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I discussed the economics of blogging recently, sparking a bit of debate.

And it seems for good reason. The evolution of the blogosphere as a business hasn't been easy for many of its participants.

While there are success stories, it's hard not to recognize that for all the hype, success of any note is the exception, not the rule.

So it was with great interest that I found through CenterNetworks a discussion about a guest post UK blogging entrepreneur Ashley Norris had published last week on TechCrunch UK.

Norris is the co-founder of Shiny Media, which he calls the "largest and most successful UK blog network."

Unfortunately, that success has apparently not translated into the type of financial success expected and in his post, Norris blames just about everyone but himself (and Shiny Media management) for the inability of Shiny Media to cash in.

According to Norris:

  • The UK doesn't have as many "eyeballs" as the US. This makes monetization more difficult, especially when advertisers only purchase UK inventory.
  • The ad industry isn't imaginative enough. While Shiny Media "has been very successful at attracting blue chip brand advertising," Norris laments the fact that doing so has been difficult when he thinks it should be simple given the desirability of its audience.

  • There aren't enough UK media entrepreneurs. Norris believes this has led to slower growth.
  • VCs aren't as supportive as they should be. Shiny Media is one of the few media startups in the past several years that has attracted the "sizable investment" that Norris apparently believes is required.

  • There's too much competition. Norris notes that "on the surface Britons appear to be fairly loyal to their newspaper and magazine brands" and that "existing media companies have much larger budgets than independents and are now starting a serious land grab in building up their online properties."
  • The BBC is too powerful. Shiny Media and other upstarts are hurt because the BBC has a large audience and doesn't spread the love by linking to blogs and other media outlets as much as Norris thinks it apparently should.


After reading Norris' post, I couldn't help but agree with Center Networks' Allen Stern, who wrote:

"Nowhere in the post does Ashley (or Shiny Media) note that perhaps 'not meeting customer needs' or any other internal issues could have also led to the undesired results. It's very, very easy to blame external factors. I don't know Ashley or Shiny Media but what I took out of his post was a good bit of education on the UK blogging market but a heck of a lot of bitching and moaning about external factors."

Like Stern, I don't know Norris and I know very little about Shiny Media, but it appears to me that Norris was under the impression that building a new business is easy and that every entity that is in some way involved with the market is supposed to put Shiny Media's interests above its own.

Stern gives Norris a bit of salient advice:

"Let me clue you in on a little secret, every business has external forces working against it every day."

Let's address each one of Norris' "complaints":

  • While the UK may not have as many "eyeballs" as the United States, one would have thought Norris knew that when he started Shiny Media. That aside, the UK is widely considered one of the most lucrative online advertising markets and there have been no shortage of online businesses that have succeeded in the UK.

    Online ad spending just surpassed spending on television ads in the UK, indicating that the online ad market in the UK is headed in a favorable direction for internet entrepreneurs.

    Given the relative strength of the online advertising market in the UK, if Shiny Media can't build a successful business targeting the UK market, it's not because Shiny Media didn't have a big enough market to work with.

  • Selling advertising is never an easy task. Norris is downright naive for believing that he's just going to walk in and get ad agencies and brands to cut checks. Apparently Norris didn't recognize this.

    Instead of faulting ad agencies and advertisers for being conservative (especially when it comes to nascent mediums), I'm inclined to ask - if Shiny Media has been so successful in acquiring blue chip advertisers, has it been equally successful in retaining them and expanding on its relationships?

    Advertisers usually respond favorably to positive results and if Shiny Media hasn't been able to retain advertisers and expand its relationships with them, Norris would have been wise to look more closely at why.

  • The belief that there aren't enough UK media entrepreneurs is curious. How a lack of UK media entrepreneurs has anything to do with the success or failure of his business (or businesses similar to his) is beyond me.

    If anything, one would expect Norris to welcome the fact that he's apparently a "pioneer." After all, it should mean that he has a head start and less competition.

  • Norris' beliefs about VCs are just as naive as his beliefs about advertisers. The burden is on entrepreneurs to convince VCs that they have viable businesses in viable markets. VCs are chasing returns - they're not looking to "support" an industry just because some of the entrepreneurs in it naturally believe they should.
  • Most new businesses face competitive challenges. The ones that are able to deal with competition are usually successful because they developed compelling differentiators. If Shiny Media and other blogging businesses aren't able to do that, it's their fault.
  • The BBC is under no obligation to reign in its success so that upstarts like Shiny Media can compete more effectively. The BBC's obligations are to its stakeholders, not to Norris and his business interests.

    Markets reward the companies that are most successful in selling their offerings - not the companies that think they should be most successful in selling their offerings.

The bottom line is that if Shiny Media isn't doing as well as Norris believes it should be doing, the reasons why are most likely to be internal, not external.

Interestingly, many of the comments on Norris' post criticize Shiny Media's blogs, stating that the quality and design are poor and that there are too many ads.

While I'm not familiar enough with Shiny Media's network to make any judgments of my own, the number of comments echoing these types of sentiments seem to indicate that instead of railing against the world, Norris might have been wiser to rail against himself and the rest of Shiny Media's management.

At the end of the day, Norris' post is valuable to entrepreneurs because it highlights the fact that there are always things that can't be controlled and that focusing on them is usually an exercise in futility.

In the case of Shiny Media, it appears that Norris chose to focus on the things he couldn't control and not surprisingly, learned the hard way that the outcome this usually produces is disappointing.

