is a 24-year-old newspaper journalist who's just landed a job as a new media analyst largely because of his blogging work. Bloggasm is where Owens covers new media topics and where, on a good day, he'll get 8,000 or more – a lot more – readers for a single item. I spoke with him about his experiences and the realities of marketing a blog – and marketing yourself.Erik Sherman
: Why and when did you start blogging?Simon Owens
: [It was] ego, I think. I started in 2003, second semester my freshman year in college. It was becoming the big thing. They called them journals or diaries or stuff like that. It was much more personal. I forget what year, 2004, or 2005, I started a site called LitHaven.com. It was like a literature blog. I would interview short story writers. I'd post market news for people that wanted to submit their short stories or essays and things like that. That was my first blog when I tried to reach a wide audience. It was semi-successful back then for a 21 year old kid. It had 200 readers a day. But that was the first time I tried to have a blog that was much more than a personal blog.
As the years went on, I became more obsessed with the blogosphere. I ran a few other blogs. The reason I decided to write this blog [Bloggasm] was at the time there wasn’t anything like it. It was going to be non-stop emailed Q&A interviews with other bloggers. I was thinking, "This is going to be a great idea, nobody has ever done it before, maybe I can get a lot of readers." I graduated college and there was probably month or two between when I graduated and when I started my first job.
Once I started getting a lot of experience as a newspaper reporter, I noticed that there weren't a lot of blogs that did what newspapers and magazines did, doing interviews and reporting. I liked the New Yorker. Working for small newspapers I couldn't break into first person, my copy would get hacked apart. Bloggasm was my night time chance. I usually average two articles a week.ES
: How did things change?SO
: I wrote a post about what your chances are of getting laid on Craigslist
. I created these fake Craigslist ads to see what response rate a straight female, a straight male, a gay male would have. The male to female ratio was so high that it was almost impossible to get a reply. It became huge and got over a hundred thousand hits, hit the first page of [web reader recommendation site] Digg
As far as I can tell, I'm one of the few bloggers who does this kind of reporting. The more and more I posted and the more features articles I did, the more I got noticed. Now it's a lot easier to get on the front pages of BoingBoing
. It got easier and easier to get on a lot of those big blogs on the Technorati
100 [a list of the top blogs followed by the blog traffic monitoring service]. But while I got a lot of links, it's hard to get repeat visitors [posting once a day]. It's hard for me to create a large background readership. These days, it's almost like a glass ceiling or sorts. Basically, I can't get over a thousand readers a day consistently. If I get on the front page of Instapundit, I get 8,000 readers a day. A lot of these bigger blogs update 8 times a day to get the number of repeat readership.ES
: How do you attract readers and get good placement?SO
: I've really honed my marketing of my work into an artwork itself. Half of the work is behind the scenes. As I’m working on an article, I'm working on a key list of bloggers who will be interested in that article. When I email you, I can reference your posts exactly. When I write, you get addressed by first name; I know the topic your blog covers. But it paid off.ES
: What is a typical day in doing your blog like?SO
: I surf the Internet during the day, always keeping my eye out for something I'd like to write about that night. If I see something, I'll shoot an email saying can I contact you, anytime after 6pm is good for me. Sometimes if they're not available I'll sneak out of the office and interview them with my cell phone in my car. After I do the interview I go back into the office and act like nothing happened. I try to be ethical and not blog during the day time, trying to keep myself from getting into trouble as much as possible.
I did a study a few months ago where I emailed over 250 editors, five from each state, of editors to see whether they'd allow their reporters to have personal blogs. 40 to 50 percent would not allow their reporters to blog. For me, the blog has been the elephant in the room. It's always been such a huge hobby for me that if they said no, I'd have to choose between the job and the blog.
You're always waiting for that hammer to fall. I try to give them as little reason to do that as possible. I've created a code of ethics for myself about blogging. On one hand it sucks. [The blog] would probably be a lot bigger if I could post small things during the day and do the long features at night. Thank god, the new [job] allows you to blog during the day.
I transcribe that night and I'll start pulling the pages doing research and do a marathon writing session, sometimes finishing a single article by night. If I'm lucky, I'll be finished by 10 or 11 and then spend a few hours hyped up on coffee emailing bloggers that I think would be into it. Then I get to bed by 2 and am up again at 7. I put a lot of work into it in terms of actual time spent.ES
: You ended up with a job offer that you're taking because someone read your blog. Was that part of your plan in writing it?SO
: I think it's pretty much a happy coincidence. Out of nowhere, people started approaching me.ES
: What was the difference?SO
: I think it was where I went from one or two articles a month to two or three a week. I started ramping it up in late May. Because I had more consistency, I think I started getting more attention. And I was interviewing top people like an editor of the Los Angeles Times and an editor at the Huffington Post. I interviewed a guy from the strategy company for an article I was doing, and over the next few weeks we were chatted back and forth and that's when he went to his bosses. Because of my contact with him, he was my step into the company.ES
: When did you start talking to him?SO
: It was probably some time in June. I got the offer for this job either Wednesday or Thursday of last week. He initially said something like, "If you ever want to work here, I'll definitely recommend you to the bosses." I didn't take it seriously. But then it got close to the end of July and my lease was coming up, so I thought if I wanted to make a jump that would be a good time.ES
: How will that change what you are doing with the blog?SO
: It's really hard to tell in the sense that I was told by them that I should keep blogging. They wanted to say that we have these people who are already entrenched in new media. I guess what I had in my mind was that I'd continue how I am now, but do some micro blogging, like Instapundit links during the day. [Note: a quick count on Instapundit.com yesterday shows 54 short posts on 8/19/08 alone.] Because by the end of the day those links are widely distributed, it's too late to do something. I would like to post during the day links that fit into my niche.ES
: How did your experience change how you look at blogs?SO
: I mentioned my glass ceiling, because I didn't have the full time capacity to blog, to really put all the energy I wanted into it, I got frustrated that I could never get over the humps. I've wanted to be able to attract thousands upon thousands of readers a day and then sell advertising and make money off the blog. But in these anecdotal cases, I realized that it served other purposes. If it wasn't for Bloggasm, I wouldn't have gotten my foot into the door. It's a resume, a way for me to introduce myself to the new media world. This is the first job where I didn't have to actively submit my resume somewhere. It allows you to go into an interview with more confidence, if you're not just a person on the assembly line going into interview.ES
: A lot of writers start blogs to make names for themselves and money and to get noticed. Most fail. What's your difference?SO
: I've been in the blogosphere so long, I know how it works. I know the scaffolding and I know how to market. The way the blogosphere works now, it's hard to make a name for yourself if you weren't in early. If you're somebody already famous and you start a blog, it's easy to get a lot of links.
The blog Eschaton
, a liberal blog, the guy is not talented at all. He got into blogs at the right time in the right place. He doesn't even do that much writing. If he were to start from scratch, he wouldn't be able to get to where he is now. Even if you're a good writer, you [have to] know how to sell your writing. [My entry yesterday points to his piece on the politics of Digg
.]. A lot of getting links to your stuff is a lot of rubbing elbows.
Labels: blogging, interviews, Simon Owens