RIP DownEast Blogs

A sad day, for me at least, as word came to my inbox this morning that DownEast Magazine – a great publication which I myself have a subscription to – is making some major changes to, including the shuttering of its blogs.

For those that aren’t regular readers of DownEast’s blogworld, they maintain(ed) individual blogs for the constitutent parts of Maine’s culture. You can read a detailed focus on Fiction, Media, Nature, Politics, Food, Life and Humor, all of which are meant to document the uniqueness of Maine.

The decision by DownEast to shut down its own mini-blogosphere (which, as of yet has not been publicly announced) comes down to one thing: business. DownEast put up the blogs in the first place as an attempt to use the several sites as a way to boost traffic to the main parent site, allowing them to grow readership and sell ad revenue.

According to internal analytics, that strategy has failed. Even the most popular blogs on DownEast do not funnel traffic into the main site. Readers tend to come for the individual blog, based on the niche interest it represents, and then move on to other things. They also tend to simply subscribe to the blogs of interest via RSS feeds, which entirely removes advertising revenue from the equation.

I suppose I should apologize, as I’m one of those people that reads DownEast on my RSS reader.

At some point it appears the venture became unworkable, and the money invested into the blogs was not translating into revenue growth for DownEast as planned. The Magazine has begun the process of parting ways with its blog writers, and now plans to re-invest the money paid to them into other strategies to boost traffic and revenue.

But what is lost to DownEast in a thriving blog culture it had developed, is also lost to all of us who will no longer be the beneficiaries of what they had built. I know I personally am extremely dismayed to know that we are about to be without the media criticism of Al Diamon, without the irreverent taste of the Maine Outdoors provided by George Smith, or the analytical and insightful (if sometimes biting at yours truly) political chatter from Mike Tipping.

It is true that all three authors have other outlets to feed their thoughts to the world, so we certainly have not heard the last of any of them.  Al Diamon is a prolific writer who already has a number of columns he writes, and shouldn’t have a hard time finding a home for his specific focus on media criticism.  George Smith, too, has plenty of places to go.  And Mike Tipping, of course, has Maine Politics to fall back on, which has been for all intents and purposes dead for some time now.

This unfortunate news has highlighted something that isn’t talked about much.  Namely, that while print media is undoubtedly dying a slow and very painful death, online media has still struggled to find a winning formula for monetization that would allow for it to survive on its own.  Everyone understands that dead trees are the past and digital is the future, but with few exceptions, we have yet to find the best way to make that transition profitable.

Only two years ago, Maine had an unusually large and thriving blog culture.  The DownEast blogs were clicking on all cylinders, Tipping’s Maine Politics and Dirigo Blue gave the left wonderful resources to draw upon, and As Maine Goes and my own Pine Tree Politics provided non-stop coverage from the right.

But now, with DownEast shutting the doors on what they had built, and with both Tipping and myself so consumed by our actual jobs in politics that neither of us have the time we would like to really devote to writing about our favorite subject, the Maine political junkie is left with very few options.

The one exception (so far), of course, is what the Bangor Daily News has done to build out a more volunteer-centric blogosphere.  Wildly successful in its early life, it is probably the great hope of Maine’s evolving blog-culture.  That said, it is built almost entirely on unpaid, low-level, non-visible “labor of love” bloggers.

While that is a good model for the BDN, the jury is out on it providing Maine with a “thriving” blog culture.  As of now, I wouldn’t say it has.  There is a difference between volume of writers and posts, and influence.

As I sit here absorbing all this, it seems as good a time as any to force myself to re-engage in this arena, and begin writing again.  At the end of the day, you can always make time if you want to.  I can’t say I will write as often as I once did, but I think the time has come to step back into the game a bit.

Kudos to Gerald of Dirigo Blue and the AMG community for being the last ones of note standing.  And to the DownEast blogs, may you rest in peace.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.