Sage, Deadman’s Cay and the Future of Blogging

I saw this come through my twitter stream yesterday… a story on the Sage Blog about bonefishing in the Bahamas (that’s kind of my bag).

Now, I pretty much love seeing this sort of thing and as I was reading this I had a question.

Will the multitude of independent fly fishing blogs ever be superseded by industry blogs?

The industry has been a bit slow to pick up the value and/or importance of having blogs to tell their stories. There are a few who do this well (The Headhunter Fly Shop is crushing it, Costa has done well, Orvis has been a trend setter), but most of the industry has yet to embrace the blog format and no one in the industry is really playing on the same level as the indie blogs out there.

That’s now, but the whole “now” thing has a way of changing. There could come a time when the indie blogs are dwarfed by the output and readership of the industry players. It makes sense in a lot of ways since the industry has access to the content and blogs pretty much live on a steady stream of content.

There are a few blogs with such a unique perspective that I don’t think they’ll ever go away… TFM comes to mind, or something like Mysteries Internal with such a dedication to narrative and writing. I don’t think they are going away, but the few dozen of new blogs established each year that are playing around the margins… I think those could really go away. The age of “everyone has a voice” might be replaced by “everyone who has access to the mountain of content and a marketing budget has a voice.”

What do you think?  Where do you think things are headed.

PS – remiss in not mentioning the Deneki blog, which is a collection of awesomeness.

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  1. One of the cardinal sins of facebook is trying to sell someone something. Facebook pages and blogs for much the same reason are successful when they don’t try to sell you anything but simply tell a story. You can do a product review, but don’t try to sell it. With those limitations any person or any company or store can have a successful blog. I believe that commercial blogs help a company’s PR. So if someone there is willing to put in the time they are worthwhile because they can lead to indirect sales. In these days of over commercialization and information overload, we (consumers) are looking for little pools of comfort, not a sales pitch. For example, even though I can’t go fishing everyday, I can read a few fishing blogs, and see some fish porn photos on facebook and get a small “fix” of what I want, without someone trying to sell me something. So no, independent blogs will not be replaced by corporate blogs, because the independent blogs tend to give us more of what we really want, with no sales push.

  2. Well, I think things will evolve. I’ve always been intrigued by the possibility of running a blog for an industry player just because of the sheer amount of content available… think about it… all the pictures you could have, all the people you could talk to, all the suppliers, all the guides on your pro-program, the lodge owners the fans… it is a staggering amount of content to pull from. I even tried approaching a few companies several years back, but they were mostly oblivious to what I was talking about and nothing went anywhere.

    No one really likes being sold to, I agree with your point. I think the way companies use blogs will evolve though. Even this Sage piece is more of a “if you go, make sure to bring your sunscreen” kind of a Fly Fisherman magazine type article as opposed to something from the Drake.

    Look at the Skinny Water Culture blog – – it is not overly selling… that’s not what it is about and because of that it is much more of a delight to read. I think others will catch on… realizing that you don’t have to talk about the gear as much as you need the gear to be the background of the story.

    I think that pitch is hard for a company that runs along traditional lines. You have things like “cost of customer acquisition” and “lifetime value” that are very, very hard to suss out of something as ethereal as “blog readership.” You either get it, or you don’t. Most haven’t gotten it yet and I may be very presumptuous to think I have.

    I do find it interesting though.

  3. Bjorn,

    As you know that blogging full time requires a ton of time and dedication. I guess those folks do not have the same kind of passion as you and a few others. I also, and maybe you, love to write. That plays a big role in our blog. Providing information in the same perspective as a beat writer for a sports team is our goal. Then all the other stuff you would expect in a blog, product reviews, fishing images, fun…all require time Bjorn.

    That is why I believe that industry blogs are slow to come to the plate. They do not understand that the information train lives on the I-Net. While surprising that they do not participate I am not surprised that the content is lacking. Folks who fish full time should provide some respite from everyday battles. And those in the industry must not fish, even part time. So if you do not have the content, you do not have a blog worth reading.

    As you know, the number of full time blogs is short. The list of longstanding full timers is even shorter. It really is a major time consumer and I do not believe that they want to provide free information. They do not participate in that manner at all.

