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Teaching Online Journalism

Who reads blogs?

I’ve been meaning to weigh in on “How big is the audience for blogs?” for a while. Now this:

… a national survey has found that only about one in eight American adults currently uses Internet blogs to get news and information.

But these Web logs — personal diaries and observations posted on easy-to-update Internet Web pages in a process called “blogging” — are much more popular among certain demographic groups.

A survey of 1,010 adult residents of the United States by the Scripps Survey Research Center of Ohio University found that nearly a quarter of young adults say they read blogs at least once a week, compared to just 3 percent of people 65 or older.

That’s from the Scripps Howard News Service, Aug. 31, 2006, found by way of Rich Cameron’s blog.

So let’s start with that. “Only” 1 in 8 “uses” blogs “to get news and information.” Does that mean that 7 in 8 never read blogs? No. That’s not what it says.

“[N]early a quarter of young adults” read blogs “at least once a week.” Mm hmm. That would be … almost 1 in 4.

Let’s look at the Pew studies. According to a July 2006 report (the PDF is here):

Eight percent of internet users, or about 12 million American adults, keep a blog. Thirty-nine percent of internet users, or about 57 million American adults, read blogs –- a significant increase since the fall of 2005.

Okay, 39 percent is 39 in 100, or roughly 4 in 10. (Pew’s September 2005 survey found that only 7 percent of respondents said they read a blog “yesterday.” In January 2006, a survey yielded the 39 percent result with a broader question, the exact wording of which I could not find.)

I agree that 1 in 8 (Scripps) sounds rather skimpy. But 4 in 10 (Pew) sounds somewhat interesting.

You see, I have students who ask me about these numbers, because they want to know whether there really is an audience online, or should they just pin their hopes on the newspaper business and take their chances. You can understand that a proportion such as “1 in 8″ might give them reason to doubt.

But then you have the Daily Kos, a blog with 600,000 visitors a day. Don’t take my word for it. The New York Times said so.

Out of 53.5 million blogs currently being tracked by Technorati, there are many (probably millions) that don’t average even ONE reader per day. Yes, and some of those blogs have not been updated for many months — so there’s not much point in trying to read them.

Carl Bialik wrote about this in The Wall Street Journal last year (“Measuring the Impact of Blogs Requires More Than Counting”).

… the number of blogs isn’t really that informative, since so many blogs are abandoned soon after they’re launched. It’s more useful to look at the volume of blog posts. According to a presentation by Technorati’s Mr. [David] Sifry at the blog conference, daily volume is 800,000 to 900,000 posts. But Ms. [Natalie] Glance says BlogPulse, which says it has more blogs in its index, counts only between 350,000 and 450,000 posts a day — and that number has held steady for about a year, even as the total number of blogs has accelerated.

So I’d like to urge everyone to take a reasonable view of who’s reading blogs, and how many readers there are. That view would include the knowledge that some blogs are really getting hundreds of thousands of visitors each day. (How many visitors read the blog thoroughly? Come on, we don’t know that answer for newspapers or magazines. How could we know it for blogs?)

Even more important, some blogs have smaller but very loyal, dedicated audiences. Those blogs can be influential within certain fields, or spheres of influence.

So all this counting (of blogs, posts, visitors, and people who read blogs regularly or seldom) may be beside the point. It may not tell us much of anything.

The interesting questions today are:

If you are interested in these questions, you might enjoy a new book, Uses of Blogs, edited by Axel Bruns and Joanne Jacobs. It is surprisingly readable and does not repeat all the blah blah blah about blogs that you have already heard about a million times already.

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2 Comments

  1. Danny Sanchez says:

    The question that weighs on my mind is what kind of blogs that younger demographic is reading. Are they mostly reading blogs of close friends? If that’s the case, that may affect how potent an audience newspapers have here.

  2. Angela Grant says:

    I read blogs two or three times per week.

    I have to admit: I’m always surprised when I find out that people read my blog…

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