggers are widely considered respected experts.

    Then came PC World, CNET and all the corporate drivel. We went from nerds hacking code to delivering ROI to share holders.

    US car magazines are similar (compare car and driver to top gear on tv).

  3. Dann in Ohio says:

    It will be interesting to see where this all goes…

    I kind of see three general types gun blogs:
    1) Commercial Blogs – mostly generating content for profit or supplementing and existing business or company.
    2) Amateur Blogs – mostly writing original content, maybe making some cash to cover costs.
    3) Re-Blogs – mostly compiling and linking to other content, current events, trends, news, products, etc.

    Within each of those categories, there are sub-categories such as equipment reviews, life-style focuses, politics, news, personal, etc.

    Now, many companies in this industry have found that “wide-spread, broadcast-type” advertising and marketing is of little use or ROI except for the large corporations.

    There are a lot of small niche companies and products out there that get help with advertising and marketing from Amateur Blogs and Re-Blogs which is an important factor too. These companies couldn’t afford to do an ad buy in G&A, Outdoor Life, or on the Outdoor Channel, etc.

    And of course, there is just the building of community and comradery by folks with similar interests…

    Personally, I probably fall in the second category, I produce my own content, don’t make a dime, and do it for fun. I’ve got to know, and even meet, quite a few good folks and an occasional idiot.

    I personally wouldn’t lament the commercial blogs taking over or ruining the blogosphere just yet… the music industry has evolved greatly and I find my college students and others listening to bands or music that never had air-time on the big conglomerate radio station networks… in fact, they often don’t even listen to mainstream radio… they’ve selected their content and stuffed it in their iPods.

    Interesting thoughts… time will tell…

    Dann in Ohio

  4. Andy B. says:

    I would strongly recommend that anyone who thinks the purpose of their blog — on any topic — is to communicate a “message,” with any degree of altruism, read and ponder Nock’s classic essay, “Isaiah’s Job.” To paraphrase severely, Nock said that when you become a “mass-man,” dependent in any way on maintaining or maximizing an audience, your message will be corrupted by your desire to please that audience. The audience steers you, rather than you steering your audience.

    That is certainly no problem if your object is profit-making, but it doesn’t mean what you put forth is going to be good for your community. For an analogy, I’m thinking of all of the gun activist groups who covet huge email contact lists, but therefor send out “alerts” tailored for moron appeal, rather than actual benefit to the RKBA movement; because that is what has proven most profitable.

  5. pt says:

    I’ll never leave you Sebastian!

    I think there is a third type of blog, the state/region specific political gun blog (ahem, pagunblog.com). This connects unique users to a unique cause that commercial blogs are not going to cover or cannot cover due to campaign laws. This is where the growth outside commercial blogs is going to be. Its kinda like how Ann Althouse covers Wisconsin politics, or gunpoliticsny.com covers NY gun stuff.

    • Arnie says:

      Concur about not leaving!

      But I’m not quite as interested in PA politics as I am Sebastian’s commentary on national gun issues and court cases.

      I look for a website to inform and challenge my thinking, not just reinforce or titillate. I’ve found better legal expositions here than on legal blogs, certainly more sensible expositions anyway, especially on constitutional issues.

      Yeah, I’m not going anywhere!

  6. RRangel says:

    I think what you say is true to an extent. Though thankfully, many bloggers are very passionate about their hobbies and their rights, and will carry on regardless of the negative aspects that may come. What attracts many to blogging or the internet in general, may be the fact that they have a chance to have meaningful discourse, where they might not otherwise. The “internet is the great equalizer” still rings true to a large degree.

    • Patrick says:

      I think you hit this on the head: Discourse is the big thing. People who come here like to talk the issue, not just read about it. And frankly I cannot stand any gun blog that uses videos for everything. I don’t watch them, but that might just be me. One or two vies are fine, but if the whole front page is A/V I go elsewhere.

      Ther reason is I want the back and forth you get from text. there is a huge difference between a forum or an Indy blogger and a mass-content operator. Indy bloggers drive the discussion (their real talent), whereas the mass content sites just have consumers talking to themselves. Some may like that, but the people who come here are probably going to prefer the former to the latter.

  7. Patrick says:

    Something we should not forget are the meta-blogs out there: user-driven gun forums. They also fall into similar categories, but the user driven nature of them means that no central authority manages every post. Sure, you could police them all and start killing posts that link offsite, but now you drive all the users offsite.