Allen Stern aptly points out the serenity prayer popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Entrepreneurs like Norris might be wise to recite it every once in a while too.

Drama 2.0

Published 19 August, 2008 by Drama 2.0

237 more posts from this author

Comments (8)

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Andrew Nesbitt

Andrew Nesbitt, Developer at Forward Internet Group

I couldn't agree more, when I read this last week it smacked of "it's not my fault", but blaming your failure on your competitors being better to you is pretty close to simply saying you weren't as good as them!

about 8 years ago

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Lawrence

Shiny Media who?

Actually, I have heard about SM and browsed a few of their sites but that's about it. What I don't understand is why the "largest and most successful UK blog network" hasn't managed to make any of their blogs household names such as some of the American ones have (eg. Gawker, Perez Hilton, Engadget, TMZ).

Has anyone heard of My Chemical Toilet or Trashionista? Interestingly, SM posts don't seem to attract many comments.

I agree with those that argue that SM blogs are not that good. My in-expert impression is that their blogs and posts are churned out of a factory line.

Good luck to them.

about 8 years ago

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Stephen

I disagree with your comment on the BBC. I think Norris is spot-on there, because the BBC is funded by a compulsory tax on television sets, and thus has enormous amounts of money (annual budget of $8billion!) and no commercial constraints on its activities. It has chosen to use a lot of this money to build out enormous web properties, which have crowded out the non-government-subsidised web. So its stakeholders are forced to finance it but have no say in how it operates. It's a national disgrace that a democracy like the UK should have a State broadcaster, but there you are.

about 8 years ago

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Drama 2.0

Stephen: while a philosophical debate on state-operated broadcasters is an interesting subject worthy of discussion, let's cut to the heart of the issue as it relates to entrepreneurship.

The BBC has used its money to build enormous award-winning web properties that consumers apparently are quite satisfied with.

Frankly, it's worth pointing out that oftentimes the most well-capitalized businesses have a difficult time executing well because they think large amounts of capital can compensate from lackluster execution and there is no shortage of examples of small companies successfully taking on entrenched larger companies because of this.

As such, I actually think kudos are in order to the BBC for managing to execute well despite the fact that many companies in the same financial position would have produced crap.

But let's address your point that the BBC has "crowded out the non-government-subsidised web" and that stakeholders of the BBC don't have any control over this.

Simple questions: would you have that the BBC not take the money it collects from the compulsory tax and put it to use in a fashion that delivers satisfactory content/programming. And would you have that the BBC reign in its success for the sole purpose of ensuring that entrepreneurs can build their own businesses more easily?

If your responses are "Yes," I'd have to suspect that your own interests are in some way not aligned with the majority of BBC stakeholders (namely the British people).

Outside of a handful of entrepreneurs who lament the fact that they can't find ways to compete with the BBC so that they can make lots of money, most taxpayers should be grateful that their money is being put to good use and is producing results that are recognized as successful. After all, most tax money gets squandered.

At the end of the day, regardless of where you stand philosophically, reality is reality and the reality here is that the BBC exists. Ashley Norris knew that when he started Shiny Media so blaming the BBC on his company's apparent failure seems like a case of sour grapes.

It's akin for me starting an oil company in Saudi Arabia but not being able to succeed because government-owned Saudi Aramco is essentially the oil industry in Saudi Arabia. Which should naturally evoke the response, "Duh. What did you expect?"

For what it's worth, I took a closer look at Shiny Media's content after publishing this post and I think it's safe to say that Shiny Media's problem isn't the BBC - it's less-than-compelling content. If Shiny Media had standout content on par with the BBC, his complaints might be a bit more forgivable.

about 8 years ago

Andrew Nesbitt

Andrew Nesbitt, Developer at Forward Internet Group

The BBC has commented back on their tech blog here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/technology/2008/08/can_brits_make_bucks_from_blog.html

about 8 years ago

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showells

Even if Shiny Media had stand out content it would still have the problem of the very small amounts that advertisers will pay. Its content model is outdated and expensive. The days when you could cut and paste and link and think you had a business are long gone. For women readers, Shiny blogger Gemma Cartwright on Cawalk Queen competes against networks like Yahoo's Shine, Glam and BlogHer which are powered by user generated content. Its tech product videos compete against YouTube which has vast amounts of free content. All this free content is not just free, at times it is authentic. In this highly disruptive publishing model, the company that best aggregates and organises the content makes money, but not the people producing the content. The Youtuber who takes a few minutes to upload an entirely original video about the gadget they bought is similar to the Baghdad blogger or Drama 2.0: they produce content not for money, and it can be the most compelling content anywhere. By comprison, a Shiny tech video made at a company's press event with the blogger appearing to read from the company's press release looks horribly commercial and Shiny gets deservedly negative feedback on YouTube. Shiny Tech is hosted by a former PR and Ashley Norris is quoted as saying that Shiny Media is very good at marketing. He also talks about now working in PR, all of which suggests that Shiny may find pay per post a much more profitable fit than advertising.

(For the record, I think blogging is what Drama 2.0 does for a living but I think historically he said it wasn't and is now stuck with that.)

about 8 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

@showells: as far as I know Drama only does paid-blogging for E-consultancy, and it isn't his day job nor his main source of income.

about 8 years ago

Drama 2.0

Drama 2.0, Chief Connoisseur at The Drama 2.0 Show

showells: perhaps this will clarify slightly what I do:

http://www.centernetworks.com/wall-street-startups

about 8 years ago

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