WordPress News Sites And The Bermuda Triangle

A few days ago, I had the chance to participate briefly in a discussion held on Twitter around the topic of WordPress news centric sites seemingly disappearing off the face of the earth after a certain period of time. The question which started this conversation by Doug Stewart is as follows: “A question for which I have no answer: why do all WordPress news sites seem to come with an expiration date?“.

When I first started writing about WordPress back in 2007, there were a couple of news sites I relied on for WordPress news on a regular basis. While Weblogtoolscollection.com is still chugging along, sites such as WPHacks and WPCandy fell by the wayside a year or two after I got involved with the community. Since 2007, I’ve been able to witness multiple sites sprout up like seedlings only to die off before their first bloom. I tried to not let that happen to WPTavern and for long time readers, I think that was obvious but in the end, life became too much.

In its heyday, WPTavern was filled with success and the forums were a wonderful place to be. I was hanging out on the website multiple hours of every day and night chatting it up on the forum, Twitter, and posting articles on the site. I was sitting in my room, living with my parents in their apartment for hours during the day and night, at the PC just typing away. This is the reason WPTavern was able to grow at a steady pace over the course of 2009-2011. Over the course of those two years, I tried to find a way to make the site sustainable and to help me pay the bills every month. I thoroughly enjoyed just sitting at the PC all day typing articles and sharing my thoughts on what was buzzing around the WordPress community. Unfortunately, not being able to get a paycheck every week for doing it caught up with me. I tried display advertising, some affiliate marketing, and sponsorships, but at the end of the day, I was no salesman or marketer and I probably shortchanged myself numerous times. While I was working full time at the grocery store at night, I really thought WPTavern would be my way out of that hell hole which is why I decreased the hours I worked their during the week to concentrate on really making WPTavern be my main source of income. It didn’t work and within a month or two, I was back to working my 36 hour shift at the store. What would have been ideal is for someone like the grocery store to just give me a paycheck every week for sitting on my ass and writing about WordPress.

I’m glad I found a buyer for the site when I did and the price they paid me was far superior to my asking price. I have a terrible habit of selling myself short. However, if I were to start a WordPress news centric site today, this is how I’d do it.

First, I would find a team of people that had some expertise in a couple of different areas such as themes, plugins and WordPress hacks. I’d also hire a guy to write about the various services Automattic offers. I’d also try and find a guy that could write about the various projects such as BuddyPress and bbPress. A kick ass WordPress news centric site would need a smart, dedicated team of people to write about all those subjects. I think they would have a hard time not ever having anything to write about. While I tried to do this with WPTavern, I simply couldn’t bring myself to ask people to work for free. I did ask for guest posts but those were rarely delivered upon. So the question you’ll need to ask yourself is where do you get the funding for such a team?

The fact of the matter is, unless you’re some super salesman or having a big company backing you, WordPress News Centric sites don’t make squat for cash. At least that’s my experience. Nothing that would pay my $700.00 mortgage every month and give me money for food. The money that I earned for affiliates and display advertising was unpredictable which was a giant hassle on me financially.

Personally, I don’t think people need WordPress news centric sites anymore. Based on my experience, if you follow the right 100 people or so on Twitter, they provide you with most of what you’ll need to know within the WordPress community. Between Twitter the mailing lists (WPMail.me) and the various RSS feeds for the WP community Make websites, that’s enough to keep you in the know. However, there is one facet to all of this that I think could be explored a little deeper and that is the idea of Curation. I believe that WPTavern did a great job in curating content and publishing links to things that you needed to know about or be aware of. Considering all of the different pipes of information both official and unofficial regarding the WordPress project, there is still a need for an excellent curator or a team of curators. However, the best curation I have seen over the past year or so has been from the WPMail.me newsletter. It’s free and they have done a great job of giving people links of information they should be aware of. I find that between Twitter and this newsletter, I’m generally in the loop of what is going on within the community.

My advice to anyone wanting to start a WordPress news centric website, especially if you think it’s going to make you some money is to stop immediately. Focus your efforts on where the real cash is. Commercial plugins, themes, and services. A news centric website takes so much time and energy to maintain and keep fresh, it’s not worth it in the long run unless you have a company backing you and providing you a steady stream of cash that pays the bills and puts food on the table at the same time. Every time I thought about it, I couldn’t come up with a reason that I could use to convince someone else to pay me to sit on my ass and write about WordPress all day. The value and worth comes from writing code, not text. At least that’s my conclusion.


54 responses to “WordPress News Sites And The Bermuda Triangle”

  1. This is why we’re pretty stoked about WP Daily because the genesis of it was created by a team and not by some individual.

