The Effect of Money on Blog Content

There was a paper presented at the NBER‘s Economics of Digitization conference that I went to that you guys may find interesting. Ad Revenue and Content Commercialization: Evidence from Blogs by Monic Sun and Feng Zhu examines blogs that capture revenues from ads displayed next to their content and found that

. . . popular content increases by about 13 percentage points on participants’ blogs after the program [to share in advertising revenues] takes effect. This increase can be partially attributed to topics shifting toward three domains: the stock market, salacious content, and celebrities. We also find evidence that, compared to nonparticipants, participants’ content quality increases after the program takes effect.

Put differently, people who choose to monetize their blogs by allowing advertisements on their sites post different — more popular — content on their blogs than before they joined the program. They also post more “sticky” content, e.g. content that led to more bookmarks by browsers, or what the authors term”higher quality” content compared to nonparticipants.

This is an intriguing result, but I would caution that the paper is still in its “working version” phase, meaning that it has not been peer-reviewed and published and so will change substantially as the authors revise their work. Moreover, it’s not clear that the money from the ads is what’s driving the bloggers’ modified behavior rather than some unobservable (to the researchers) factor that led the bloggers to both join the ad-revenue sharing program and write differently. The authors attempt to address this problem by the use of some instrumental variables (IVs), but the appropriateness of the choice of IVs is the proverbial beauty in the eyes of the beholders. In the case of research papers, the beholders that count that the peer referees and they have not spoken. So stay tuned, and in the meanwhile, think of this as an interesting factoid fit for generating conversation (or a blog post) if nothing else (but potentially something else).

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