Battle of the Brands

Tacroy, in our comments, makes this critical point:

If after acquiring ScienceBlogs NatGeo decides to begin exerting more editorial control over blog content than P.Z. likes, he will leave ScienceBlogs. Pharyngula was an independent blog initially, and there’s no particular reason why it couldn’t be one again. This is not without precedent; there was a rather large migration of ScienceBloggers after the Pepsi incident.

With a similar thought, here’s Glaucidium:

If Nat Geo decides to institute “civility standards”, they will lose other SB bloggers, over both their own freedom to post and in support of free Internet speech in general. All this will mean is that their blogs will continue to appear in other formats.

And Psychodiva:

if PZ were to leave Sciblogs then his followers will – well- follow him- and all the traffic he creates will go with him….

And Dolly Dagger:

If PZ leaves Science Blogs, SB will lose a great deal of traffic. Pharyngula [PZ Myers’ site at ScienceBlogs] is my 2nd stop of my personal day — I go on to other SBs from there.  I suspect I’m not the only one. Science Blogs will go down the crapper without PZ because many other Bloggers will follow as well.

What’s fascinating about this case — and why we continue to write about it — is it highlights what we’ve long feared: The executive team at National Geographic doesn’t understand — in its bones — that publishing’s center of gravity has shifted. That people like PZ Myers now have a voice, a platform, and an audience. And that people like Myers no longer need a branded microphone (like National Geographic) to be heard around the world. All they need is a laptop, a URL, and a distinctive, compelling voice.

PZ Myers

Does National Geographic (and its advertisers) need PZ Myers and the ScienceBlogs audience? Evidently so.

But does PZ Myers need National Geographic? Not so much.

In this case, PZ Myers is the brand that matters. Which, when you think about it, is breathtaking: One guy with a blog can potentially tell National Geographic — a highly regarded media brand with global reach — to, as PZ might say, “bugger off.”

Given these facts, we see three possible outcomes:

  1. Myers reluctantly agrees to tone down his rhetoric to suit the suits at NGS. But that would be serial brand suicide: Myers’ readers would abandon both him and ScienceBlogs, leaving NGS (and its advertisers) with a severely degraded blogging network, and Myers with a reputation as a sell-out.
  2. Myers insists on being himself, and refuses to talk pretty. He leaves ScienceBlogs, taking his readers, and perhaps other SB bloggers, with him. Which would leave NGS and its advertisers with a severely degraded blogging network, and a reputation as a media company that doesn’t get the internet.
  3. Myers is permitted to be himself (religious people are “idiotsandbatshit insane“; a journalist who PZ disagrees with has a stick up his ass“; and so on). But National Geographic keeps its logo & brand name buried in a dark, distant corner of the ScienceBlogs site.

Our bet? Door #3.

That way, National Geographic can still reap the ad revenue from PZ’s blog, but not have the NG brand tarnished by PZ’s profanity — or his worldview.

This strategy might have worked brilliantly 20 years ago. Even 10 years ago. But today? Much tougher, we think.

For as Weinergate reminds us all: There are no secrets on the internet.

Stay tuned…

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