    And this team (my team) already has a successful product and running business. We’re stoked to provide even more value to our readers and customers and we’re not banking on it being a cash cow.

    You spoken to a lot of points that we’ve pondered for a very long time. Thanks for that.

  2. @Simon – Thanks Simon. One of our ideas when founding WP Realm with the rest of the team, was to provide an affiliate free WordPress community site where the articles would be created by a team.

    We’re also not focussing on just any news in the WordPress realm, for we think that gives too much pressure on the team and it would dilute the quality in our opinion.

  3. I think the key point you make is about code, not “news.” I think, ultimately, a successful WordPress-centric “blog” should focus on teaching WordPress, not just linking to everything WordPress-related or writing about the latest hire at Automattic. I think the value comes in the lessons you teach people and that’s what will ultimately build value for a successful niche WordPress site. Without this, your content’s value rapidly expires. The WordPress development community as a whole can easily keep up with WP-related releases through the twittersphere, as you said.

  4. Having spent a couple of years in this space, it finally came down to the economics for me. The information itself is commodity, finding a value add was beyond my skill. Good content is easily buried by SEO or social media experts, and much of the customer base, well, many expect services as well as information to be free. The competition is also stiff from bona fide professionals (respect, totally), who are willing to go a few rounds of freemium to grow their business. This freemium applies to services as well as information.

    The decision I faced was whether to 1. double (or triple) down and go another year essentially for free, 2. develop deep programming skills in PHP, or 3. make a lateral move into technology which had a viable employment market. I chose to move to Rails from WordPress based on market demand, and, importantly, the strength of engineering discipline in the Ruby and Rails community.

    I’m *really* happy a lot of that software engineering is moving into WordPress now.

    All that said, I’m positive there are a number of extremely lucrative business models with WordPress as a central piece of the technology stack. I’m out for this round to regroup, but the future overall looks pretty bright.

    Also, I consider my WP site in hibernation. No plans to take it down.

  5. I agree with the earlier commentator that WordPress news essentially is a commodity, like your cable or water. Since it is difficult to market “water” or “cable”, you create a news site for “luxury water” or “cable service for movie fans.” The goal now is to create a WordPress news vertical: WordPress for small business, WordPress for newbies, WordPress news for nonprofits, WordPress plugin news for developers, etc.

  6. If it’s all about making money I can say that my blogging resources(mostly around WP)is making a decent revenue compared to the traffic it gets which is a dozen times less than WordPress Tavern.

    I enjoy my daily job and in between I post a tutorial or a news article regarding WP or blogging and enjoy sales through affiliate links.

    Like Ed wrote, vertical targeting is the way to go.

  7. Hi Jeff,

    Wow, serendipity seems to be at play. I recently attended the New Media Expo in Vegas and over dinner, we had a lengthy discussion on this very topic, you included.

    As a long time WP community member, I’ve experienced the highs and lows of both wptavern and wpcandy, and now wprealm and wpdaily seem to be taking “pole position” in the WP News arena. It’s the “ebb and flow”, but I have to agree with your own admission…not being able to find that balance of “purity of publishing” and being able to generate a valid revenue stream from what you’re providing the community. I struggled with this myself with http://wpmodder.com

    You should have never sold yourself short, but I get it. I understand. It took me years to figure out that I could both benefit the community with my WP content AND generate affiliate revenue in an HONEST way with my various tutorial sites.

    It should be proof positive for you that you’re receiving these comments from people who have been following wptavern for so long. WP Tavern matters. YOU MATTER. To the community.

    The WP community is always evolving, but it’s getting to the point where you have people like me, yourself, and the other commentators who have been here for a long time and have no intention of leaving.

    Many of us have figured out how to make a living from the software we all use and love, and I think it’s high time you figured that out too. You are a valuable asset to the community and someone we all have relied on in the past (and hope to rely on in the future) for keeping us up-to-date on the latest and greatest, but also with an opinion thrown in for good measure.

    My only advice is to keep publishing, but only do so if it’s your passion. It shows. The financial part will come. I promise. It’s all about “mindset” http://adamwwarner.com/business-blog/marketing-to-yourself-changing-your-mindset

    I wish you the best Jeff, and I’ll be in touch:)

  8. Thanx for this article.

    While I was thinking about creating a WP news site parallel to my theme label (RichWP) for quite a while, I noticed in mid to end 2011 that content marketing is an effective strategy to grow my theme label. The economics just made sense: I could buy targeted ads for a certain amount and enjoy a short burst of traffic or I could spend this money on articles and grow my visitor base sustainably. I decided to establish the RichWP Blog http://richwp.com/blog/

    While I focus on “helpful / solve a certain problem” articles (three per week) I add the occasional plugin review or off-topic weather complains, links and status posts ;) … in the end, the articles help a lot of people and it puts my themes in front of a growing audience. Seeing RichWP blossoming makes it all worthwhile.

