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Interview with Ashley Norris – Shiny Media

Ashley-Norris

As I mentioned in my ‘I’m home’ post – I was fortunately to catch up with two talented ProBloggers whilst I was in London – Ashley Norris and Katie Lee from Shiny Media. Ashley and I have been emailing for sometime now as Shiny have been a blogging enterprise that I’ve been following for a while now – and so the chance for a face to face catch up was too good to pass up. I came away from out time together having had both a very pleasant afternoon – but also feeling as though I’d just met a couple of fellow travellers who knew both the ups and downs of the ProBlogging journey (a rare feeling).

So I’m really happy to present this interview with ProBlogger – Ashley Norris.

ProBlogger – Thanks for your time Ashley – can you tell us a little about yourself and Shiny Media? What is it, how did it come into being, who is behind it etc?

Ashley – It was set up by three freelance technology journalists (myself, Chris Price and Katie Lee) around two years ago. Egged on by Neil McIntosh at The Guardian newspaper (who is the Godfather of British commercial blogging), we launched a gadget blog for the UK and Europe called Tech Digest. For the first six months or so we didn’t take it very seriously. Then the adsense money started rolling, we became aware of what Nick Denton was doing at Gawker and people started talking to us about buying the blog, so we thought we’d explore what else we could do. We then started Shiny Shiny, which at that time was the first gadget blog written for women and aimed at women. Since then we have launched the fashion blogs Shoewawa and The Bag lady, techy blogs Games Digest and Mobile Digest, ethical consumer guide HippyShoper and now the online auction freak show that is Bayraider.

ProBlogger – How do you decide what topics to write blogs on? Do you start with a topic and then find a blogger, or with a blogger first? Is it about finding something commercially viable or something that is a passion or an interest of someone and building a commercial blog around it?

Ashley – When we launched the gadget blogs we really protecting our interest as we knew that if we didn’t do it someone else would. Funnily enough since we launched all the UK gadget mags have seriously ramped up their online activities. As for the trio of blogs aimed at women, they were part of a realisation that women read blogs but were poorly served by online publishers. Shoewawa has been a success as there are thousands of women who are every bit passionate about shoes as blokes are about their electronic toys. We want to produce blogs that are fun and interesting, and so far people have appreciated what we are trying to do and the cash has followed. We are more interested in creating blogs that are unique, funny and entertaining than we are following key words.

ProBlogger – How would you describe the philosophy of Shiny Media?

Ashley – I suppose it is similar to most commercial blog publishers in that we want to create an online publishing empire. However we want to produce blogs that maintain high editorial standards, and also in a funny kind of way reflect British culture to the rest of the world – a bit like Ealing Film Studios did in the 40s and 50s. I love the fact that Bayraider (our online auction blog) is so full of British cultural references, but thanks to Time Magazine naming it as one of its top 50 coolest websites in the world, it now has a mainly US-based readership

ProBlogger – How do you monetise your blogs? How successful have your methods of making an income from your blogs been?

Ashley – Like most commercial bloggers we spend most of the day working out how to maximise revenue from Adsense. But several of our blogs have strong support from affiliates and we do use agency clearing houses occasionally too. There has also been some sponsorship from Telewest (UK broadband/cable company) and infamously from cleaner company Dyson, but also from some smaller advertisers too. I feel we have reached the stage now where the more imaginative UK ad agencies are starting to take us seriously. It is difficult to know whether there will be an explosion of proper advertising and sponsorship on blogs or not. I guess it will come, but probably not as quickly as it has happened in the US.

ProBlogger – Do you pay your bloggers? How do you determine these payments (if you do pay them)? What is your relationship with those that write for you? Ie do they own the content or do you? Do you see them as employees? Etc

Ashley – We pay almost all our bloggers – we have a team of around twenty now. Some get a monthly fee, others are on a revenue share, and some get paid per post. It is hard to say which works best to be honest. It really depends on the individual. Some of our bloggers are established journalists, others are getting their first break as writers. I think we are really lucky as we have some superb writers who deliver very readable blogs. I genuinely get very excited when there’s a new post on Bayraider as Stuart’s posts almost always make me laugh out loud.

ProBlogger – Why have you chosen blogs as a way of delivering your content and not other styles of websites?

Ashley – If I am honest I’d say we chose blogs, not because of affinity with blogging, but because in those day we were very green and Typepad seemed an easy way of running a news oriented website. Obviously as time has gone by we have become immersed in blogging culture (Katie has always been drowning in it) and learnt a great deal about content management on all kinds of websites. I do love the immediacy of blogs, especially in tandem with RSS feeds, and the informal style that many bloggers have honed. I passionately believe that blogs are the future of editorial on the internet. I find it incredible that so few people in the UK realize this yet.

ProBlogger – What would be your main advice for a blogger just starting out hoping to make an income from blogging?

Ashley – Well, don’t take any advice I give too seriously. It took us a year to start making money out of Tech Digest! I think there is money to be made, but not the gold rush that some have predicted. So it is matter of developing a blog and sticking with it. The thing I value above all else of my partners is that they are both doers who’ll not just get passionate about things but will also put the hours in to make things happen. I think to succeed you need to be committed and to work with similarly committed people. I should add that none of the three Shiny partners are full time, but that will come shortly. The other thing is to work the media. We take our PR very seriously and have been rewarded by mentions in almost every major newspaper in the UK and US as well as appearances on CNN and ITV.