    So, no the industry,as of yet, will not take over. Although I wish they would at least participate more.

    Thanks BOTB. You rock and appreciate your content.

    Squeeky Oar Lock

  4. Timely question. I think Mark makes a great point with the “selling stuff” aspect. No one, really, wants to read about gear….but they will read about adventures people have with that gear. Selling the story (the same principle applies to conservation writing, too). I think Patagonia, for instance, is a stellar example of this. From their films to their new publishing division — they never really tell you to buy their stuff, but nevertheless, you want to. 😉

    Your point: “The age of “everyone has a voice” might be replaced by “everyone who has access to the mountain of content and a marketing budget has a voice.”

    Indeed, and I see this already happening in publishing. Self publishing is a grand thing unless you don’t have the thousands to front for a book. It’s touted as “giving everyone a voice” but really, it is giving those who can afford to have a voice a voice. I suppose it was bound to happen, and will probably as you predict, bleed over into company/brand blogs – however I think that going back to Mark’s point, they will only make individual blogs irrelevant if they do it “right.” And even then – we all know how much energy it takes to write good, honest, interesting stories – and the return on them is something you can’t really measure. So a company hiring someone to create that sort of content? I don’t see it happening any time soon.
    In the end, I think individual blogs will always be. Perhaps there will be fewer of them, but they will always be there…and perhaps the competition of “professional” blogs will make us all the better for it.

    *also, many thanks for the good words!

  5. Interesting response above Bjorn…you and I were both at the Reno IFTD Blogging Roundtable and the SAGE Blogger was there. I thought what a great job and he must be sitting in the catbird seat. But, as that fella stated, it is not as rosy as it may appear. Handcuffed I’m sure. But, it would seem to me to be the perfect spot for a fellow. Lots of the stuff you stated above…lots of fun. But, it is for not. They, industry blogs, will have to sort this out if they want to play in the public blogging and information arena.

    Mark/Squeeky Oar Lock

  6. Another thought that crept up — Take Redington, for example. They are doing a fantastic job of getting their gear in the hands of bloggers. For reviews, sure, but I think they’ve also realized that just having it seen and be seen on the water….is a great marketing strategy. Smart, if you ask me!

  7. Great topic … Like you, I’ve noticed the “company blog” making some inroads, particularly Orvis’ blog, which is run by two real pros to begin with–guys with past editorial and writing experience. That said, I think us “indies” out there provide something unique, something that’s not “bought and paid for” by product sales (whether that’s real or not, I’m sure it’s perceived–I mean, the lack of editorial leeway, alone, should keep most folks tuned into their favorite independent blogs).

    I think what might become the norm in the coming years–and this may, or may not, be in the best interest of the craft–is more of the team blogs out there, like Buster or Chi Wulff, etc. This approach allows for more content, varied content and, if there’s anything strategic about it, better content.

    Those of us who go it alone and have some staying power (Eat More Brook Trout has been up and running for almost four years!) have likely arrived at the acceptable investment of time (and money–I pay every year for my domain name) with the understanding that we likely won’t make much, if any, scratch along the way. I think this is the “for the love of the game” approach–we blog because it’s a way for us to be connected to the craft without actually being on the water… others among us simply love to write and still others among us write very well, or shoot quality video or post podcasts… we’ve found a niche that lets us do what we love to do.

    I guess my take on it is that industry blogs will have some credibility, and they’ll have reach, but the indie blogger who just does it for the fulfillment it provides… we aren’t going anywhere.

    Now… I guess we could talk about being more strategic as a group of folks… I suppose we could “take the blogosphere” by storm if a handful of the higher-profile blogs were to coordinate, create a singular outlet with a dozen or so voices posting daily and connecting to thousands… and I’ve been tempted a time or two to try and pull that off…

    But it always comes back to “What’s in it for me?” That’s the question bloggers either have to come to grips with or simply get over. Your blog is your online writing resume–if you’re lucky enough to collect a loyal readership, it’s probably because you’ve had staying power, been a good, frequent poster and engaged with others. THAT’S where the industry blogs won’t be able to go…

    Great topic… my thoughts, as you can see, are all over the place. Thanks for making me think today.