    Any thoughts, constructive criticism and “high quality, but paid guest posts” are welcome.

  9. Thanks Jeff for your kind words about wpMail.me! Really appreciate it!

    Truth is, http://wpMail.me is bleeding money since it was launched! Even now with proper advertisers and it’s still isn’t braking even. Now, I don’t worry to much about this because we have two companies providing financial support for it (a custom wp services and a paid plugin business) and I’m really happy that I can support it for years to come.

    On the other hand, one of our latest tries, http://wpnuggets.com, the plugin review site, we had to put it on hold because there was no revenue what so ever from it. Affiliates just didn’t work out and advertisement is not worth it. (we got like $5 from a GravityForms sale :D ) While we got some organic traffic for it (google), and that’s great, it’s not traffic we can convert to sales (affiliate or our own products). Thus for now it’s just idling. I might even try to sell it but I doubt the effort is worth it.

  10. Creating a WP news site on its own without having another business is shooting a bullet in your foot. Same goes for a resource site. We are able to run WPBeginner because of all the client work we do. Sure we make a few affiliate sales here and there, but through WPBeginner we have landed some really big name clients. Running a quality blog takes a lot of time, and we all know that there are only 24 hours in a day :)

    I was talking with Japh from Envato at the Community Summit, and he revealed a very crazy number. The net annual cost of running the Tuts+ network is 1 million dollars. But the reason why they continue to have a high payout for their authors is because they want to contribute to the community. More importantly, it helps their marketplace business. If they can teach the users on their Tuts+ site, and have those users go buy/sell items on their marketplace, it is a good business model for them.

  11. I think one of the issue you’ve faced, and possibly are still facing, is that you’ve never “marketed” this site as a news site.

    From the writing style, tone of voice and content; to the design and rules around posting – this has always appeared to me to be a personal site in which you encouraged and gained a great number of people coming for a chat.

    Personally, I never looked at WPtavern as a news site, I looked at it as a blog that I enjoyed.

    I think there is also a bit of difficulty around the time that you were “bought out”, as some questioned whether you would be able to openly comment upon things where your opinion might differ from that of your *mysterious owner* – who ever that might be.

    I always appreciated your viewpoint as the layman, and I appreciated the conversations contained on your site. If you want WPtavern to be a news site, then you have to separate it from Jeff – but to do so would be to rob you of your USP.

    Be well.

  12. Unfortunately what this accurate advice reflects is a big-picture problem in the WP community and others like it. If even big open source ecosystems are, much like the broader IT world, unable to sustain m/any journalistic enterprises, then those ecosystems will resemble societies and economies that do not have bright, independent people writing for a broad public interest. Independent, critical and investigative writing mixed in with all the standard “newsy news” is the true sine qua non of open societies — i.e., ones with sufficiently information-rich markets to support innovation, growth, widely distributed benefits and many points of entry for new entrepreneurs.

  13. @John Saddington – WP Daily is one of the sites I’ve recently seen get the attention of many WordPress folks. If I were you, I’d step it up into high gear because when the effect of being the new cool thing dies down, people will disappear, looking for the next new source of news. Ride the crest of the wave for as long as possible because once it crashes, I doubt another wave will come through. Writing about WordPress is definitely fun and at one time, it was a passion of mine. I would do it for no money at all and was surprised as hell I could make any cash from it. But the desire for cash took away all attention from everything else. I couldn’t do what I loved and pay the bills at the same time. That was the problem. I gave it a legitimate shot and failed.

    @Ryan Hellyer – As I mentioned above, I tried to reach out and get guest posts but I receive very little in actual posts. Then again, I wanted to hire a few writers with expertise in bbPress, BuddyPress, etc. But didn’t have the cash to do it. At least with WPRealm, the team contributing can do so as they wish while paying the bills some other way. I also ran into the issue of why post any content to WPTavern when they could have it on their own blog, which I understand.

    @Chris Wallace – In my experience, the tutorials and reviews were the most successful posts, especially ones that deal security. As a user, I did my part in trying to teach what I learned but it’s difficult to maintain that line of content when I’m not a coder. I can’t judge anyone’s code whether it’s good or not and I couldn’t write any snippets myself. I did end up buying a book to try and teach myself PHP and MySQL to turn into a coder but I said to hell with it and used the books as kindling in a fire pit.

