Monday, June 15, 2009

The Harsh Online Reality For The Corporate Media Is That There Simply Isn't Enough Commenters To Go Round

By Darryl Mason

As I've said here before, probably a bit too rudely, this blog doesn't exist for the sake of comments. It doesn't matter to me whether there's 0 comments or 26, the posts will still be written and published.

But what if your online media business model, your basic plan for profitability, relied deathly on having dozens or hundreds of commenters spilling their thoughts and opinions on every story or opinion piece posted on your website?

The Murdoch Online Experience has already launched The Punch, and now, as Mumbrella reports, Fairfax are going to have their shot at creating an online aggregator site for its stable of digital newspapers, with a steady stream of commenters being seen as essential to push those daily hits into the five and six digit page view counts that advertisers like to see.

Unlike The Punch, however, who've made the effort to recruit writers who aren't already writing for other Murdoch media, The National Times is expected to fill itself out with opinion pieces already published elsewhere in Fairfax's digital newspapers.

As usual, I found it easier to put my thoughts together on this while commenting at another blog. So here's the comment I left at Mumbrella :

The Punch has had some interesting columns so far, but nothing that has set fire to the comments boards. It seems overall quite safe and pedestrian. For now at least. Nothing controversial, nothing that you don't already see in mainstream newspaper columns and op-eds. If the aim is too have a "national conversation", the convo has been damn quite with most posts in the past week pulling 0 to 6 but rarely 10 or more comments.If people who visit can't be arsed to comment, why will they want to eventually pay for it?

A huge turnover in comments, in the hundreds for each or most posts, is what The Punch needs to ramp up the hits, obviously. But how are they going to do that? Where is that hardcore crowd of a few hundred who will burn up the boards like they do at Piers Akerman's or Andrew Bolt's blog going to come from? .

The problem, as Fairfax will soon find out, is that there are a limited number of Australians who bother to comment on any story or column or blog post anywhere online, particularly when the content is centred around politics or culture or news events.

Even if you do like to comment on what you're reading, there are so many places to do so elsewhere, from Facebook to YouTube to Twitter to ten thousand more fun to read and riotous blogs elsewhere in the world.

The Punch has discovered that regular commenters for blogs and news sites that aren't stirring up racism and xenophobia and general hate, or raging about Israel and Palestinians, are pretty thin on the ground in Australia.

There might even be as few as three or four thousand in Australia who will write comments on local political/cultural blogs and news sites most days, as a habitt, not including those who are paid to professionally comment by PR companies and political parties.

There's no shortage of places to Have Your Say on Australian blogs and news sites now, but there is most definitely a shortage of normal everyday Australian commenters. The Punch now knows this, the National Times will most likely learn that too, very soon.

There are a few good free ways for corporate media sites like The Punch and National Times to pull quality and volume-high comments to their sites, but why give away good ideas like that?