Monday, June 20, 2005

Interview: Eric Olsen of – Part I

Eric Olsen is the founder and publisher of, the website where a “sinister cabal of bloggers” roams and analyzes and reviews and pontificates. During a long and expansive conversation with Eric, we discussed the concept behind BlogCritics and where the future’s headed for the popular website and for the blogosphere at large. We also found time to delve into whether or not it’s possible to talk politics on the Internet, and where Michael Jackson’s career might be headed.

Please find excerpts from the first part of the interview below. To listen to the full first hour of the interview, make your way to Dumpster Bust Radio: Podcast #9.

Look for Part II of the interview soon.


Eric Berlin: What is

Eric Olsen: BlogCritics is a collective of over 1,000 writers. Each of those people have their own [web] sites and their motivation for participating is that – in nearly every case – have considerably more traffic and higher search engine rank. We are a Google News source and contribute reviews to the Advance family of sites, which is 10 sites that are affiliated with the major local newspaper in 10 different markets.

You add all that up, and for writers that want to get at a new and larger group of readers, we’re a good source for that.

What’s the unique draw on the Internet for people to visit

It’s a general interest Web-magazine that happens to be written by bloggers. It is also a very fine microcosm of the blogosphere because of the large group of writers who we are drawing from. It functions something like a pyramid, where the best really does rise to the top.

Over three years, we’ve gotten better and better. The writers have gotten better and better. I think we’re one of the better sources for news and information, opinion, reviews, and simply entertaining writing on the Internet. We have a very high volume – as much as many news services. We have in fact become a news service – that’s why Google News wants us.

We average about 65 to 70 stories every single day, so there’s literally something being published round the clock. And our writers come from all over the world – I think we’re up to something like 40 countries now.

It’s a place to the advantage of both the writers and the readers – they can interact – because we have open comments. You as the reader can participate in the ongoing discussion: you can agree, you can disagree, you can bring in new facts, you can reference materials that you think are important. I think that’s something that sets us apart from the traditional media.

Political discussion can be especially heated on the Internet. Do you think it’s possible for people of opposing views to have meaningful political debates on BlogCritics and on the Internet in general?

Well sure. It’s possible and I think it happens on the Internet all the time. The issue with politics is that the more partisan the participants – and the people who do participate are going to tend to be partisan – you’re going to see less actual movement. People are pretty well set in their ways.

That does not reflect, though, the 95% plus of people who aren’t writing the stories or aren’t even commenting. We get on average 500 comments a day, but that’s still in the neighborhood of a couple percent of the readers. So we never hear from the vast majority of the people who are reading. Therefore, the people who do comment tend to be the most partisan.

So I do think there is a lot of movement, a lot of changing of minds, among the 95% or so of people who don’t comment.

What’s the future looking like for BlogCritics? What’s the business model, and where are things headed?

The business model is two things – advertising and the affiliate model. We are an Amazon affiliate, so on every post we try and link to at least one Amazon product. The other thing that does, which really keeps our costs down, is to provide artwork, which is terrific. We’re getting our artwork, in essence, for free. The way the affiliate model works is that we encourage our readers to purchase from Amazon through us, to “click through” to Amazon by clicking on pictures of album covers or book covers or whatever, and then we get a percentage of that sale.

The future: I have to optimistic or I would have to give up! The business model – for both advertising revenue and affiliate sales – boils down to traffic. So the bottom line is driving more traffic.

What’s the holy grail in terms of Web traffic? What’s the mark that you have to hit and stay at where you can say, “This is where we really want to be.”

That’s a really good question, and I’ve thought about that a lot. As with any other form of media, over time that number keeps going up. That said, I would say that right now if we could reach 50,000 a day, we would reach another level. And once you’re there, you’re really guaranteed that it will only continue to grow, because once you reach the Top 10, traffic-wise… you know, it’s really amazing that there’s such a difference between being Top 20 and Top 10, but there is.

If you make it to the Top 10, it’s not just that your numbers are what they are, you get a lot more attention just because you are where you are. This is a business where success absolutely breeds success. It’s a classic power curve situation, where the higher you are, the more advantages you get.

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