    @Dave Doolin – Good luck with round two of your endeavor to make a living based around WordPress.

    @Scott Hack – Nothing I was creating content wise made sense to me to put behind a pay wall. I felt that the more views the content had, the better. I also felt as though if I write a review, tutorial or such, that all people needed to see it and learn from it.

    @Ed Sutherland – That goal will need to be accomplished by someone else as I’m pretty much retiring from all this WordPress content creation stuff.

    @Makis.TV – Congratulations, you are doing something that people consider valuable. I hope you find a way to increase that value thus, increasing revenue.

    @Adam W. Warner – I feel a little flattered that this site or my name came up in conversation. The thing I noticed in my disappearance, at least from posting content on WPTavern is that sites sprang up that filled the role and they became the newest, next best thing. People got their news and points of interest whether I was around or not. To be honest, running the site in the beginning was so much more fun without worrying about money at all versus struggling to make a buck. The perfect model for me was if someone or some company paid me a couple hundred bucks a week and stayed out of the way to let me build the site as the way I see fit. But who in their right mind would consider doing that? After putting myself in that persons or companies shoes, I could see how much of a waste of cash that would be.

    As far as mattering to the community, perhaps in a way but when it comes to news and information, I’m just another pea in the pod.

    @Felix krusch – Felix, you hit on a combination that I believe is a winning strategy for anyone that has anything to offer besides content eg. plugins, themes, etc. I’ve noticed that having blog which supports your product without being exclusively about your product or service is the best free advertising you could do for yourself. Seems to work well for many people.

    @Cristian Antohe – I thought about doing what you’re doing with WPmail.me but you beat me to it and had the guts to go through with it :). I hope one day it turns a profit. I was glad to be around when you launched it and I’m happy to see your stats after a year showing so much positive growth. Being a curator is an easy job when you have so many good WordPress centric websites to choose from. As you’ve seen, there is demand for curation so keep up what you’re doing.

    @mkjones – Yeah, WPMU is a great example of what I talked about in a previous comment of a blog filled with content but a blog that easily is used for upselling all their products. They keep doing it and post often so it must be working.

    @Syed Balkhi – And I shot myself in the foot along with my arm, my chest, and perhaps my other foot for the better part of 2-3 years. My other business was working at the grocery store lol. I had no interest in client work, being a coder, or anything of that nature.

    @Kevinjohn Gallagher – You hit the nail on the head Kevin regarding this site being a personal hobby/passion of mine without a heavy emphasis on marketing this site as a news site. It was and still is a site where I dump my thoughts into along with occasional other posts. That’s the way the site started and after I realized I could make some cash by writing about WordPress, I decided to launch WPTavern to try and go at it alone and build myself a community and somehow sustain myself. I was successful in some areas and failed in others. It always was though a personal site of mine.

    @Ryan Hellyer – As far as I’m concerned, that site and others before it such as WPVote.com need to rely on many other contributors as well as from the site author/administrator to succeed. I wish Brian luck but I think sites like that are a ticking time bomb waiting to be dropped in the bermuda triangle.

    @Mike Schinkel – Of course you would +1 that Mr. http://hardcorewp.com/

  14. @Jeffro – Wow, that’s a long reply!

    Of course you would +1 that Mr. http://hardcorewp.com/

    Or maybe… I decided to start HardcoreWP because I believed the sentiment in the comment for which I gave a +1? :)

    Did you happen to notice I didn’t reference HardcoreWP in my comment nor did I link it as my website? (I didn’t even know you knew I had started it.) I started HardcoreWP because I felt that there was nothing that exclusively addressed more advanced plugin development techniques. There are either news sites, technique sites targeted at users, technique sites targeted at themers, and the personal blogs of the leading developers who sporadically write about plugin development techniques but who also write about a lot more unrelated to plugin development.

    But I’m not actively promoting HardcoreWP yet as evidenced by my not mentioning nor linking it when I made the comment above. I’m happy to have minimal traffic and fewer comments because when I’m replying to comments I’m not writing new posts, and I’ve got a huge backlog of posts planned. Later once I’ve gotten most of the topics covered I will hopefully have a resource that can benefit many different people. It’s just what motivates me.

    In summary I thought a blog needed to exist that covers WordPress plugin development techniques and concerns. On the other hand my +1 was driven by my honest opinion and not by a desire to promote a blog as I think you might have been trying to imply.