  8. I agree with all of the above. As for the corporate blogs, having been in advertising for many years, I see companies reaching out to social media groping for a solution to the bottom line problem from the accountants. How do we justify this in terms of sales (money) for our owners or shareholders? As mentioned above it takes a real time commitment to make it work. Companies like Orvis see the long term benefit of the good will public relations this media inspires. When other companies catch on to this difficult to measure benefit, we may see more corporate blogs.

  9. Yeah Mark, I remember hearing you talk about the business impact your blog has had… I had no idea and that was a wonderful thing to hear. Inspiring, really. Keep up the good work.

    I am sure that it must be an interesting position to be in… handcuffed with a mountain of goodness just out of reach. How you employ a blog as a gear maker is an interesting question. When you have a destination, I think it is easier as you can just convey your attachment to Place.

    Erin, yeah, Redington has done a great job (Backbone Media has executed on that, really) of getting the gear out there that gets in the stories and then they can point to others talking about them, as opposed to talking about themselves. Somehow that works much better. I’ve fished a fair amount of Redington gear over the last 3 years because they have been such willing partners. They are doing well on the PR front. Hope it is turning into revenue somewhere down the line.

    Patagonia is frustrating for me. So much of their content is about their other areas… rock climbing, surfing, hiking… fly fishing is the red headed stepchild of the bunch. I find myself glazing over when I see Patagonia stuff because it is about 20:1 that it will be someone hanging off a rock wall as opposed to someone throwing a tight loop. I don’t rock climb. I’m not about to start. I fish. That’s all. I think it is the same problem that Orvis has, to a degree. They make great gear, but then they also make red pants with elephants on them… for adults.

  10. There are a few blogs with such a unique perspective that I don’t think they’ll ever go away.

    These are the types that I frequent. They are the blogs offered by folks who are doing it for the love of the sport or the written word or the beauty of the experience. They are uniquely inspired. Sadly, they are also not the ones making a living at it so we are left at the mercy of their uncertain longevity.

    Give me simple and heartfelt, something the industry blogs don’t do particularly well.

  11. I’m now dipping my toe into three different blogging styles: my personal site, with mostly original content; an aggregating site, sharing content (videos, excerpts of news, etc) and now an “industry blog” for CCG.

    I’ll be honest: it isn’t always easy for any of them. For my site, it’s trying to have a sufficient amount of interesting shit to say, for the aggregator site, it’s having fresh content in timely fashion that hasn’t been shared around the web like a virtual doobie. And for the industry site, trying to track down guys who tie flies, guide, fish, work real jobs, have families, etc, is, like I wrote the other day, like trying to herd cats.

    BUT…that being said. I like it, and I like putting the effort in to see it pay off in people dropping a comment or sharing it or whatever.

  12. I think it is hard NOW, but then again… a few years ago “now” didn’t include any social media and before that people didn’t even have iPhones (the horror!). It may be hard to track people down because sharing those stories is not part of their “normal.” At some point, that will change and it will be easier to find the content, I’d think. <<< wild speculation and crystal balling going on.

  13. I’m not so sure this in an apt analogy but I’ve always equated fly fishing blogs with the early 80s punk DIY ethos. Maybe not in lifestyle or temperament but in the spirit of pursuing something you love outside the mainstream.

    Maybe a more apt way to characterize the fly blogosphere is like a bunch of people having bonfire sessions in a digital format. There’s the one who gets too drunk and crosses the line in search of crude laughs, the one who pulls out the acoustic guitar and plays whether you want to hear it or not, the one who tells such great stories that everyone else shuts up and listens, and the one who throws the butane lighter into the embers just to see what happens.

    I don’t see how you can recapture that type of interaction through a marketing lens, which is while I go to the indie blogs in the first place. I still read the industry stuff too, but for different reasons.

  14. As an actual full-time “corporate blogger,” I suppose I should weigh in here. When Orvis came to me in April 2010 to edit their fly-fishing blog (I had been freelancing since getting canned at American Angler in December ’08), it was very clear that the blog was NOT envisioned as a sales tool. I obviously won’t go into the details of company strategy, goals, etc., but Orvis already has a lot of ways to sell you stuff. They didn’t need another one.

