Carl Bialik of the WSJ has an article on attempts to count various things about web logs, including how many there are, how many Americans read them, how much they are linked to, and what their readership is. Many of these questions are driven by Madison Avenue (i.e. US advertising firms) who are interested in the medium's advertising potential.
As I see it, the problem for advertisers is that blogging appears to be a form of narrow-casting. They like broadcasting. You place an ad on even a low-ranking cable television show like Star Trek Enterprise (while it was still limping along) and about 3 million people see it every week. You place an ad on even a popular weblog like MyDD and Blogads says that it has 146,000 page views a week. (Technorati.com measures its popularity rather by looking at how many other blogs link to it.)
Many of the problems of measurement are probably intractable, but the advertising issue has already been solved by Henry Copeland of Blogads, with the concept of networked ads (which I prefer to call blog-casting). Any group of bloggers can set up a network, as the Liberal blogs have done. Altogether the Liberal Blog Advertising Network can provide an advertiser with a million or so page views a week in one fell swoop. The ads once taken out will appear on all the blogs maintained by members of the network, so they become a form of broadcasting, or blog-casting. Blog readership is demonstrably growing, and pretty soon such networks will be able to compete at least with cable television for ability to reach viewers.
Bialik says some advertisers want to measure unique hits rather than page views,
because they don't want to pay for the same person to see the ad more than once in a week. Why? A weekly rate actually benefits advertisers. The ad is there continuously 24/7, rather than once for 30 seconds as in television, and it cannot be bad for readers to see it repeatedly. As for the page view issue, no one can be sure what it is measuring. Page views are counted every time a browser accesses a site (though at my server, my number for "referrals" or browsers coming to the site from elsewhere is higher than that for page views for some odd reason).
Lots of people read weblogs at university computer labs, internet cafes, or at offices with joint computers, so that one internet protocol number may in some cases actually represent several different persons over the day. Moreover, my understanding is that a lot of big service providers, such as Comcast, cache pages the first time they are accessed by a customer and thereafter tend to serve the page from their cache at their server, so that a lot of readers of a weblog may not reach all the way to the bloggers' original server, to be counted as a unique hit. And, it is now possible for readers to copy the entire page/entry and to email it as html, ads and all, to friends. A lot of that is done, and it is impossible to measure. Still, I think that between tools like technorati.com and counting page views, some estimation of advertiser value can be arrived at that will make the business model work.
Do I worry about blog advertising corrupting the medium?
Not very much.
In my view, corporate news media have been harmed by media consolidation (having only a few owners, all of them big wealthy corporations) far more than by advertising. It is an editorial decision whether to insist that the news division make 15 percent profit or whether to keep it as a loss leader. They had advertising in Bill Paley's day, too, but at that time CBS news was a big, relatively independent operation. If you have only 5 CEOs making that decision for virtually all television news, and if they are competitors, then there is a real danger that they will all sacrifice news to profit.
But because the price of entry is so low, you can never have ownership consolidation in weblogging. It will always be a distributed medium and therefore very difficult to control. If professional bloggers emerged who came to be unduly beholden to their advertisers and started not covering certain stories or spinning them for the sake of their sponsors, other non-professional bloggers would just step into the breach. If corporate media bought up a few big bloggers, they would still have to compete against literally millions of independents, and if any of the independents was providing what the audience wanted better, the traffic would shift to them. In the world of weblogging, any form of censorship actually creates opportunities for those immune to it.
Technical limitations and expense make it almost impossible for anyone now to start up a new 24 hour a day news channel. But anyone can start a blog. I expect journalist cooperatives (both professional and amateur) to emerge over time that do podcasting, and eventually webcasting with video, finally breaking the current semi-monopoly in broadcast news.
So it seems to me that blog-casting with regard to advertising, but retaining lots of independent blogs is the best of all possible worlds. And advertising blog-casting may finally begin addressing a key problem in the business model, which is that blog advertising rates are ridiculously low. Bloggers are essentially offering a front-page panel for what a small classified ad would cost in a small town newspaper, and the circulation rates may be similar.