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Breaking the Tribes
2006-01-06 14:19
by Will Carroll

I'm going to sound like a raving liberal, talking about diversity and inclusion, throughout this, but get past the claimed language of politics and try to follow what I'm really getting at here. It has nothing to do with politics and much more with marketing, behavior, and blogging in general.

One of the reasons I admire Jamey Newberg is that on the occasions where I'm lucky enough to go to his functions, I notice something in the (large) audiences. Women. Kids. I do pizza feeds -- though I admittedly did a grand total of two in 2005, something I *will* remedy this year -- and I see people that look frighteningly like me.

As much as I like these people, I realize they're my downfall. To once again bring Christenson into the discussion, by listening to my customers, I've only created a tribe and I'm seeing it across the board. Imagine your favorite blog having a reader get-together/meetup/whatever and I'd imagine we'd see a group of like-minded, same-demo people no matter the blog. I'll go beyond this and say we could do it with nearly any media. What would an ESPN group look like? What would a Veronica Mars (best show on TV) group look like?

The niche-based media has created an unintended side effect. To grow numbers, the only way to do so is to appeal to the lowest common denominator and in too many cases, that's frighteningly low. As our society heads towards "Christians vs Lions, next on Fox!", we've allowed a descent from satire and parody to exhibitionism.

On a recent "Iconoclasts" (a show too new to say how good it is, but it's damned interesting so far), Renee Zellweger sounded like a sorority girl next to Christiane Amanpour, but managed to get off a perceptive comment. "People have a hard enough time getting through their day to come home and think and process the world," she said, lamenting the OJ-of-the-day media. Fox News doesn't scare me, but Entertainment Tonight does. News has become distraction, not information, and the ability to do real news has been so marginalized that even something like The Lehrer News Hour seems ridiculous in its adherence to the old style of seriously showing the issues.

How then does a blog of no ambition like The Juice break from a tribe of like-minded individuals and more importantly, should it? If this were a business, we couldn't survive. Our page views won't support real advertising, we don't produce enough high quality content to support a subscription model, and if it were to vanish into the haze like too many other good blogs, there'd be other places to turn, even on the Toaster.

Are tribes the future as we find niches that are either unserved or do we continue to descend in search of enough distracted people to support a business? Can we hope to find ways to grow our ideas and increase diversity within the niche or is that da doomed concept from inception?

The 500 channel promise is no longer a dream; it's a nightmare for inclusion.

2006-01-06 15:12:39
1.   Voxter
Judging from the commercials they play during "Veronica Mars", they certainly seem to think a lot of teen-to-twentysomething girls watch it. But everbody I know who watches it has a beard and spends most of his time thinking about baseball.
2006-01-06 16:22:38
2.   david535
Lots of good stuff here. You started this blog, at least partly, to write about more than your niche over at BP, right? Was your intent also to reach a larger audience (larger meaning an audience aside from BP)? I would imagine given the breadth of topics (and other authors), that you reach at least a marginally more diverse group of readers here than at BP (although I would imagine less traffic here).

I would also imagine that your audience would be even more diverse if you had affiliated with, and even moreso at or (assuming corresponding content at those sites).

But is that the idea? Do you want the blog to "break the tribes" merely so it would be more likely to succeed as a business? Why did you choose to affiliate with baseballtoaster, as opposed to starting a stand-alone blog?

2006-01-06 20:13:54
3.   Ken Arneson
I suggest reading Robert X. Cringely's latest article. When ads stopped being served based on the content, and instead start getting served based on the reader, the long tail (which is basically what you're talking about here) will suddenly become much more profitable.

Right now, I may be in the market for a digital camera, but you'd never know it by the content being served here. We can't sell digital camera ads here, because 99.9% of our readers aren't shopping for one. But if we could sell a digital camera ad to the 0.1% of our readers who are interested for that, and a steroid book ad for the 0.5% of our readers who are interested in that, and a St. Louis comedy club ad for the 0.04% of our readers who are in St. Louis and like comedy clubs...etc...the ads would suddenly become much more relevant and profitable.

And when that happens...the nature of the content that gets served up will surely change, although I have no idea in what way.

2006-01-07 07:46:11
4.   Jamey Newberg
Will, you do realize, do you not, that the women were there because you were on the bill?
2006-01-08 11:52:30
5.   Will Carroll
Ken - Actually, I'm talking about the opposite of the Long Tail. We have less and less things in common now as we're niched down into smaller and smaller tribes. Look at the broadest consumer product there is - Coca-Cola. If you watch their billion ads, they aren't "teaching the world to sing" any more. Instead, it's about reaching each small demographic with some politically correct "he looks like me but he's not threateningly ethnic-looking" actor. Why does someone who's Hispanic, African, or Martian have any different reason for drinking Coke than I do? I'm thirsty and it tastes good. Hell, remember when there was JUST Coke? I can remember Diet Coke coming out ... and today I saw an ad for - seriously - Black Cherry Coke with a hint of vanilla! A hint!

You know the one marketer that doesn't do this and, in this instance, gets it? Wal Mart. Low prices, period. That and a veritable monopoly in many communities.

I didn't start the blog to get a broad audience. On a good day, I'd guess I get 1/100th of the traffic a UTK gets. It's just a pulpit and a group of guys I like. It was the same at All-Baseball and the same at BP. In fact, the post probably applies more to BP than it does anything else. If I'd asked, "how do I help bring BP to the masses" it'd be roughly the same question asked differently.

Jamey - Seriously.

2006-01-08 16:07:26
6.   Ken Arneson
So you're asking how to get out of the "long tail" and into the "fat body"?

Sorry, I thought you were planning to go in the other direction. ;)

2006-01-08 17:36:45
7.   Will Carroll
Oddly enough -- and the rest of you will get the irony soon - yes, I'm looking for the fat body.

My security concerns about overpersonalization override any cool factor. If an advertiser knows I'd like to go to a comedy club in St Louis, I'm going to be freaked out rather than happy.

2006-01-09 15:24:55
8.   chris in illinois

I've waited to post on this topic for a while, in part because I wasn't quite sure what you were driving at. Are you broadly bemoaning the fracturing of our country into special interest groups?? Are you surprised that an overly 'talky' blog primarily devoted to baseball attracts like-minded individuals?? Perhaps I'm slow, but what exactly are you trying to say here??

On Wal-mart, don't ever think that they aren't ahead of the curve...the local WB channel routinely shows Wal-Mart commercials featuring African-American actors that I never see on other channels.

If you want to look at this through products and the marketing of products, what you describe seems to me to be the swinging of the pendulum the other way. To use your Cola analogy, 75 years ago there were many many regional colas---tribal colas if you will---as time went on economies of scale allowed the few (Coke, Pepsi etc.) to overrun the many and eventually there were few choices in most of the country. After a time some clever people realized that as good as Coke was, a better drink was possible (let's say, I don't know, Goose Island Root Beer) and some people were willing to seek it out. Not everyone is going to take the extra time to discover the slightly better drink when Coke is pretty damn good and readily available, but a small group is...anyway, get what I'm drivin' at??

I guess I just don't see the issue here, as you start to specialize isn't it inevitable that the audience shrinks? Isn't the readership of UTK at least slightly smaller than BP as a whole??

Sorry if I'm missing the point here, but my month old twins are causing me some serious sleep deprivation.

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