Eric Olsen is the founder and publisher of BlogCritics.org, the website where a “sinister cabal of bloggers” roam and analyze and review and pontificate. In this second part of a long and expansive interview, Eric talks about his unique background and how it led him to create Blogcritics.org, the emerging forces of blogging and podcasting, and, last but not least, the future of former pop star and current oddity Michael Jackson.
You’ll find excerpts from the second half of the interview below. To listen to the full second hour, make your way to Dumpster Bust Radio: Podcast #10 (which will be available very soon!).
Check out Part I of the interview in print here, and the full audio version, available via podcast, here: Dumpster Bust Radio: Podcast #9.
Eric Berlin: Do you have any advice for people thinking of starting a Web- or blog-based media company? I know that’s a bit of a tough question.
Eric Olsen: It’s really hard, because I freely admit that I just kind of stumbled onto this. And I had all kinds of advantages coming in. In other words, when I got into blogging in February 2002 [Blogcritics.org was founded in August 2002], I was older. I had been around, I had a lot of experience behind me. I had been a professional writer for 25 years. I had three books, and I had something of a “name” within the music criticism field. I have a background in radio and television.
So I had huge advantages. If you could design someone to get into blogging – at least from a broad-based perspective – you would find someone who is a really hardcore political operative who has a readable writing style and a nose for news. If you’re that, you can still pretty much jump into it and get real big, real fast.
Only a handful of people who have been at it for a shorter period of time who are further along than Blogcritics are either exactly the people I’ve described – people with stronger media or political connections than I have – or people who have money behind them.
Gawker didn’t just happen. Gawker has marketing money behind it. The same marketing money that’s behind Wonkette. And Gizmodo. Those three sites didn’t just happen, they’re not organic. And of course there’s resentment about that. And I’m semi-resentful, I suppose! Well, I don’t really care – I don’t see any of those sites as real competition.
The other thing that’s nice about the blogosphere as compared to other industries is that it’s not zero sum. It’s not like if you read me, you can’t read so-and-so. There’s only x number of sites that people can read, but if you’re in the Top 100, people will make time for you. I’ve always figured that the bigger the total pie, the better for me.
But back to your question, one of my advantages was that I had run a business before, one of the biggest DJing companies in Southern California all through the ‘80s. I had experience running a small business, a personality-driven business, which this is too.
One thing I write a lot about is the evolution of the Internet and blogging being a part of that. And then you add the element of podcasting as audio content on top of that. What are your thoughts on podcasting and the kinds of audio content that are now available – for free, on demand – from the Internet?
I think it’s really terrific. The only reason why I haven’t personally gotten into it is that I’m very frustrated by the fact that I couldn’t use whatever music I wanted to use. I’m really used to my radio background, where as long as I’m programming that show, I can play anything I want. As I understand it, they’re making licensing easier for podcasting than it is now.
I think there’s a real guerilla element to podcasting in broadcasting emerging artists and unsigned bands who are more than happy to have you take their stuff for free and broadcast it to 10 people or 100 people, whoever happens to tune into your particular show. And I see that as a way to, in a sense, go behind the backs of mainstream and corporate radio, who in many ways are dying or are already dead in terms of their flexibility in what they can play.
Absolutely! I one thousand percent agree with you. There is a major chain, in San Francisco, I believe…
KYOU, it’s called.
That’s right. It’s all podcasting, and that’s terrific! How much more do you need to say an idea has arrived? As far as breaking new talent, there’s always an enormous amount of it out there. But on a personal level, on a purely selfish level, due to my time constraints, there’s too much involved for me to cull through all of that unsigned or available material to find the stuff that I would want to play.
But podcasting has unlimited potential. It’s everything that radio could ever want to be. You can tell stories, you can be creative, you can do to talk, interactive talk, monologues – anything and everything you could want.
I collected a few questions from some of the Blogcritics regulars. Most of them have been addressed, but a Mr. Lono asks when Blogcritics writers can expect to be compensated for their contributions to the site.
[Laughs] That’s funny! I really feel that it’s a really good deal for people who are already doing something. That’s the key. It’s key for the people who already have their own blogs, the ones who care enough about their blogs where they want to reach a broader audience. Some high percentage of course, 90-95%, don’t really care who reads them. But for the people who do care – and that’s still an awfully high number if there are something like five million blogs out there — having ready access to a site that has vastly wider reach than their own site, that’s a good deal. That’s value. That’s compensation. We’re also providing increased search rank.
For Blogcritics, add in the fact that you have access to literally thousands of dollars worth of review material each year.
So we can tell Lono that he’s already being compensated.
Exactly. However, I will say that if and when we reach a level where the business model can support it, I would like to attach a monetary value for participation.
Let’s wrap up on a fun note and on something you’ve been writing a lot about. Where do you see things heading for Michael Jackson now that the trial is over?
I am a fan of his music. I don’t think he’s done anything particularly interesting, at least for the last ten-plus years. I like the single, “Black and White.” That was his last really big hit.
Wasn’t that Macaulay Culkin in that video? That was quite a while ago.
Oh yeah, that was in the early 90s, I think. We’re exactly the same age, by the way, to the month.
The talent is there. I could see him coming back, if he were able to reapply himself, to strip away all of the nonsense that has accumulated over the years. The strangeness of his personality and his lifestyle. If he can refocus on what he’s best at – being an artist, being a singer, being an entertainer. If he can mentally do that, then I certainly think it’s possible for him to make an artistic comeback.
Now would he be allowed to do that by the public? Certainly he would be outside the U.S. He still has strong support in parts of Europe – the UK, Germany, and Japan for sure feel very strongly about him. He’s kind of bigger everywhere aside from the U.S. Americans tend to be forgiving, but they have to be asked. And I don’t know if he’s willing to do that, and I don’t know if he’s capable of doing that. He hasn’t admitted to doing anything. Nothing.