A blog as a tool of expression is supposed to be an equalizer. The problem is that not all blogs in China are created equal. Most have drawn a few thousand hits a day, but a few have attracted a disproportionately larger number of eyeballs.
Celebrity blogs are the most obvious example. Xu Jinglei, a movie star-cum-director, is said to have the most widely read blog in the whole country, with 20 million accumulated hits since it was launched in Sina last October 25. Other big-name entertainers have followed suit, but many of those are operated as a public relations platform and the postings are nothing but press releases like those fed to fanzines.
There is another type of celebrity blog: The blogger builds his or her name not from previous media exposure, but from blog writing itself. They are the true stars of the blogosphere, some claim.
Hong Bo writes a blog called Keso, which focuses on the high-tech industry. He browses hundreds of blogs and websites a day and voices opinions on the latest happenings in the business. On an average day, Keso gets 20,000 readers.
Many of Hong's articles and blurbs criticize corporate moves. When he wrote disparagingly of Sohu's strategy, he got a call of complaint from the portal site. Yet he doesn't mind offending bigwigs of the business. It's one of the advantages of writing a blog, and that is extra latitude, he says.
Hong is editor-in-chief of Donews, an information technology community and media website. However, he sees a subtle difference between the site he supervises and his own one-man operation. He wouldn't post his Keso pieces on Donews.
Blogs such as Keso tend to be written by professional journalists who are carving out a special niche in their realm. The writers are fully aware of, and mostly abide by, journalistic ethics, yet at the same time gently push the envelope. These blogs, with frequent updating and throngs of readers, are sometimes called the "me media" versus "mass media."
The "star blogs" are run by media people, says an observer of the blog scene, who counts Keso as a media platform. Hong admits it, "but it is only one of the functions, and I can also be very personal in my blog."
Massage Milk is another popular blog by a media professional, Wang Xiaofeng of Sanlian Life Weekly. He devotes one or two hours to it daily. His readers have left comments to the effect that his blog is much more fun to read than the magazine he works for.
Yet, Wang doesn't see his blog as a potential media outlet, not even a column. "My blog is the place where I can talk about whatever," he said, explaining his refusal to turn it into a print media column.
While most bloggers are happy to get a piece of rent-free online real estate, the highly visible and visited blogs with daily hits of tens of thousands or more have raised the question of profit participation. Why should bloggers offer their knowledge and insight free of charge, asked some, while blogging companies reap all the financial benefits?
A Sina executive revealed that his company was considering some form of profit-sharing for bloggers such as Xu Jinglei.
But most people disagree. For one thing, blogging sites are not rolling in the big dough yet. For another, at the advertising rate of US$2 per 1,000 visitors, a blog with 10,000 daily readers, such as his, would bring in only US$30 each day.
Hong Bo's Keso was reportedly the first blog to accept advertising, but he ended the practice three months later.
High-traffic bloggers tend to make money through other means. Xu Jinglei and Wang Xiaofeng have compiled books from their blogs. Some young women have parlayed their provocative poses into endorsement deals and tabloid careers.
Most professional bloggers have enviable jobs. "I don't begrudge blogging sites making money out of it," says Hong. "What I get is extra leeway and more interaction with my readers."