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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.
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.