  15. @Jeffro, I can understand your pessimism, but I’ll politely disagree that it’s a ticking time bomb. I’ve been collecting this same amount of news / links and sharing it on Twitter for over two years. What’s to keep me from being able to do so on WordPress? Just eating my own dogfood.

    And you were the one that applauded curation above.

    PS: Paying you a couple hundred bucks a week to maintain and update this site would be peanuts, and well worth it. You could definitely monetize beyond that. Unfortunately, when priority #1 is to put food on the table this month, it makes that vision harder without some outside help.

  16. I would say 2 main reasons are that these sites become to much to maintain and web masters leave them to die or if successful are purchased by bigger names who’s sole purpose for the purchase is to remove competition, killing of smaller sites that are competing for traffic.

    The second is that many of these sites pull articles from other sources or stories and neglect to make their content unique and enevatably get slapped by Google and disappear into obscurity.

  17. @Brian Krogsgard – I say it’s a ticking time bomb because in my opinion, at some point, you’re going to need to be paid for your time invested in that site, either from the site itself or some other means. If you can’t get it from some other means, then I could see you losing interest in a site that requires time but generates no money.

    I wish you luck with the site however as it’s already garnered some pretty good interest in the community.

  18. @Chris Wallace – Rightly said Chris…WordPress is currently used in more than 17% of the websites and it is growing rapidly.

    So it will be a better idea to teach about WordPress than getting news.As the stats also menions approximately 9% of WordPress downloads are from China.So it will be better idea to start a website on other languages such as Chinese and russian.

  19. I for one will miss WPTavern greatly and I can empathise with your situation completely. I’m not a coder at all and started http://wpin.me to learn WordPress posting my experiences and reviews.

    Whilst I am aspiring to the heady heights of other WP sites in terms of traffic etc (going up slightly day by day) I adopt a no nonsense approach in terms of reviews which is where I generate my income.

    Perhaps you could have written guest posts for others to bolster income, ran competitions giveaways etc to add income from traffic etc.

    You have an excellent writing style Jeff, perhaps you could write for a WP related blog to earn some cash on the side without the pressure of running your own site and associated costs. You may well feel relieved and start to enjoy yourself again.

    In any case I thank you for the last 6 years and wish you every success for the future.

  20. Hi Jeff,

    Sorry to hear the news, but I can completely understand. Back when I started there was a big need for WordPress news and resources; however, WordPress has evolved a lot since those early days and i’m not sure there is a need anymore without a product to support it (custom themes, premium themes/plugins, consulting work, etc.).

    I personally got burnt out after about 3 years of actively maintaining WPHacks.com, so I think you sold it at about the right time. Hopefully the new owner carries on your legacy, but if not, you earned the chance to walk off into the sunset. Best of luck to you!

  21. Hi jeff, I’m sorry about the news.

    I’m just wondering. How much traffic wptavern got? Maybe average daily unique view/visit?

    I’m sorry if its a weird question.
    But in a way, traffic = money.
    I’m sure wptavern got more than 10k daily visit.
    But why it’s not convering to $ is something we all can learn.

  22. Hi Jeff,

    There is an inherent challenge in any ‘all news sites’ in any niche industry whether it is WP, travel, auto, or online gaming and that is monetization. The content costs are very high. You need a team of writers and they all have their own bill to pay. The revenue generated from ad sales won’t be able to cover site costs for a sustainable period. That was the case for any site that I’ve been involved with over the last 6 years (non WP related) the reason being is that banner adds don’t covert well enough to the liking of the advertiser so once the ad deal expires the advertisers rarely re-up. This goes for sites that have solid (200,000 + unique visits per month ) traffic as well. As Felix, from RichWP said, if you use the news/info/ tuts etc. to supplement your core business or website that is generating positive revenue then that is sustainable. If that is not the case, then after 2 to 3 years most likely an ‘all news’ sites either dries up or sells out.

  23. The ‘good’ news is, this is an old story on the Internet; folks trying to build their dream website, striving to learn & deploy CMS, or flogging themselves to produce a continuous ‘news’ product. The money-thing is always lurking, and burn-out is an organic reality itself.

    The ‘bermuda triangle’ effect, however, is assuredly not something peculiar to WordPress. It’s a constant of Internet culture, across the board. And before the Web, before the Personal Computer, in excess of 80% of all new small businesses failed in their first year. And that’s soft-pedalling the statistical reality.

    That curation makes a lot of sense for a lot of folks is a great insight. Work can be done as time, life and interest permits. Sites comprised of real content of lasting value can be constructed like Medieval cathedrals that occupied communities intermittently for long years, often decades and sometimes for generations.

