Celebrity Bloggers and Advertisements

In The Most Popular Chinese Blogger, it was noted that the celebrity blogger Xu Jinglei has gone past the 10 million visitor mark at Sina.com in just a few months' time.  The following is the translation of a blog post by the blogger Massage Milk to explore the commercial implications for Xu Jinglei and other bloggers in general.

[in translation]

Someone is seeking out Xu Jinglei for the purpose of advertising on her blog.

Right now, Xu Jinglei has more than 10 million hits on her blog and is rapidly advancing towards the 20 million mark.  A medium-sized website probably has only that many hits.

So, from the commercial viewpoint, Xu Jinglei's blog is totally capable of taking on advertisements.  Furthermore, based upon the current circumstances, the effect will definitely be good because this will be the first time and everybody will be paying attention.  The first mover will have an advantage.  What will the effect of advertising on a blog, especially for a Sina.com blog and even more especially for a Sina.com celebrity blog, mean for the IT industry?  Afterwards, it will be very interesting to see what chain effects will result.  I very much hope that Xu Jinglei will accept this offer.

Presently, the largest problems faced by blogs are two things: one is copyright and the other is profit.  How these two problems are solved will be a key issue for the future development of blogs.  As of today, there is no good proposal (in the IT circle, their language is a 'model').  Since Xu Jinglei's blog has attained a stage where it can assume responsibility for its own profits and losses, it is natural that her blog should begin to carry advertisements.  The significance is not about how much money Xu Jinglei can make (and she does not need this money), but whether her blog can help the IT sector figure out a new direction.

According to reports, Xu Jinglei is hesitant because it may upset some of those people who visit her blog regularly.  I feel that this is not a concern, because the extremists are a minority.  Only one person wrote a letter of rupture to Faye Wong, and people continue to buy the records of Faye Wong.  Getting back to this, if you won't let your idol earn some money, then you are a "selfish" fan.  Besides, if someone invests money for advertisements on Xu Jinglei's blog, it should be the glory of Xu Jinglei as well as her fans.

I felt that the key problem is not with the fans, but rather Sina.com.  When Sina.com rounded up all the celebrities around to start blogs at Sina.com, they sweet-talked more than a hundred celebrities.  If we carefully analyze these Sina.com recruiters, they basically conned and deceived people into starting blogs because they never said anything like "Let us sign a contract" or anything such.  It was a friendly invitation.  So some of these celebrities had signed on without even figuring out what was going on.  They may not have noticed that as soon as they put up their blog posts, their contractual relationship with Sina.com had already begun.

Very few people have paid attention to the Sina.com Service Agreement.  When one registers, Sina.com will remind you to read this agreement (99% of the people will not read the agreement).  Basically, every website has  a similar kind of agreement.  When nothing is happening, this agreement is just an empty document; when things go wrong, one discovers that this is an unfair and unreasonable set of conditions.  The reason why this agreement has not caused any complications is that netizens have not noticed it before or else if something happens, there is nothing that the netizens can do.  Nobody worries about this agreement.  This agreement is actually an "Agreement for the Internet service to evade responsibility."  This is not only at Sina.com, but all the websites in the world have these kinds of agreements.

In this agreement, I read the following requirement: "For any content that the user went through Sina.com services (including but not restricted to forums, BBS, news commentary, personal space) to upload on Sina.com for the public, the user agrees that Sina.com has the worldwide permissions and rights to freely, permanently, irrevocably, non-exclusively and completely use, duplicate, edit, revise, publish, translate, create derivative products, disseminate, interpret and/or exhibit such content, in total or in part, and/or collect such content into previously known or later designed work in any form, media or technology."  These celebrities have actually given the content rights to Sina.com.  Although Sina.com does not have exclusive rights, they can use it at will without cost.  That is to say, when Yu Qiuyu writes a serious travelogue on his Sina.com blog, it is not different from an ordinary netizen posting a simple word of approval on the Sina.com forum, because they are both free works.  If Sina.com should publish a book based upon the blogs from these celebrities, the latter will have no say.

I have carefully looked over the Sina.com Service Agreement again.  There is nothing inside about Sina.com users making money through the Sina.com platform and how such money is divided.  In order to prevent Sina.com from revising its agreement, I have saved a copy of this agreement on my blog just in case.  Perhaps one day Sina.com may add a clause such as "For any direct or indirect profits obtained through the Sina.com platform (including but restricted to forums, BBS, news commentary and personal space), Sina.com can take a fraction with the exact ratio to be determined by other agreements."