ProBlogger – How does Shiny Media’s approach to blogging differ from other blog networks like Gawker and Weblogs Inc?

Ashley – Well we respect them both for differing reasons. You have to admire the sheer balls of Calcanis to launch that many blogs that quickly, and the quality of the blogs that Denton produces is astonishingly high. Comparing Shiny with Gawker or Weblogs Inc is laughable as they obviously are much bigger companies with much more traffic than we are capable of attracting at the moment. I do subscribe to the Calcanis theory that each niche will have around three or four successful blogs, though we’d obviously prefer to be number one in a niche we developed.

ProBlogger – Where do you see Shiny Media in 5 years time? What is your hope/dream/mission/vision for it?

Ashley – It is hard to think that far in advance. We have another five blogs lined up for the summer and another ten scheduled to launch before the end of the year. Some will be very UK focused, while others, we hope, will have international appeal. If we had a stable of innovative blogs that were well read and well liked that made us a bit of cash, all three of us would be very happy.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Thought provoking interview, Darren. Much appreciated. And welcome back. Hope you had a great time in Blighty.

  2. Allan Burns says:

    An interesting insight into Pro Blogging. The first of many informative interviews I hope.

  3. Heat says:

    Very Interesting, thanks for Shiny Media for the great words, and for Darren for bringing this interview

    Heat

  4. Andy Merrett says:

    Thanks for posting that excellent interview with Ashley. Very interesting. I’m keen to see blogging take a much bigger slice of the action in the UK, and I am sure Shiny will be a part of that.

  5. Shai Coggins says:

    That’s a great interview, Darren! Thanks for sharing.

    And Ashley, thanks for providing this interview. ‘really, really appreciated.

    On a different note: Darren and Ashley — you guys ready for the head-to-head in the Ashes? :-)

  6. Shai Coggins says:

    Oh, BTW, did anyone tell you two that your photos make you look a bit like cousins or brothers? ;-)

  7. Darren Rowse says:

    maybe we are Shai, maybe we are :-)

  8. Great insight, Darren. And if Ashley thinks the UK is slow to take on blogging, what about Australia! How hard is it to get mentioned in the mainstream media here! That’s why I changed my focus early on for my blog from an Australian home business audience to a global one.

    I can see making money from blogging coming from sponsorships – but everything has to fit in right: a tight niche, professional approach, and making the right pitch to the right potential sponsors.

    I believe there are quite a few companies out there who would be quite willing to market via niche blogs but they need to be sold on the idea.

    From talking to some marketing managers what they really want to see is a well-done media kit, that explains the medium and the niche.

    And BTW, us aussies will crush the poms in the ashes ;-)

  9. As for the Ashes ~ when our boys Flintoff and Harmison get going Bleak City will be even bleaker.

  10. John – you got a point there with Harmison, I must admit – he’s the key to you guys winning …. but if Warnie can put down the mobile phone for a while, well then watch out!

  11. Ashley Norris says:

    I would just like to strenuously deny rumours that Darren and I are both Shane Warne’s love children. Can’t speak for Darren but I wouldn’t mind getting on Warne’s hair regrowth programme. It’s a bit too pricey for a blogger’s salary though. I just heard we have to lose the Ashes as payment for the Aussie Olympic vote. Fair price I spose. Also we just bagged http://www.london2012blog.net (and http://www.paris2012losers.com) so if anyone wants to commit to a seven year blog odyssey get in touch. if our Olympics are half as good as Sydney’s we’ll all be happy. All the best to Probloggers everywhere Ashley

  12. Darren Rowse says:

    will you pay for my trip out there for the olympics if I sign up?

    Afterall i do have some experience with Olympic blogs after athens – biggest traffic I’ve ever had on a blog that one was.

  13. Hey, you Ozzos used to be good at sledging, I’m surprised you haven’t put up a dedicated Ashes blog just to have a go at us Poms. I can tell you, now we’ve licked the French for the Olympics, we’re going to be insufferable! ;-)

  14. Oh no … gloating poms galore coming out of the woodworks because they “might” be good at some sport finally … but really Australia’s total dominantion of cricket over recent years has made cricket rather boring – so I can’t wait for the many expected stand-offs, sledgings and confrontations to come.

    Ar, John, it’s pretty hard to put up a dedicated blog to blast the poms when we’ve been beaten at our own game. And I thought you poms were all nice gentlemen, prim and proper and not into this sledging that us convicts are so good at … ;-)

  15. Well, Martin, as I write this London is being blown apart by Al Queda. One day we celebrate, the next we duck for cover. Hard to make it out sometimes. But keep up the sledging. It only makes us more determined to get back that trophy.

  16. Murph says:

    As someone who knows and loves Ash, he’s a lot less stern/serious than that photo suggests. Just don’t get him on to 60s music.

  17. Chichi says:

    A very good interview with good insights given on blogs.I totally agreed with niche blog as it means that you wil get more quality traffic. I started a blog called http://www.mylovelybigfeetblog.com. It offers daily updates on fashionable shoes in large sizes from UK Size 8 and above = US 10. I am also a loyal reader of shiny media blog called http://www.shoewawa.com.

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