    People are often surprised that I’ll post videos sponsored by other companies, with logos all over the place. I love that. Although is clearly an Orvis blog, it’s not a blog ABOUT Orvis. It’s about a passion for fly fishing.

    My case is sort of unique, though, because I already knew all the guys in Orvis Rod & Tackle. I live one town over from the Orvis HQ in Vermont, and over the years, I had fished with them, hung out with them, etc. Steve Hemkens and I used to play guitar together at open mics at local bars, way before I worked for Orvis. So I knew what they were all about–hardcore fly fishing and hunting–and they knew what I was all about. I’m not sure that mutual trust would have been the same at any other company.

  15. Marshall Cutchin

    It ‘s easy to forget what “independent” journalism is all about when it comes to providing reliable information. Not that “content marketing” by brands doesn’t have an important role in communicating ideas and info, but they can’t fill the need for balanced coverage and idea generation the way independently directed media can.

    Consumers are much more savvy than we (in the media business) often give them credit for. A brand blog is just that–a vehicle to help sell product. More companies should be doing it, not only because they are constantly creating useful info that doesn’t have a way to get out there, but because it supports the credibility of their brand. But anyone who thinks they will fool the buying public by pretending to be independent will eventually come under the scrutiny of wise accountants, I think. Many companies have tried and failed to use FB and Twitter as ersatz distribution channels to market product via content and have completely failed. Patagonia’s content platform works because they are selling a message–they admit that they want to convert you. Phil’s work at Orvis achieves the same result: it says “We’re nice, knowledgeable people who want to help you.” But they are still company messages.

    Here’s a related something that is worth reading: It’s largely about social media, but for most companies their blog and their FB/Twitter content is one and the same. In short, generating and giving away content by itself doesn’t sell product. You have to provide genuine value: do something that no one else is doing, create a voice that no one else has, have some way to find out what it is that folks are willing to commit to.

    I think the rise in content marketing has a lot to do with the collapse of the journalism economy. The bad part of that is that writers (not to mention photographers) have seen their work get commoditized. The upside–if you’re willing to go there–is that people who write are more motivated by real and idiosyncratic purposes. That may be why you see some very clever and inventive stuff happening–and why it wouldn’t have happened 30 years ago when “giving it away for free” seemed absolutely nuts. Corporate blogging doesn’t have to be lifeless, but on the other hand it’s hard–and perhaps wrong–to take creative risks on the company dime. That leaves a pretty hard line in the sand when you think about it.

  16. Interesting topic (obviously by the number of replies already). From the basic level reader perspective, one thing I haven’t seen mentioned is the time factor – both to read a bunch of blogs and the timeliness of the information. I’m retired so I probably have more than the average working schmuck and I cannot find the time to read more than a couple blogs on a regular basis. And the lenghtier the post the less likely I am to read it all. My second point is relavent to gear posts. Unless the info is posted at the same time as I am needing that gear, there’s a very good chance I won’t remember it when the time comes and I actually do need the gear. So one thing bloggers can do is install some sort of search capability for their archives. Maybe they already do and me being an old fart I’m not up to speed with the latest technology. Maybe it’s not a big deal either way because old farts aren’t the major market bloggers are trying to attract. Regaredless, it is fascinating to watch how the latest technology is influencing marketing and sales.

  17. Well said Marshall, I’d plus one it if I could.

  18. People actually read blogs? I thought they just looked at pictures and played stupid videos online.

    Companies can blog all they want…heck I encourage them to create good content. It’s better than crappy content, right?

    It all depends on what the motivation of the reader is. No offense Phil Monahan, I’m not sure the last time I visited the Orvis blog. Same for pretty much any other “brand” out there doing it unless you want to draw a line from Moldy Chum to ReelPure.

    I read fishing blogs (big & small) to discover & make “connections” with folks like me… the guy who gets to go fishing maybe 3 times a month at best…juggles a crappy job with raising a temperamental 6 year old…and has pretty much the ugliest double haul you’d ever see. Sometimes you even meet these other bloggers face to face and share the water with them. Would you ever do that with a corporate “entity?” Doubt it.

