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.