    We don’t all have the instincts, aptitude and temperate to make a strong showing in business-roles. In such cases, there are normally OTHER qualities at the fore, empowering us in different roles.

    WordPress is one of the best tools & venues available, for those who respond to the vision that Benjamin Franklin saw in pamphleteering.

  24. @Ted — I think it’s a different story. Even the biggest/most commercialized open source communities do not produce a strong public sphere where critics, analysts and reporters cull out the value information from the noise, disinformation and spin for the same reason journalism has largely collapsed in our larger society. It is simply not an activity that can be supported financially without being captured by a big commercial interest.

    To draw from a similar example, consider a small or mid-sized American city where the best political talent lies untapped in lawyers who would rather stay in private legal firms or get a judge’s seat where they are guaranteed six figures and a much easier life than if they ran for office. As a result you end up with a public sector led by under-competent politicians who know how to stoke up a crowd and win a popularity contest — but not much more. There is just not enough incentive among the real talent pool to serve the larger public because it results in a lot of work, taking a lot of crap, and making a lot less money. I think the few idealists who try to break this mold usually end up realizing it’s not worth it.

  25. @Dan Knauss – Thanks for the input from an active independent developer & small-business operator!

    “[Open source cum journalism] is simply not an activity that can be supported financially without being captured by a big commercial interest.”

    It is said of the economics of the Internet, that it tends to reduce the cost of both information and communication, toward zero.

    But the clear corollary of this pop-axiom, is that making a buck off of info or connectivity therefore gets harder & harder … while the cost of engaging in the ‘Gift Culture’, as described & practiced by our author Jeffro, thereby becomes more-invitingly affordable to ever-more economically-marginalized people.

    People living with their parents, as Jeffro relates, have no problem scraping up the spare change to support their online activities.

    Jeffro also points out that he didn’t ‘need’ to support himself with income from his website-work … he simply needed to support himself, ‘somehow’. He would have been happy to accept an adequate income that had as it’s only major qualification, that it did not interfer too much with what he really liked doing – ie, contributing to the greater WordPress community.

    There’s a lot of room online, for people who don’t care that they will never make a dime off the hours & years they happily spend participating in & contributing to open source culture & projects. Many are financially poor, but many thousands of quite successful Information Technology professionals also freely contribute large amounts of their quality expertise, to maintain & advance Open Source infrastructure.

    It’s cool that you are able to make a living in your own business, doing custom web-work. It’s true that large commercial entities tend to Assimilate the small-fry, and reduce the opportunity for gainful enterprise on an independent basis. I too lament this outcome & state of affairs.

    But journalism – bereft as it can seem to be – remains very much a going concern … and Open Source continues to thrive, more as an evolving, constructive adaptation to, rather than merely ‘despite’ the economic trends in play.

  26. For journalism (and journalists) to survive these currently trying times, there needs to be a unique voice which can overcome the din of millions of other identical voices. It is not only an issue confronting small publishers, but huge brands. In an era when readers are accustom to information being “free,” there needs to be a voice explaining the basic facts available everywhere in a unique way. This is why opinion sites are doing well at a time when even the New York Times is laying off staff.

    The additional issue needing attention is that while news “writers” are a dime-a-dozen, journalism on the Internet is rare. The old ploy of regurgitating an original news report, offering a link back, and expecting an audience is quickly coming to an end. That even further expands the gulf between journalism and aggregators. It can’t be stressed enough that a unique voice is needed in this business now. That could be covering every aspect of WordPress developers to the point where you “own” that segment and become an authority. It could also mean just picking up the phone (or your email app) and getting an original quote or a bit of news which no one else is offering. However, just as the days of general journalism is dying and being replaced by the Atlantic’s Quartz or The Verge, general WordPress news can no longer survive.

  27. @Ed Sutherland

    …[W]hile news “writers” are a dime-a-dozen, journalism on the Internet is rare.

    @Dan Knauss

    …[K]ids subsidized by their parents for a few years is a likely source of quality tech journalism… [not]

    Journalism has always had an indecently close relationship with politics, and even religion. It’s tough, trying to holding up one definition over others, or being the journo-police.

    Social media and mobile devices are the main drivers behind recent trends in the online & desktop scene, rather than a decline of literacy or citizenship. Even high elected leaders & fancy professors are using txt-spk and 128-character discourse.

    Kids in the basement are still teaching themselves matrix algebra. They are still downloading the APIs for the hot new platforms, marching through the night to conquer emerging new turf. Kids still show up in high school & college computer courses, already semi-pro & 10 years ahead of the Instructor.