    Non-profit state forums are pretty big (CalGuns, MDShooters, etc.) as are some well known commercialized national forums (arfcom, glocktalk, snipers hide, etc.). Gun forum members are deep-dive people and want more than drivel written by SEO optimizers. They link here and to other Indy blogger sites because that is where the good stuff is found. Until the commercial sites get to that level of detail, Indy folks will always have that built-in audience. Forums are not going away, and I suspect that most of us found bitter, sebastian, tam, uncle or John via forum links rather than some SEO links.

    I don’t doubt the dynamic is going to change, and that is not all bad. But large scale news operations do not dominate the web. Indy news sites have a strong place, and guys like drudge started out of their basement. The big thing the large commercial news shops worry about is the Indy folks killing them daily. Upstart operations like rcp or even politico are eating the breakfasts, lunches and dinners of the big shops.

    So I see conglomerations of gun blogging coming on. Some of you folks are going to start working with the new operations, and to the extent that increases free ice cream distribution I am fine with it. But the danger is what others have mentioned: the chance the message will change to meet the audience. Oh well. In that case, someone else will come along to replace the drivel.

    The Internet allows continuous recycle. I am not too concerned, because I can always find someone out there to offer tidbits.

    Thanks for what you do here and now, and for whatever form you do it in the future.

  8. Thirdpower says:

    “if your goal is to get a reasonable number (say 1000 visits a day)”

    As if the majority of us get this now. ;)

    “In other words, that the blogosphere turns into the online equivalent of the gun magazines many of us came here to get away from. ”

    And that’s exactly what will happen to the ‘professional’ blogs. Gunnies will start seeing the exact same glowing reviews of every piece of crap that comes down the pipeline. Comments will be disabled because they won’t want people saying “Well my Ultra gun 2000 did NOT work right and Acme Guns customer service sucks” because Acme Guns has an ad space right next to it.

  9. SPQR says:

    Except for Steve’s Firearms blog, I don’t visit commercial gun blogs. TTAG gets no visits from me and no links.

    And frankly, Steve’s has gone downhill over the last year in my opinion. I don’t resent a small guy monetizing his blog but TTAG shows what mixing commercialization with the ethics of a weasel produces.

  10. Arnie says:

    And don’t forget the personal aspects of a blog like this. We kind of get to know each other here. We even give each other advice on plumbing, weight-loss and lawn mowers. Good heavens, I even stayed up nights praying for Sebastian’s root canal, new job, and hurricane survival.

    You won’t find that on a commercial blog!

    • Patrick says:

      You left out water heaters, roofing, framing, home electrical, cooking and lawn service. Then the Linux, scripting languages, server management…

      It’s damn near DIY TV here.

  11. Paul Lathrop says:

    I read here every day, sometimes multiple times a day, and do so because I want to know what Sebastian a nd Bitter think about what is going on. I found his blog through a reccommendation from a friend, which is how I found most of the blogs that I read on a regular basis. I have never once used a search engine to find a blog and don’t plan on doing so in the future. Does that make me wierd? If someone starts a blog and they have interesting content if I am informed about it I’ll check it out and might be back if I like what I see. (My appologies for any misspellings and the rambling nature of my comment, I’m working off the cell phone, and there is a good reason I don’t do a written blog)

    • Alpheus says:

      For the life of me, I cannot remember how I first encountered the first couple of blogs I read on a regular basis, although I can see a certain pattern: I’ll every so often read bits of another blog that was linked to one of my “core” blogs; if I gradually find that blog interesting enough, I’ll start reading it on my own, until it becomes a “core” blog.

      There are a lot of blogs I enjoy, but I don’t read, because they are black holes for my attention by an overload of information (Instapundit and Volohk Conspiracy are two such examples); there are a handful that I don’t read, because I don’t want to add yet another blog to my list.

      I don’t how “normal” this is, but if it’s even somewhat typical, I don’t think commercial blogs will completely push out hobby blogs. They are somewhat different animals!

  12. I try really hard to lean toward the “amateur” blogs on the Gun Blog Black List.

  13. Well, I’m an amateur (yeah, like you couldn’t read my blog and guess that) and I make exactly $squat for doing it. I write for my own purposes, and if anyone reads it that’s gravy for me. I plan on changing nothing about how I do what I do, or what I make for doing it. And when/if it ever becomes “not fun”, then I’ll stop.

    A very few of the commercial ones are worth my trouble to look at; most are wastes of my time and effort–sort of like the average gun mag. I’d far rather stick to the amateurs, who are more interesting, more entertaining, and who generally look at more varied gunnie things than the commercial blogs.

  14. I am curious to see how it goes. Part of me wonders if the amateur blogs will be okay because gun enthusiasts will still want good information from other gun enthusiasts. Commercial blogs won’t stop me from reading this blog.

  15. What about gun blogs that are in it for the drama? Can we get our own category?

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