Writer’s Log: Stardate 52-2-12
I have been working on a grant that requires me to estimate how many readers my blogs on the Huffington Post have. Their model is set up so that very few contributors receive compensation. As one such contributor, I have published many pieces there—some very popular—and have never received a nickel. Writers like me are motivated by the enormous exposure that we get on the Huffington Post. But how big is that exposure? Like many media outlets, Huffington is secretive about its numbers but analysts have been able to create reliable estimates, using industry standard yardsticks that correlate the number of readers of a page with other factors, such as the number of comments posted in response to the article.
An article in the NY Times earlier this year (http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/12/the-economics-of-blogging-and-the-huffington-post/) used media metrics from a company called Quantcast to estimate that “there were about 50 page views per comment.” This number may even understate the actual page views and they go on to comment: “The Huffington Post cultivates comments in a way that few other sites do.” (This latter observation, of course, is also relevant in that it suggests that Huffington readers are more engaged.)
These metrics indicate that some of my more popular posts have had readerships on the Huffington Post itself well in excess of 100,000 (but I will show below why the secondary audience is even larger.)
Last year I published a piece in response to Jerry Coyne’s oft-repeated—but woefully uninformed—assault on the Bible. He charged that Christians must interpret all of the Bible literally since there is no way to choose which parts merit this approach. In his mind, this meant that Christians, if they were honest, had to read the creation story in Genesis as literal history, with the implication that the earth is a few thousand years old and dinosaurs and humans lived together.
Titled “The Bible is a Library, not a Book,” my response to Coyne generated more than 2600 comments, indicating over 130,000 readers on the Huffington Post, using the metric above. Other metrics, however, push this number considerably higher. In this age of social media—at which the Huffington Post excels—readers can readily “share” articles they like with networks of friends. 460 readers reposted this article on their facebook page. According to a Pew survey, facebook users, once primarily teenagers, are now on average almost 40 years old and typically have more than 200 friends who “follow” them on facebook. Many of these facebook friends would see the link to the piece and, given that someone they know recommended it, they are likely to read it. And then they might “repost” the piece to encourage their networks to read it, although there is no way to know about this. My piece defending the Bible also had over 1400 facebook “likes,” another form of endorsement that leads to additional readers. 29 people “tweeted” the piece to their networks of “followers.” And there were over 300 people who passed on the piece using old-fashioned email.
More substantial expansion of the readership occurs, however, when other media outlets with more targeted editorial missions pick up the piece and extend the conversation. A Google search turns up almost 10,000 additional hits for “The Bible is a Library, not a Book.” The majority of these additional hits are other websites with their own readers, commenters, and social media connections. These sites range from supportive, to informative, to critical, to hostile. But they all represent additional discussion of the topic.
Determining the scope of this additional readership is beyond the scope of what I am trying to do here. But let me estimate, conservatively, that at least 10% of the 10,000 Google “hits” I mentioned represent media outlets that were extending the conversation in meaningful ways. And let me estimate that each one of these outlets adds 1000 additional readers to the conversation, a number that is certainly very conservative. This secondary readership, made possible by the convenience and extraordinary reach of the internet, adds an additional million readers. And, given that I have used very conservative estimates, the actually number could be two or three times higher.
I was quite surprised by these results.