    Matt Mullenweg was once the epitome of what you guys are gripping about. He was just another me-too blog-script kiddie. WordPress was the object of rib-busting hilarity. “Oh dear gawg – have you seen this piece o’ CRAP?! What a drooling maroon this guy is … he should have stuck with the saxophone”.

    We do live in exciting times.

  28. I’ve never seen someone so openly romantic about someone else’s poverty, or so committed to using it in irrelevant ways to make a bad point badly.

    There’s a reason why accessible, working PHP/MySQL apps became wildly popular at the time they did, no matter how bad they were (and still are) architecturally. That time has passed and they’re maturing with big-little economies around them. They may or may not remain scenes of technical innovation by the one-in-a-million whiz kids who can do anything. So what?

    The subject at hand is whether these open source project-based industries can grow and sustain themselves. It is very hard to have a good market without good information so people know shit from shinola. Good information is expensive to create but hard to monetize, in part because the obvious sources of funding are interested in biasing/limiting/controlling the information.

    This is a real and interesting problem worth taking seriously. If you just want to say there’s no problem because geniuses will come out of nowhere and fix everything miraculously, and this is the best of all possible worlds, then you must be some kind of rare, optimistic, idealistic troll.

  29. @Dan Knauss

    Good information is expensive to create but hard to monetize…

    It is the universal truth of Business, that what it costs to offer a product must be exceeded by what the market will pay for it.

    This is where things are going downhill for the New York Times. They spend more to create their product than it fetches in the market.

    It’s worth noting here, that the price that can got for printed-word products – Information – has been consistently falling, for several centuries. Go back to the Gutenberg Brothers, and follow the business forward. Down, down, down goes the market-price for the product.

    [Iirc, the early Gutenberg Bibles cost the equivalent of 10s of thousands apiece – several years’ wages – and they fought tooth & nail to keep prices as high as possible as long as possible.]

    Many small web-businesses have essentially the exact same problem as the NYT. At an earlier point in history, they designed an approach to creating their chosen product, at a certain cost-point (and demand) … and then subsequently, with changing circumstances, they find the earnings they counted on can’t be realized.

    It’s frustrating, and sympathy is in order. But trying to make the world safe for the NYT’s business-model is not in order.

  30. Everything I have read or witnessed for the last ten years on this subject says “web businesses,” small and large, have been doing very well. Where I think they and their customers are often frustrated is in facing an impossibly large and fast growing quantity of unorganized information and choices about what products and services to buy or adopt.

    This is largely because — as you restated my original point — there is not much money to be made in information, at least not public-access information.

    Nobody is talking about “saving” the New York Times here (it was mentioned once as a general example), or lamenting the declining cost of printed words. I simply observed what seems to be a troubling contradiction: markets need information to function, yet they’ve devalued it to the point that it’s in short supply, or only offered for (unsustainable) altruistic reasons or through patronage and subsidies.

    Relatively public-access information (as opposed to private intelligence) doesn’t work as a product or service itself — and yes it hasn’t for a very long time. Now it doesn’t even work well as an ad vehicle. For a small software ecosystem that’s not necessarily a problem, as things tend to be centralized, choices sharply delimited, and information can be good in coverage and signal quality. Some projects seem to deliberately maintain that condition while others started there and then grew enormously, creating the odd situation under discussion here.

    When you add hundreds of millions of users and businesses adding ancillary or subsidiary (or junk) support to the core product, good information, you have an anarchic scene full of hucksters. There’s plenty of fun and opportunity to be had in that, but you’d think one of the opportunities is providing reliable sources that tell people what’s the right way, the wrong way, and the WP way; what’s worth your attention, time and money, and so on. This has great value, yet it doesn’t seem to be readily monetizable value.

    Maybe it’s just a matter of time. I bet it can be done but maybe not at high enough profit to be worth it. The skills, knowledge, experience, and access it takes to be a knowledgeable authority in a technical field has many appealing (and more lucrative) opportunities than writing, so tech writing/reporting/reviewing may always tend to be someone’s side project. That’s fine, but it probably results in less information, less quality information, less independent information with a minimum of entanglements in business interests.

  31. “The skills, knowledge, experience, and access it takes to be a knowledgeable authority in a technical field has many appealing (and more lucrative) opportunities than writing, so tech writing/reporting/reviewing may always tend to be someone’s side project. That’s fine, but it probably results in less information, less quality information, less independent information with a minimum of entanglements in business interests.”

