Why blogging might actually be dead this time

We've had a good run, but is it over?

Why blogging might actually be dead this time

Blogging, as we think of it, began somewhere between 1994-1999. During this time the first open blogging platforms arrived, people started to see the power of digital words, and the term "weblog" was coined.

But it didn't take long for people to begin doubting this medium. It looked like it was becoming too saturated too quickly. Anyone could start a blog, and so many did and the competition to find readers skyrocketed.

And yet, nearly 30 years into blogging's history — it's a more relevant medium than ever. Nearly every company with a digital presence has a blog with writers, or content marketers, on the payroll. Outside of the corporate space, millions of independent creators have found a way to turn their blogs into full-time careers, often earning many multiples of what they used to.

So, with all of this positive momentum, why do I believe we're headed for the end of an era?

Reason #1: Starting a blog will become too expensive

The cost to start a blog is negligible for most people.

  • Software: often free or less than $100 per year.
  • Hosting: anywhere from $4-40 per month for entry-level plans.
  • Design: most professional themes cost $19-300 (one-time fee).

For example, Ghost's pricing gives users on the Starter Plan access to all three for only $108 a year.

However, starting a blog and building something that can actually compete to earn money are two different things. It's the latter I believe will skyrocket in difficulty.

As an analogy, here's a chart of land prices in Manhattan over the last 70+ years.

line chart of manhattan land prices rising from 0 to 3500
Chart of Manhattan land prices. Source: RCM

If you were lucky enough to buy or inherit land in Manhattan in the early 20th century, you got a marvelous deal. New York was growing, and there were many neighborhoods to choose from. And for those earning a decent wage and using their money wisely, most real estate markets were an option.

But then the market changed and prices for the most desirable neighborhoods skyrocketed.

Today, you'd have to earn 5-10x the average salary just to be able to afford the most basic of housing options. I think the same will be true for blogging.

In the past, an individual with average writing and technical skills could replace their income with a blog in about a year or two with little investment apart from their time.

In the future, the bar for entry will keep most people out. The requirements around writing quality, subject matter expertise, technical know-how, and capital investment will rival that of the brick-and-mortar businesses the internet once deemed too hard and too expensive.

The "boring business" trend seen on social media is a foreshadowing of this change. Creators who own car washes, laundromats, and mobile detailing businesses are amassing audiences in the millions because people now see them as a more legitimate way to make money than their online alternatives.

Codie Sanchez is one of the most popular proponents of the boring business movement.

Reason #2: The available topics to write about will disappear

How and where people search for answers is changing. Social media platforms aside, Google itself has been trying to reshape the landscape of search since day one.

Google doesn't want people just to use it as a starting point. They want searchers to find everything they need on their platform. Whether it's the definition of a word, the weather, the answer to a math problem, a fact about a celebrity, or the ingredients to a recipe — Google wants to become the source.

SEO leader Kevin Indig recently dove into this topic when he discussed "commodity content".

The content commodity trap
Content exists on a commodity spectrum. When it’s easy to replicate, you have a problem. When it’s differentiated, it’s a business moat.

Commodity content is essentially articles that can be easily created and copied. If you're answering a question that anyone can answer with information anyone can access, it's probably a commodity.

This strategy was ok when the internet was small and we lacked the billions of pages necessary to satisfy queries. But now, do we really need 460,000 pages to tell us when Dwayne Johnson's birthday is?

Google search results for celebrity birthday
As you can see, Google answers the question for you without having to click on any result.

In the same way, the vast majority of bloggers are competing in red oceans. Trying to write longer, more detailed, more interesting answers than other bloggers — who themselves are also optimizing their content.

Obviously, there is still ground to be won. But the amount of it is shrinking, as are the rewards for obtaining it.

Who will win in the next era of blogging?

Instead of saying "blogging is dead", perhaps a better sentence is "blogging as we know it will soon die". There will be new winners as this industry evolves, and here's a few ideas on who they might be.

  • Thought leaders. People who can explain an old topic in a new way will win. They will attract audiences because of their differentiated voice. I also suspect Google's habit of displaying 10 identical results to a query will transition into a more comprehensive results page, where thought leaders will have a leg up on their copycat competitors.
  • Fast movers. People who start now and hit the ground running with a sound content strategy will win. The two reasons I gave above are about what's coming, not what's here already. There are still incredible success stories to be made before things shift.
  • The old guard. Blogs that have been around for years and even decades are like historical buildings in developing cities — difficult to tear down because of fierce support. Entrenched domain authority, well-aged articles, and a cacophony of backlinks will keep these sites performing well despite a flurry of changes around them. This is also why I think the use of aged domains and the strategy of site acquisitions will only grow as competition rises.
  • Content mills. Humans and Google may hate them, but efficient content machines that can churn out thousands, if not millions, of pages across multiple sites per month will continue to dominate the lowest competition areas. Crap content may not rank well. But even crap at scale can produce decent returns in the short term. Is this a sustainable strategy? No. But we'd be naive to say it doesn't work just because we don't like it.

Is it too late to start a blog?

Well, here I am writing you an answer to this question on a blog. Am I biased? Absolutely. But I have good reason to be.

Blogging as a public portfolio of skill development is powerful. It's what helped me change careers (more than once), earn my first money online, and opened the door to so many great relationships. And yes, the money I make from blogging could cover every bill I have and more.

For those just starting, or thinking about doing so, I think our expectations around what a blog should do will need to change. We'll need to rethink timelines and content strategies. We'll have to find new models to look up to and get better at sifting out the sly gurus from the legitimate players.

But the opportunity is real and present. Blogging is not going away, and those who will be most prepared for what's to come will be the ones who've already started.