This site has been available at this web address for nearly four years. Before that, I had a eponymous blog at a different URL for about three years. And during that whole time maybe 100 people actually read anything I’d written with enough attention that they left a substantial response. So I think we can call me an expert in writing blogs that people don’t read.
All this time I’ve had blogs that no one reads, I’ve imagined that a time would come when they would start being my meal ticket (or at least stop being a hole in my pocket). I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person on the internet who’s ever nurtured this hope.
A lot of the reasons no one reads your website come down to your expectation that they inevitably will. While it’s easier than ever to be published (have your words widely accessible), that very fact means it’s harder than ever to rise above the din of the published corpus and actually gain a substantial audience willing or able to pay your bills.
This site, unfocused as it is, makes that problem harder. While my lack of focus is strategic—I want to cover many topics because I feel it makes for both better reading and writing—the effective difference between it and the just-starting-out ramblings of most new blogs is nil. The problem with a scattered focus is that on the rare occasion that someone stumbles in from the internet and finds something they like, they’re given little assurance that anything they see in the future will be like that thing they liked. Consequently, most sites that manage to support writers financially are focused niche sites that do one thing and do it at least a little bit well.
Single-authorship is another problem. Once I’ve told everyone I know who might be interested about my site’s existence, my word of mouth growth is just about exhausted. Magazine style sites, which relentlessly publish new authors, have an automatic and constant source of new traffic directed there by people who just saw their contribution published. (This is also the reason interview sites do abnormally well.)
I’d be remiss if I went too far without mentioning quality. While I’m proud of some of the things on this site, I don’t think they’d be published in volume by anyone. And not all of the stuff I’ve published here makes me proud. Certainly plenty of websites are able to persist on bad writing, but it’s despite it that people read them.
More than that, I publish long text-only pieces without any pictures to entice people to read. This may work well for the well-heeled likes of the New Yorker or London Review of Books, but out here on the wilds of the internet, a boring looking site (whose opposite is a visually interesting site, not a busy one) is unlikely to convince many people to stay around long.
I think I first heard it from Austin Kleon (if it was him he probably stole it), but for years echoing around in my heads has been the undeniable—and undesirable—truth that “No one wants to read what you write.” It’s not that they’re jerks. People are just busy and won’t care about things you write without a good reason to.
Old school publishing largely relies on the obstacles to publication as the way to entice people to read. A piece that was published and on an interesting topic is sufficient inducement to get readers in a world of scarcity. In the huge cornucopia of the internet, it rarely is. So if that’s all you’re offering, you’ll probably be writing for yourself (and your twenty closest friends) for the rest of your life.
Which isn’t a problem. There’s much to recommend writing beyond the remote possibility of fame and fortune. But if that’s what you’re looking for, you need to start offering approachable and focused content that people want to look at and have reason to. And if you won’t do that, welcome home to obscurity.
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