This is a guest post by Max Tatton-Brown, a technology PR consultant at EML Wildfire and blogger at MaxTB.com
Despite something of a shaky UK launch, it’s hard to deny that The Huffington Post is on to something. In a world where content is king, it has discovered a way to make money by curating contributions from bloggers, who in return receive another channel of traffic and a boost to their credibility.
However, if you look closer, many are starting to realise just how much they sacrifice in this deal. While HuffPo delivers some power to those who create its content by giving them a platform, it ultimately holds on to the great unifying asset: the brand and advertising pipeline. The one ring to rule them all.
At a recent London Bloggers Meetup I attended around the UK launch, a few of those present questioned HuffPo editors about why they should give up their content for free. Remarkably given the audience, the answer went to great lengths to highlight the distinction between “proper journalists” and bloggers — a classic way to offend anyone who writes for free online. Is it really a good idea to so brazenly gnaw at the many hands that feed you?
If the Huffington Post can make such a success of this model, why hasn’t another brand challenged them yet? Maybe a brand that has not thousands of contributors but millions? Maybe a brand embraced by the vast majority of bloggers around the world?
Maybe a brand like WordPress.
Head to the front page of WordPress.com and you may see what I’m getting at. The homepage features a selection of approved content — a fraction of the 700,000 posts uploaded today — all created for free.
How long would it take to install a small core of staff and a system to allow people to submit their work for approval? For the price of a few editors, they could become a brilliant conduit for amateur and semi-pro bloggers looking for exposure, as well as introducing another reason to go with WordPress.com instead of competition like Blogger or Tumblr.
Earlier this year, WordPress also announced WordAds, a new advertising partnership created to serve bloggers who opt in because they “deserve better” than Google Ads. Talk about a contrast to the Huffington Post’s holier-than-thou approach. Isn’t this almost the exact system you would need in place for paying contributors for their content if you took the HuffPo on?
Arguably, the Huffington currently has an advantage with its brand reputation, but I think WordPress could catch up if it worked swiftly. We’re talking about the creation of a co-operative community of content creators and curators; to give Automattic a starter for ten, how about we call it something like “WordPress C: an ocean of knowledge, news and features”?
Many media outlets today are in dire straits, but there’s an opportunity here to take the seed of the Huffington Post model and branch out into a new direction. If WordPress doesn’t step up to the mark, I’d argue there are few others who can, leaving the Huff with little reason to modernise its attitude to those who make it what it is. That would be a shame for us all.