    I think quite a few of us feel/behave like that. A lot? Beats me, but probably enough to keep the little blog just relevant enough.

    It might be for the best if brands get better at blogging and stop pursuing indy bloggers to push their products anyway…it gets tiresome to see positive review after positive review for free stuff. I mean how many pair of Sonic Pro waders did Redington hand out last year? I don’t know because I tuned out any blog post that mentioned them after I got to #73.

  19. By the way… I’m likely going to get a pair of those Sonic Pro’s (buying them) due to leaky, crappy waders that I keep getting very wet in… so, their push must be working.

  20. Blogs are just modern day ‘zines. ‘Zines were invented years ago to capture the “soul” of the sport/music/subculture the corporate mags either ignored or didn’t understand. I think Tom Bie recognized that many years ago with The Drake.

    I think it’s pretty gutsy for people like Far Bank (via Kara) to send their products out to independent bloggers – because they have zero control over the output or overall message and the standards of quality aren’t always on par with hard copy journalism. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. Far Bank (and others) have shown a lot of integrity by requesting brutally honest reviews based on substantial use of their products. I honestly don’t expect very many other companies to embrace that philosophy, unless they take it ‘in house’ with guest or staff bloggers.

    I think Phil’s/Orvis’ blogging approach is spot on – i.e., embracing the medium and culture without any sales push, yet still contributing to the “front of mind” goal (whether intentional or not).

    As for indie bloggers fizzling out and going away – I think it depends upon the blogger, their expectations and their motivations. Blogs will only capture peoples’ attention if they give readers an opportunity to go on an interesting vicarious journey. Some bloggers fish a lot and capture some really great content on film/video and in writing. Those are the ones with staying power. Take, This River is Wild, for example. Those guys produce better content than most of the glossy fly fishing mags.

  21. TRIW is in my top 5 favorite blogs, for sure. Also big SWC fans, supporters. That is something to watch.

  22. As a longtime indie and as someone who’s launched four blogs (I still manage one organization’s online presence), I’d guess the indie blogs could find themselves outclassed in resources, traffic and reach, but probably never in reader engagement.

    Keep in mind the fly fishing market is not massive; blogs (like any mass media endeavor) require a certain scale before they make sense. That limits the potential audience of an indie blog, but also makes it more difficult to justify an investment.

    The things that happen to blogs in big markets (ad support, enough traffic to support multiple writers, outright purchase, etc) probably won’t happen in fly fishing.

    I have noticed fly fishing’s players seem to have discovered the indie blogs (hey, I *liked* the Redington sonic waders), which is a stark contrast to the Way Things Used To Be, when Orvis and Patagonia seemed like the only companies who knew the Internet existed.

    I’d also suggest the best indie blogs are successes because they’re largely personal, which is tough to slip into a company blog. It’s been interesting to watch the new wave of biz blogs try to find a voice, and I expect a couple will.

    With Facebook apparently trying to diminish the value of a Like on a Facebook fan page (engagement numbers on Facebook are dismal, Facebook wants you to pay to promote your posts to compensate), I think the company blog (and email) are seeing their stock rise (again) in the marketing world.

    It’s just not as easy as it looks.


  23. As yet another longtime indie (5 years and some by the calendar with a couple of short interruptions) who now has some responsibility in helping a regional fly shop carve a new presence online, I’m another one who still believes the indie fly fishing blogs reflect the heart of fly fishing much more so than the corporate blogs.

    Tom’s comments above dealing with the size and scale issues relative to the fly fishing audience are something the big players have to deal with (businesses still have to ‘balance the budget’ despite how unpopular that concept might be in some circles today); creating readable, compelling content ain’t easy and requires a sizable commitment of time and effort.

    We read indie blogs for a host of reasons, but mainly because we relish the glimpse into people’s passion for fly fishing – passion that is expressed via some remarkable creative channels. Fly fishing’s digital media scene is chock full of great content producers, with more surfacing all the time, though sort through enough dross and you’ll find some very, very well written prose now and again as well.

