[Note: This post is ‘wonkish,’ a word which here means you may have to think harder than normal while reading it.]
One thing I learned at the Kauffman Economic Bloggers Forum last week is that there is angst among the professional (i.e., non-academic) bloggers about citation and re-stating the arguments of other bloggers. It was noted that, a few years back, it was common to cite other bloggers but that these days this seems to have fallen by the way-side. Indeed, now, if another blogger has blogged about an issue there is reluctance to tackle that issue.
Part of this seems consistent with my ‘dual hypothesis’ story of blogging that I articulated in my presentation to the forum. That story went as follows. Readers look to high frequency, written, commentary by bloggers in order to get their take on a particular issue. Blog writers offer a take because, at the time, no one else has offered that specific take. Once they have done so, there is no direct social value to others from re-stating that take. Hence, it is only efficient for them to blog on that issue if they have a different take.
Which gets me to the issue at hand. Suppose that there are two bloggers — Felix and Ezra — who have identical expertise and similar political views (and even appearance!). They have (starting) audiences that are comprised of a number, nf and ne, respectively, who only read one blogger and another set N who read both. These audiences can change depending upon referrals between the blogs. For instance, if Felix tells his readers to look at a particular take by Ezra, then a number, r, of them will go to Ezra for his take. So the referral changes the blog mix to nf – r, ne and N + r. If each blogger only cares about their number of readers, then this is neutral for Felix and positive for Ezra. This suggests that there are no costs to referrals. Indeed, if this worked both ways and Felix and Ezra neatly split their takes on issues then each could have a total readership of ne + nf + N (based on the starting numbers); in other words, all readers visit both blogs.
But what if the referral had a cost? For instance, suppose that Felix’s ‘exclusive’ readers don’t really like having to click through a read Ezra for that take. For instance, they came to Felix because they were expecting him to provide that take. Felix was just beaten to the punch. In this case, in the long-term, Felix loses readers, perhaps to Ezra, if he just refers his readers to Ezra’s blog. Instead, Felix could write his take (perhaps noting that Ezra came up with a similar take first) but provide enough detail to satisfy his loyal readers and not give them the inconvenience of clicking through to Ezra.
In this world, there appears to me to be a unique equilibrium whereby, regardless of who is first, both bloggers offer perhaps very similar takes on issues. Consumers then sort to be exclusive to one blogger or the other. And there is inefficiency in that both bloggers are expending effort offering similar takes. There may also be another equilibrium where one blogger is driven out of the market by the other (which is possibly efficient) but I suspect having enough consumers who are Felix or Ezra die-hards would eliminate that (perhaps because they like writing in an English accent or something).
As I mentioned, at the conference, professional bloggers were expressing a reluctance to blog where others have blogged before. They realised that some of their exclusive readers may be missing out as a result of this. That is, there was an inefficiency of missed consumption that was the cost of being efficient in non-duplicative posting. But in the light of this model, that forbearance on the part of bloggers to avoid duplication can lead to an outcome where each blogger maximizes their readership. It doesn’t appear to be an equilibrium but could be interpreted as a form of tacit collusion.