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.