How to lose half your subscribers in 28 days or less 29 July, 2007 — 13 commentsStuart Brown

A case study on the difficulties in selling a blog and maintaining readership

Posted in Analysis, Web 2.0
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The following is an analysis of the events through the sale and subsequent resale of Web 2.0 blog Wisdump, for which I was briefly a writer. It serves as perspective, and an example of the difficulties in changing the pace or direction of a blog whilst maintaining subscribers - I don't seek to antagonise or call anybody out.

Followers of Wisdump may be familiar with the saga over the new ownership. The once-mighty Web 2.0 blog changed hands twice in a very short space of time, and has fallen from grace in some respect as a result. Indeed, the FeedBurner subscriber statistics tell a grim tale - once standing at around the 7,500 mark, the total number of RSS subscribers now languishes at around little more than 3,000. Where did it all go wrong?

Wisdump, from back when it was known as Whitespace, had a solid reputation for strong writing, fearless analysis and strong ties to the community at 9rules.com. This was principally thanks to the charisma and personality of Scrivs - and for the few years over the lifetime of Whitespace/Wisdump, a loyal community was built.

'Putting Up The For Sale Sign'

For reasons of topical wanderlust, and perhaps a desire not to disappoint Wisdump readers with a lack of new content, in April the announcement of the sale was made, and in May the new owners, Maxafi, made their introductory post.

It was this post asking for new writers that prompted me to offer my own services - guest posting for a blog I'd read for a while was an opportunity I wouldn't often miss. My post - 'The Ebb and Flow of Social Networking' - pushed all the right buttons, made it onto Digg, and elicited a good amount of discussion, and all seemed well.

Status Quo Ante Venditio

Despite the best efforts of the new writers onboard, and a modicum of discussion points and inbound links, the initial tensions began to arise at this point - proving that you can't keep all of the people happy all of the time.

An arguably small but vocal portion of the readership became a little dissatisfied with the new direction Wisdump had taken. The bulk of the complaints came to a head over dissatisfaction of the logo contest (web designers - designers in general, in fact - are very sensitive over the issue of spec work), and eventually the new proprietor decided that the potential returns against the effort invested may make the endeavour a thankless task.

Ultimately, the for sale sign went back up, and Wisdump was purchased a second time by blog publishers Splashpress Media.

Sold, Again

A new owner meant another set of writers (incidentally, the existing writers weren't invited to continue actually, it would appear the existing writers were invited back, but the email was waylaid by an overzealous spam filter on my part), and a new wave of posts continued. Despite there being some negative comments over copywriting standards (spelling, grammar etc.), the posts were on topic and Wisdump was not left wanting in effort.

Potentially part frustration, part tenacity, one of the new authors expressed the difficulties faced in a video post. The posts which followed didn't particularly stand out, but were strong enough in impact and sufficient to spark off some debate.

The post on July 13th calling out Automattic Inc's Matt Mullenweg arguably prompted more discussion than was warranted - as Matt himself responded and, at the same time, highlighted a slightly black-hatted approach to blog promotion via a 1x1px iframe submitting Wisdump to pinging service Ping-o-Matic.

This led to the obligatory apology in an attempt to save face, but the somewhat off-topic and long post (1,000 words!) led to further reader disillusionment, and if the comments are anything to go by, prompted more than a few people to click 'unsubscribe' and part ways with Wisdump.

Cue another interjection, this time from Mark Saunders of Splashpress Media. This was followed by an intermission, with the reposting of older articles by Scrivs, and the introduction of a new writer.

The Aftermath

Now, it seems, the dust has settled. Hopefully there will be a regular flow of interesting, on topic content - but the month or so of interruptions, apologies and intermissions has taken its toll on the readership figures.

Once standing proud on the left column of the site, the FeedBurner chiclet displayed a readership of over 7,000 (I believe it was at around the 7,500 mark at its zenith) but now the figure stands at less than half that - around 3,000 (The chiclet has been removed but is still available here). Ouch.

Still, it would be foolhardy to expect such a drastic series of events not to damage one's readership, and the fact that more than 3,000 readers remain is testament to the loyalty of those readers to Wisdump itself. What remains now is to capitalise on this not-insignificant figure and start producing content that will help shape a new personality for the site. From there, perhaps the readership figures will climb back to what they once were, and beyond.

I just hope it doesn't go up for sale a third time! Perhaps this comment serves as a summary:

Haha, I think I just saw reasons 3, 89 and 105 not to buy somebody else's blog. Paul Scrivens leaves nothing but broken, pissed off communities in his wake. I wish to God people would stop buying his effin' blogs so he'd have to get a real job. 'WJ' on Wisdump - 'A Guide To How Not To Do Web 2.0 Design (And Tech Reporting), June 29th, 2007

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