The old guard of media have years of status and experience that make them seem more important. The Associated Press’ recent hoopla over links to its articles shows a disconnect from the old guard to the web world. Start-ups dream of getting some New York Times coverage because that would just set them up for success, but they ignore an article in TechCrunch or popular story on Digg might be more valuable.
Martin Varsavsky wrote for the Huffington Post about publicity his company Fon was getting. The New York Times featured him and his company on the cover of the Sunday business section followed by an article in Forbes magazine. But his website only saw 200 new uniques. A popular post on Digg netted him 50,000 uniques.
Varsavsky recognizes the benefits of print media – more resources, physical product, and established reputation. “Paper is more credible than pixels” he says. But if its traffic you need, old media won’t help you.
The Associated Press reminded me of this issue because, even as it whined about other websites sending it free publicity, the A.P. refused to link to other websites. It had no problem quoting them and saying the name of the blog, but wouldn’t include links to the quoted blog. The New York Times has recently started adding links, mostly to their blog and not their articles. Other mainstream media sites leave you the impression there’s nothing else on the web. Even new media companies like IMDB.com won’t provide links to sources, even when quoting them directly.
The issue is these links are incredibly valuable. The major tech blogs and aggregators, TechCrunch, Gigaom, Slashdot, and Digg to name a few, can bring a website down because of all the traffic they send. And once that traffic is on your site, it’s your job to keep them there. 2.3 million people read the Sunday times, but it’s a lot harder to get them to sign online and go to a website. With a link provided, you just click. Easy, no effort, effective.
Mainstream media needs to join the link culture. Linking to other sites isn’t just polite. Many sites (like Prodigeek) show links to sites linking to them. I’ve gotten reliable traffic from several blogs and that traffic inspires me to link to them more. Moreover, I don’t like to link to websites that don’t link at all (unless they’re the original source). I’d prefer to send traffic to other blogs who share in the link culture than news sites that don’t. And companies that are hostile to the link culture get blacklisted.
For companies trying to monetize their website, whether through sales, advertising, or something else, need to put their PR where the traffic is. That means publicize on the TechCrunches and Gigaoms and taste makers of your industry. The credible that comes from a Times article sounds nice, but it isn’t helping you meet traffic goals. As companies (hopefully) recognize this, blogs and websites will gain credibility as they become the next-generation of king-makers, discovering the next Googles, Microsofts, and Facebooks while the mainstream media plays catch up. Mainstream media needs to join the link culture (which includes not suing websites) or get left out and left behind.
Updated 6/24 1:37p.m. – I just read a great post by Chris Brogan on this same subject, noting how the Boston Globe wrote out the link to his blog on their website and newspaper, but didn’t link to it.