Dear John: Monetize the network, not the content

{ Read the whole interview here. }

Dear John,

A blog network? Really?

With all due respect, blog networks run by National Geographic haven’t done well. Exhibit A: Last year, our Society bought and assumed day-to-day management of ScienceBlogs, which was then considered among the best in class.

A few months later, PZ Myers, who is one of ScienceBlogs’ marquee writers, announced a new arrangement. He’d post his straight-up science material at ScienceBlogs; he’d also cross-post that material — along with what is arguably his most popular content (his rants about religion) — on a new & independent network called FreethoughtBlogs, which launched last summer (mid 2011).

Here’s some data that compares the performance of the two sites (via

It looks like National Geographic’s ownership and day-to-day management of Scienceblogs has hurt more than it has helped.

Or as we suggested last year in Battle of the Brands: National Geographic vs. PZ Myers (& friends) is actually a contest.

There’s another problem with trying to build a blog network with only a few thousand contributors: Billions of people have camera-equipped mobile phones. Which means we can’t possibly cover “the world and all that is in it” even after you tell employees to blog & you recruit thousands of park rangers to the cause.

Think about it: What are the odds that a National Geographic blogger will produce clips as good as this (wildly popular) amateur video:

Or this one:

Someone will capture equally compelling moments in the future, but the odds it’ll be someone in our network are slim to none. The world is just too big.

Then again, John, you could improve your odds of capturing the next Battle at Kruger by activating an existing network that’s massive but dormant: National Geographic Society members, still 4+ million strong. Why not give the millions of people who are still paying attention to NGS — and still paying annual dues — the ability to do something together that they’ll never be able to accomplish alone? Give them a good reason to stay — and to recruit their friends.

Monetize the network, not the content. Why? Because our membership network — its size, its affluence, and its loyalty — is unique to National Geographic. What other organization is so fortunate?

Elephant pictures, on the other hand, are everywhere… and they’re free.

NO NEW POSTS will be published here after February 6, 2014. THIS IS WHY.