    John and Mark at Headhunters in Craig have done very well personalizing their shop’s blog to reflect their passion for the Missouri via posts that are (most often) short, sweet and to the point. I keep reading those guy’s blog because they make me smile most days. Makes you wonder why more shops don’t take notice.

    Finally, as someone advising a ‘business entity’ on the highest and best use of their limited marketing dollars, I’d suggest TC’s call on Facebook is right on the money given the ‘experts’ I read (Facebook engagement numbers are indeed dismal…) and permission-based marketing (email) is making a comeback IF compelling content can be delivered consistently, much easier said than done.

    Great topic and comment stream.

  24. Brent is spot on. As is Peter (as is everyone else, but they caught my eye) Blogs are the new zines and many bloggers harken to that old feeling of DIY. No more no less. We are the people who have both a passion for fly fishing and it’s culture and a weird need to talk about it or show it via photography. You can’t throw money at that and hope you get readers in the end. I’m only coming up on one full year of blogging but it’s a damned job. I’ve already seen too many promising ones come and go. If you do it, it’s not for money because there is none. The random gear you can review and keep is awesome and offsets some costs, but domain/hosting plus advertising stuff like stickers, shirts, and whatever else with your name on it costs money. Money you will likely never recoup and you will also lose on shipping too. So it’s something for the dedicated few I guess. I don’t see corporate blogs ever taking over, no matter the amount of evolving. It would take an entire change in the the internet for that to happen. If that day did come, I’d go rogue and buy a pad of paper. They’d find me throwing paper full of scribbles at random fly fisherman yelling, “read my crap!” Awesome topic, Bjorn.

  25. Thanks Dave. I think one interesting point a few people have made is that a good blog has some personality. If you are taking a page out of the Marketing Plan and can’t develop a unique take on things or a distinct voice, I think it is going to be a doomed enterprise from the outset. Think of those good blogs out there… you feel you know the people behind them a bit… you get a sense of the writers of the Trout Underground or Moldy Chum or Fishing Poet or Fishing Jones, Buster Wants to Fish, whatever it might be. If you come at the blog trying to be even and neutral and blend seamlessly into the overall company strategy I think you lose that distinctness.

    There’s that, and the fact that it takes a lot of time and work to find something new to talk about all the time. It takes a butt in a seat and several hours a week.

    We’ll see where it all goes.

  26. Corporate blogging and independent blogging will always be separate entities. Andrew Bennett’s blog for Deneki is still one of the best corporate blogs out there, as he regularly shares stuff I actually care to read about even while he is promoting Deneki. It has that personal feel. I have to say that the Orvis Fly Fishing Film Festival Fridays are a personal Sunday morning guilty pleasure.

    I don’t think the corporate culture will ever totally replace the personal blog. Personal blogs can have an edge of honesty that corporations will never be able to stomach. While I take Troutrageous point about Sonic-Pro’s, I’m the guy who broke them and had to write about it. And I struggle with that feeling of gratitude when a company sends me something for ‘free’ to test and write about- how can you bad mouth them? I’m reaching a point with Fontinalis Rising where I don’t want to test stuff, I don’t want to give crap away, I’ll rarely want to interview anyone, and I’m still proud to say I don’t have stickers, shirts, etc. I just want to write. If the writing is good enough, readers will come, share it via social media and it will take off. I’m not going to bribe people to read my blog.

    Independent blogs will always have a following because they are independent. How many people knew about the fantastic fishing in the crappy little streams where I live before I started writing about it? It’s that sense of adventure and spontaneity- of being able to explore someone else’s waters, see it through their lens, that makes personal blogs so interesting. When I read this blog it takes me to the totally foreign-to-me world of salt and bonefish. There will always be a high turnover rate as blogging is a lot of unpaid work- it absolutely has to be a labor of love. I’ve been suffering from what I call “blogger fatigue” as of late, but I went to a fly tyers show last weekend and had a bunch of people I didn’t know come up to me and let me know how much they enjoy the blog- It made it feel worth doing again.

    Thanks for opening up a good debate Bjorn. I enjoyed this.

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