One of the changes that has come upon the writing business in the past few years is the rise of bloggers. Four years ago, if a writer wanted to work, he or she had to find someone to edit, publish, and distribute them. For that, they got paid.
Now, though, anyone who thinks they can write can write. Anyone who thinks they’re an expert in a field can publish. In fact, you don’t even have to be able to write or know stuff — you just have to be able to convince other people that you’re worth following.
This week at Aol, I published an interview with a traveler who makes money this way: He travels and he writes about it online. He also writes downloadable books about it and other subjects. So to make the money he needs to live, he has to convince as many people as possible that he’s worth listening to. That means putting himself out there on Twitter, at conferences, on the social scene, and so forth.
It’s the new way: Do a podcast, get onto Huffington Post, build the Twitter followers — whatever it takes to be a “Blogger Brand.” Although the information you bring to the table isn’t incidental, because poor information will always bleed followers, it’s no longer the primary concern. This is not to take away from any of the people who really know their stuff, but the appearance of expertise, and of productivity, is what’s paramount. Expertise is becoming increasingly illusory, or at least, it has the potential to be.
Over the past few days, the travel blogging world has seen a lot of in-fighting. I’ve seen a several bloggers try to lift themselves up, and try to garner fans and applause, by stepping on the faces of their colleagues. One blogger accuses another of being a snob. A third highlights the fight in his own blog and asks “are we being snobs or thin-skinned,” while a fourth and fifth pile on in the comments section. It’s like high school with category tags.
Nearly everyone in the fray has something to sell. One of the combatants also pointed out that nearly everyone in the battle began travel writing in the Blogging Age and has little publication experience, where, at least for the little guys, the rules were different, more congenial, and more purely merit-based. In this week’s battles, every Blogger Brand player has a dog in the fight because they want to have the most fervent followers and devoted downloaders.
When print ruled the world, the story was the thing. Now, it’s the brand. Writers engage in in-fighting and jealous smack-downs, which may almost seem designed just to make followers’ tails wag in agreement. Win the smack-down, gain followers, and ding the competing brand.
I predict this kind of pettiness is going to be more and more common across all areas of the Web. If Blogger Brands are the new commodity, then you can’t always win by having the best material. But you may win if you undermine your colleagues.
It’s terribly unhealthy. Where is it heading?