When Brian and I started Weblogs, Inc. the idea of paying bloggers–heck, even making money from blogging–was considered offensive to many. Blogging was, as the case was stated, a highly personal activity that should not be trivialized by the forces of commerce and greed. I don’t have a complicated relationship with money or capitalism: I love them both and see them as simply as fuel and the process by which fuel is produced. Money to me means time, time means quality, and quality means success.
Quality. That single factor is what determines the winners in our business. Google’s search is of higher quality than Yahoo, MSN, and even AOL’s. Because of that Google wins. Engadget is of higher quality than Gizmodo and they are ranked first and second place in their space. Similarly, LifeHacker is of better quality than DownSquad today and as a result they are ranked one and two in their space. For background, my friend Nick Denton of Gawker fame owns Gizmodo and LifeHacker, and we (AOL) own Engadget and DownloadSquad. My point here is that in order for us to beat LifeHacker we need to increase our quality, and in order for Gizmodo to ever beat Engadget they need to increase their quality. The only way to do that is an investment of time. Time equals money, so they both need an investment on a cash basis.
Today we have around 200 bloggers on the Weblogs, Inc. payroll. Two years later John Battelle took the idea and extended it in a blog repping business. Om Malik has raised funding and stolen a Red Herring reporter, and even the nascent vlogging space is in full-blown talent war mode. What was foreboden three years ago is commonplace today.
Talented people’s time in our society is primarily engaged with money. As a result we are doubling the staff of DownloadSquad and we’ve increased the rate we are paying our bloggers to $10 a post on that blog (much more for features). As a result I’m sure our traffic will double over the next three months–in fact I will guarantee that it will happen. Money does change everything.
Talent wins, and talent needs to get paid. I love paying talented people so they can sleep well at night doing what they love. That’s my biggest joy in business: gettin’ people paid.
Before launching the new Netscape I realized that Reddit, NewsVine, Delicious, and DIGG were all driven by a small number of highly-active users. I wrote a blog post about what drives these folks to do an hour to three hours a day of work for these sites which are not paying them for their time. In other words, they are volunteering their services. The response most of these folks gave back to me were that they enjoyed sharing the links they found and that they got satisfaction out of being an “expert” or “leader” in their communities.
Excellent… excellent (say that in a Darth Vadar/Darth Calacanis voice for extra impact).
That is exactly what bloggers told Brian and I three years ago when we started. Given that, I have an offer to the top 50 users on any of the major social news/bookmarking sites:
We will pay you $1,000 a month for your “social bookmarking” rights. Put in at least 150 stories a month and we’ll give you $12,000 a year. (note: most of these folks put in 250-400 stories a month, so that 150 baseline is just that–a baseline).
Now, this offer is going to get a big response I know, so we’re going to have to limit to a dozen or so folks. However, I’m absolutely convinced that the top 20 people on DIGG, Delicious, Flickr, MySpace, and Reddit are worth $1,000 a month and if we’re the first folks to pay them that is fine with me–we will take the risk and the arrows from the folks who think we’re corrupting the community process (is there anyone out there who thinks this any more?!).
We’re gonna identify this people in our system as “Netscape Navigators,” and they will work with our full-time “Netscape Anchors” to build a community. I see a day when we have the eight full-time Anchors working with two dozen Navigators to keep the site fresh and clean (hmm… I think I need a better choice of words here).
The concept of “free” content producers, which I think WIRED called crowdsourcing, is going to be a short-lived joke. A loophole in the content business that will be closed by savvy startups which identify the top 5% of the audience and buy their time.
If we’re (DIGG, Delicious, Flickr, Reddit, MySpace, Netscape, etc) are going to make businesses out of this space we should share the wealth.
As we say in Brooklyn: everyone’s gotta eat.*
* Note: Everything I know about business I learned in Brooklyn. I learned this one from my father while at his restaurant when I asked him why we didn’t just buy our own jukebox and instead split the money with the “goodfella” who brought the machine in, changed the records every month, and split the quarters with us. “Everyone’s gotta eat” he told me. It wasn’t the last time I would hear that expression, and there are many variations of it that the ‘fellas in the neighborhood would use. “Can I get a taste?” or “I need a taste” were two of many variations on the theme. This expression was a the humble–or demanding–way of saying you wanted a cut of the action (money).
Note 2: One of my favorite Knicks of all time, Latrell Sprewell, famously used a variation of this saying by stating that he had a family to feed when turning down a $10M+ deal from the Timberwolves. They wouldn’t give him a better deal and he sat out last year–perhaps his final quality year as a basketball player. This is an important lesson for the talent out there: your first offer is usually your best offer. I’m just saying…