I’ve been following on with interest and fascination at John Battelle’s emerging FMPublishing project. John is attempting to build a publishing company that focusses upon high quality content (nothing too different so far) that attempts to keep the ownership of that content in the hands of the authors writing for it. It is a very hands off approach that I quite like.
One of the balancing acts that I’m seeing many blog networks grappling with is over this question of ownership and equity of the blog. Most people can see the benefit of a publishing network – but there is no obvious, tried and tested model at this stage that presents a win win situation for both publisher and author/editor.
Many of the issues I’m seeing authors and network owners struggling with revolve around ownership.
Who owns the blog, which party holds copyright, who has rights to take the content?
Some of the newer blog networks (like 9 Rules and Creative Weblogging) are offering authors ownership of their content and allow them to take what they write with them at the end of any relationship. The bigger networks like Weblogs Inc and Gawker do not – instead treating readers more like employees. Weblog Empire is walking a middle ground and has been talking of shared ownership where both parties take the content away from any relationship.
This is a tricky issue – whoever retains ownership holds considerable power in any relationship. If the publisher owns the blog then they are able to sell it at any point – if the author owns it they are able to walk away from the relationship without warning , taking an income stream away from the network.
Both sides might make a reasonable case for holding ownership:
Publishers need to cover their costs for things like hosting, sourcing advertising, design, promotion – and are entitled to their profits. They often sink significant funds into any partnership with a blogger. Some networks now employ people to look after the back end of the blogs that they own – their overheads are significant.
Bloggers on the other hand are the heartbeat of any blog – without them there is no blog. They too poor time and energy into their craft and deserve to be rewarded fairly for their efforts. At the same time the experience of Weblogs Inc shows that bloggers like a stable income – they moved away from a revenue share model to one of paying bloggers to write (payments tied to traffic of the blog).
The issue is and will always remain a sticky one. I’ve had conversations with a number of network bloggers (from a variety of networks) recently who have either complained of how they are being treated by their networks or have expressed concern for a lack of power in the relationships that they find themselves in. Whilst I’m sure network owners sometimes feel like they are getting a raw deal it seems to be authors themselves who are feeling most out of sorts in many circumstances.
One of the difficult elements of this issue is that over time, as blogs grow, the dynamics change. I can think of a couple of circumstances where agreements at the start of a relationship between author and blogger were mutually beneficial for both parties – but as the blogs grew authors felt they were left with less and less and risked losing it all if the publisher were to sell – after a year or two of investing themselves into a blog they feared they were just building someone else’s asset base.
I sympathize with both sides of the equation. I’d hate to work years on a project only to see it sold off to the benefit of someone else – however part of me wonders if this is ‘just life’ – after all isn’t it what happens in most businesses with employees?
So what is a win win model? I’ll be the first to say I don’t really know – however I’m watching the different emerging networks with real interest as they grapple with these and other important questions. I like to think there is some middle ground where incentive can be built in for all to benefit from the running of blog networks – however every time I try to come up with a model my head begins to hurt as it becomes complicated.
Interested in your thoughts on this issue – would you join a blog network? What would your preference be in terms of ownership, payments and incentives?