Therefore, even though the relationship between Sina.com and its celebrity bloggers seems to be just a friendly invitation, it is not contractual.  In other words, nobody can bind anyone else to anything (except for any contents forbidden by the constitution, law, regulations and the Security Administrative Penalty Rules).  But when a commercial appears, this balance is upset.

Hypothetically, if a business approaches Xu Jinglei with a million yuan for an advertisement, what will happen?  What happens next is what interests me the most.  If Xu Jinglei accepts, would Sina.com be unhappy?  You are earning money on my platform and I don't get anything.  No way.  Sina.com may want to fight.  According to the past behavior of Sina.com, if there is an advantage, they will take that advantage; if there is a big advantage, they will take that big advantage.  Once they see Xu Jinglei posting advertisements, can they pretend that they did not see it?  Obviously not.  Yet, Sina.com does not have any compelling reason to ask for money.  This is because Xu Jinglei has no obligation to earn money for Sina.com.  Was there a business contract?  No.  So why should I split my profits with Sina.com?  Sina.com might say, "I create a space in my home for you to play, but you are conducting business.  No way."  Rubbish, you invited people in here and it serves you right.  Besides, your home does not have a sign such as "no commercial people shall enter," so why can't I run my own business?  I have not even ask you for money after getting you so many customers.

Fine, let say Sina.com accepts this deal.  Will more clients go to advertise with the Sina.com celebrity bloggers?  If I am the boss at the 蓝天六必治 condom, I would definitely go and advertise with the Sina.com celebrity blogs because netizens use dirty words in their comments and the effect would be especially good.  This way, Sina.com loses.  But I believe that Sina.com would use other methods, such as fooling around with the operational procedures, to force the celebrities to hand over some of the money to Sina.com.  In the beginning, Sina.com made a big show of inviting these celebrities to start blogs and they formed a gang just like the brigands at the Water Margin.  But they did not imagine this would happen.  Who knew that Xu Jinglei would become so hot?  If those Sina.com celebrities also wrote blogs as naturally, maybe they would all break the 10 million mark.

If Sina.com insists on a share of the profit, I think that Xu Jinglei should not refuse.  She would not want to work at their infantile level, and she would agree with Sina.com quickly.  If this matter were leaked to the outside world, it would be a virtue for Xu Jinglei but what would it be for Sina.com?

Therefore, I can imagine that Sina.com will not support the celebrity bloggers carrying advertisements, because it is trapped.  The best deal is to quickly "revise the constitution" on those articles that evade responsibility and elevate this to web 3.0.  This hypocritical approach is an insult to the celebrities, and then what?  The IT elite should think up some ideas for Sina.com.  If Sina.com was magnanimous, it should support the celebrity bloggers running their own businesses without taking a cent.  Maybe even more people will go there to start blogs, and Sina.com won't need to recruit clients.  The thousands of Sina.com employees will have some spare time to correct the spelling mistakes in the articles, and that would be a contribution to the preserving the purity of the mother language.

I have not studied the profit model for blogs in detail.  But it seems a natural thing for someone to want to invest in advertisements on Xu Jinglei's blog.  This is a rule of the Internet, in which the people who profit are always a minority.

Actually, when Sina.com recruited these celebrities to start blogs, they have sowed the "seeds of trouble."  This is contrary to the voluntary behavior of netizens, and so this made the Sina.com celebrity bloggers somewhat ridiculous.  For example, if someone promotes their own recordings, books, movies on their blogs ... they promote themselves and there is nothing that Sina.com can do.  Sina.com cannot stipulate what people must or must not write.  The celebrity effect often have unanticipated effects, and it is interesting that someone wanted to place advertisements on Xu Jinglei's blog.

Actually, when Sina.com first recruited celebrity bloggers, it has set up the basis for its future commercial activities.  This is as yet not disclosed at this point, because the Sina.com people have probably not figured out how to make a profit.  But the first step was to grab the resources and then the rest becomes a lot easier.  Among the celebrity bloggers that I regularly visit, I can see the creative basis for at least seven or eight books.  Similarly, when the celebrities started their Sina.com blogs, some of them considered commercial promotions in the future.  Even though it was an invitation from Sina.com to start a blog, the parties have different commercial goals.  This is not necessarily bad, but the problem now is about how to deal with this properly so that all parties can benefit and gain.

Nobody is going to rely solely on writing blogs and carrying advertisements to earn a living, but blog ads is one form of reward for the work of the blogger.  At the same time, it is a chance to popularize this approach to gauge the effect.  Afterwards, this may provide the IT industry with certain experiences and lessons (at least, they could go and revise the articles that evades responsibility), and perhaps build a foundation for the next steps towards profitability.  Anyway, if someone wants to advertise for a cure for mental retardation on my blog, I will fully support it.