    And here lies the rub. To attract tech journalists with some institutional memory requires paying what few Internet websites can afford. This means only a few reliable tech news sources will exist. The remainder will use writers willing to work for a fraction of the amount. Since they will make up the preponderance of the verbiage, audiences will use them to gauge the professionalism of tech reporting, only accelerating the downward spiral until we reach the current state of affairs.

  32. …which is hucksters, hobbyists, gee-whiz-this-is-cool-bloggers, hired mercenaries, lackeys, and enthusiastic lapdogs who write mainly to curry favor with people they admire + a few genuine talents with independent minds. The latter have day jobs and eventually realize the deep end of the pool is for tough bastards with Michael Arrington style personalities, but the years of development it takes to get that hard shell and calloused fists just isn’t that attractive. Neither is the current regime of fanboys herded and managed by brand apparatchiks, but I can hardly blame people who don’t want to make draining that swamp their main mission in life.

  33. As a “hired mercenary” for the past decade, I’ve found the current environment too restrictive. We are witnessing a flattening of the U.S. editorial market along the lines which manufacturing and other industries experienced earlier. Why pay hundreds for a 500-word carefully crafted and researched piece of journalism when you can hired an ESL outside the U.S. for 1/10th the cost? Mid-range journalism sites of a half-decade ago are now chasing keyword searches ala DemandMedia. Pew Research just released their annual State of The News Media, wherein they point out the dollars of the late 1900s shrank to the digital dimes of the early 2000s to the mobile pennies of today.

    Journalism is in a free-fall. Google and Facebook are controlling the vast majority of online ad buys. Companies getting into news are concentrating on news distribution (AKA aggregation) instead of news generation. The short-term solution will be to re-educate audiences to the cold, hard fact that while information might be free, quality journalism which interprets and fact-checks is not. The ad-supported model for online news is broken, except for a few brands. The long-term solution is the realization that corporations are good for some things, government is good for some things: supporting journalism during a time when – let’s face it – only a minority of people 1) read, 2) read beyond 140 characters, and 3) look beyond the latest People cover or cable news snippets.

  34. … which is the rainbow of typical humans, being what they are; people being people, amusing & entertaining themselves in all the diverse ways to which H. sapiens is so charmingly & distressingly inclined. It’s gossip & cleverness & here-hold-my-beer-and-watch-this!

    It’s mostly just a matter of the cost of the Internet Medium falling toward zero, and thereby affordably lending itself to whatever casual purpose & role folks can dream up. Look at what it costs to smoke tobacco or weed, drink, or – more telling yet – to engage in any of the healthful ‘sports’ … which business people ‘serve’ by selling ‘uniforms’ that participants must replace (he-he-he) with each fashion-season.

    Again, this trend – the effects & consequences of the falling price of information & the Medium by which it is transmitted – is plainly visible well back into history. By the late 19th C, a blizzard of ‘popular press’ publications were horning in on the technical-fields action that ‘proper’ professionals & comfortable ivory-tower academics previously held & controlled and milked as their private fiefdoms.

    Amateur technical hobby publication contracted dramatically following the great Hippie Revolution, 40 years back. Dozens of high-profile, profitable tech-hobby magazines fell to the way-side. Today, we are watching a steady growth of the DIY Do It Yourself field, on the Internet. This field was a serious 800 pound gorilla in the publication industry, for about 100 years. It shrunk a lot in recent decades, but is now showing a sustained resurgence on the ‘Net.

    Is this bad? Well, the high-brows used to pitch a fit about it. Those who wanted to run profit-oriented businesses often ridiculed the ‘homemade and kitchen-table’ crowd. Did this amateurism lead to the collapse of modern civilization? Well … rank hobbyists both constructed & programmed the first generations of Personal Computers …. and, cough, were involved in designing & coding – uh-huh – The Internet.

  35. What you’ve written is true for most topical/ niche blogs, if not all blogs really. I run my own sites, by myself. I’ve been doing so for years. It’s not about making an income, though I wouldn’t turn it down. Running a site takes up a lot of time, energy and as much money as you want to pump into it. I don’t see many people making money at blogging unless they hire people to take over some of he work (publishing, maintaining or promoting) or find dependable backers who stick with them for the long haul. Last year I burnt out on my blog. I had been writing daily posts (and sticking with that schedule) for a couple of years. After being apart you will miss running the site. But, you need to consider how much you put into it versus how much you get out of it. That really is important. Not just financially but emotionally too. Anyway, good luck to you. I agree about content curation. I’ve got an account on Scoop.it. I tried several others but settled there. Twitter works too.


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