Supplying into the Void: The Unusual Characteristics of the Market for Blog Posts

Every day, content is posted all over the internet that receives little to no attention. Every day, another hopeful blogger posts another product review or anecdote or creative endeavor, only to check their blog stats and find no record of visitors. And yet, many bloggers just keep posting.

This is not a plea for more readers to come to this blog (although that certainly would not be unwelcome), but a simple statement of fact. The market for blog posts is not in equilibrium; there is a surplus, and it grows larger by the day.

How is this possible? Why does this market not tend toward equilibrium?

First, the market should be clarified a little. Blog writers are the producers and blog readers are the consumers. Blog posts are the product and they cost $0 to read (to make things simple, assume a narrow definition of what “blogs” are, which only includes content that is free to access, since that comprises the vast majority of blog content). Consumers should always want more of a good until marginal cost of consuming the next unit exceeds the marginal benefit. Since it costs no money to read another post, the marginal benefit to readers should always exceed the marginal cost.

Another important feature is that blog posts are a type of good known as a “public good.” Public goods are non-excludable (which means that it is difficult or impossible to stop people from using them if they are available at all) and non-rival (which means that one person’s use of them does not diminish another person’s ability to use them). These features typically lead to public goods being undersupplied in the absence of intervention (for example, government intervention in supplying public goods like parks and roads).

This, however, clearly is not the case for blogs. Many casual bloggers who read the above description of the market are probably wondering “What readers?” Field of Dreams got it wrong; if you build it, they will not necessarily come. (That is actually not how supply and demand work).

The first problem with this market is that money is not the only cost that people consider. It is a point in blogs’ favor that they are free to access, but they still cost time and effort to read.

The second problem with this market is that the barriers to entry are extremely low. This is a benefit from an equity standpoint (everyone–with access to a computer, the internet, and a working knowledge of a written language–can have a voice), but it is a problem for the market.

When barriers to entry are high, entrance into the market signals to consumers that the product is likely to be high in quality. A low quality product is not likely to make it past all of the hurdles. Take, for example, a book that has been published through a traditional publishing house. It is not guaranteed to be good (that is a value judgement, and therefore impossible to guarantee), but a consumer can trust that not only did the writer like it enough to write it, but an agent liked it enough to represent it, an editor liked it enough to select it for publication, and it has been through at least a few rounds of editing since then.

On the other hand, when barriers to entry are low, this signal no longer exists. The product could be amazing or it could be terrible, the consumer will have to look longer and harder for other signs of quality (or lack thereof). This relates back some to the first problem: time cost. Without an easy to identify signal, a consumer has to spend more time determining quality.

That only covers the demand side, however. Suppliers should always be able to respond to a shortage by shifting the supply curve to the left.

Except, in this case, there is not really a reason to supply less. Blog posts only have one price–free–so supplying a lower quantity at a higher price is not an option for producers. Plus, many writers enjoy creating content, and receive other benefits, such as writing experience, so their cost-benefit analysis must account for this. 

As long as the benefit gained from producing blog posts exceeds the cost, bloggers will keep making them–even if they are effectively supplying some of these posts into the internet void. But if producers can increase their surplus (and consumers can at least maintain their surplus) by increasing supply, why not keep supplying?

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