When I take taxi rides, I usually get to listen to the book commentaries by Dan Tianfang.  Before the book commentary begins, there are usually a few advertisements because Dan Tianfang has about 200 million radio listeners around the country.  That is a huge market.  Similarly, blogs are a huge market and it is up to you to develop it.

There is another problem about how the copyright problem of blogs should be handled.  If Sina.com invited Yu Qiuyu as a columnist, it would have to pay an author's fee to him.  But Sina.com invited Yu Qiuyu to be a blogger; if he writes a lot of essays, he won't get a cent.  Many celebrities (especially editors, reporters and specialist scholars in the media industry) write with vision and depth, and yet they will not earn a cent for their work.  Obviously, some people are doing it willingly, but how many people understand what is going on?  If these celebrities gradually realize, they would lose their interest in writing blogs quickly.  Sina.com may be left with the wasteland after an atomic bomb explosion.

Celebrities can obviously attract eyeballs, but celebrities can sometimes be a time bomb that will explode at some unknown moment in time.

I don't understand the business models of the IT industry, so there may be errors in what I write.  Please comment and criticize.

(New York Times)  Chinese Bloggers Grapple With the Profit Motive.  By David Barboza.  March 6, 2006.

Last October, a colleague persuaded Xu Jinglei, a Chinese actress and filmmaker, to start writing her own Web log.
The actress and filmmaker Xu Jinglei, who won an award at the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain for directing the movie "A Letter From an Unknown Woman," also writes a popular blog.

Now, five months later, Ms. Xu, 31, is the country's most popular blogger, and her runaway success has given rise to an online debate here about the economic value of blogs and who should profit from them.

Ms. Xu's blog has already received more than 11 million visitors. She now says companies have contacted her about placing advertisements on her blog.

But Sina.com, the big Chinese Web portal that puts the blog online, says it has no plan to commercialize its celebrity blog spaces.

The discussion is one of the latest signs that blogs could eventually become a highly profitable way of musing rather than simply a lonely stage for online blathering. There are already an estimated 30 million blogs worldwide, about 2 million in China alone. But almost none of them garner significant advertising revenue, and Internet executives are still unsure if blogging will become a powerful force in online commerce.

The debate here in China was touched off a few weeks ago when Ms. Xu who is a well-known actress, screenwriter and independent film director hinted in a television interview that she might be able to cash in on her blog's soaring popularity by selling advertising on the space.

In a telephone interview this weekend, however, Ms. Xu clarified her view, saying she was open to commercial opportunities but was not sure whether placing ads next to her blog was appropriate.

"I'd like my blog to be a comparatively quiet space," she said. "If there's some very good advertising idea, I'll consider it, but there's not right now."

Many people on the Web have sided with her right to profit from her blog, but executives at Sina.com, which is based in Beijing, say they have no plans for blog ads. Sina.com, which is listed on Nasdaq, had revenue of $194 million in 2005, including $85 million from advertising; it is the sixth-most-viewed Web site in the world.

"There's no commercial use of blogs on Sina today, and whether there's going to be in the future is not clear," said Meng Xiangpeng, a company spokesman.

Sina introduced many of its celebrity blogs late last year, and they are extremely popular. Movie stars, singers and even corporate executives are now blogging and seeing their blogs as a way to reach new audiences and even, perhaps, brand themselves.

Li Yuchun, the winner of China's "American Idol"-like contest "Supergirl," has a blog; so do Wang Shi and Pan Shiyi, two real estate tycoons.

Hung Huang, an irreverent magazine publisher and media darling, started her own blog on Sina.com last Valentine's Day. Within days, she wrote somewhat critically about her ex-husband, the director Chen Kaige, and his recent martial arts fantasy film, "The Promise," which has been parodied on the Web in China.

Suddenly, Ms. Hung's blog shot up to the top spot in Sina's daily poll of the most popular blogs.

No one, however, is as popular as the elegant and intellectual Ms. Xu (pronounced Shew), who became well known here as a television and movie actress soon after she graduated from the prestigious Beijing Film Academy in 1996. Later, she began directing and producing independent films, like her 2004 remake of the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig's novel, "A Letter From an Unknown Woman," which earned her the best director award at the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain.

On her blog, Ms. Xu writes about her daily life, posts photos of meals, lists her favorite flower (the tulip), colors (black and white), and movies, and muses about philosophy, filmmaking and the economics of blogging.

"I may have some business sense, but very limited," she conceded in a recent blog entry.

"The only thing I'm concerned is to be a good writer. How to develop an economic model for the blog? I will leave such a confusing question to my colleagues and the I.T. elite."

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