Hugh Macleod, publisher of GapingVoid, is the poster child for underemployed creative types who want to find fame, fortune, success and notoriety as bloggers.
Blogging since 2003, and online since 2001, Macleod’s blog is the fourth most popular blog in Europe, second most popular in the UK, and Number 139 worldwide. Not bad for one guy writing in an English countryside cottage.
He gets “just shy of a million page views a month,” a remarkable number for a blog with 14-15,000 unique visitors a day, up exponentially from about 3,000 a day for most of last year. The edgy, often outrageous, frequently x-rated cartoons about blogging, marketing, and life that pepper his blog have earned him a virally generated, global following.
GapingVoid blog produces income since he turned Blog Cards, (business cards with his cartoons on the back,) and limited editions of t-shirts bearing his cartoons on the front, into successful ventures for himself. “I have ideas,” he says, “and I talk about them and try to turn them into reality. They all start out as little scribbles on the blog.”
His posts also have attracted consulting work. His clients are experiencing great successes also, as a result of what he calls “blogvertising: using a blog a way to spread commercial ideas (as opposed to commercial messages- and yes, there’s a huge difference).”
Blogvertising in action
In just a few months, Macleod has parlayed a $500 website for the bespoke tailor of $4000 suits, English Cut, into a “global micro-brand” with 90 percent of its sales coming from the website and blog he created for them.
For Stormhoek winery,he’s sending UK bloggers who ask a free bottle of wine, and featuring blogger reviews on a wiki he created.
He started blogging because it was “cheap and easy” and he can post what he wants, when he wants, by himself. Before his blog, he had to pay webmaster to upload each new image. “Web designers are the epitome of passive aggressive,” he says. Many of the poor souls who are dependent on web designers undoubtedly would agree. “How many web designers does it take to change a light bulb? You mean you don’t know?” he jokes.
Macleod, like most creative people, is driven by both the Sex and Cash Theory, and The HughTrain Manifesto, his rant on the new realities of marketing.
Sex & Cash + The HughTrain
The Sex and Cash Theory: “The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task in hand covers both bases, but not often. This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended.”
The Manifesto: “Product benefit doesn’t excite us. Belief in humanity and human potential excites us. … Think less about what your product does, and think more about human potential. … It’s no longer just enough for people to believe that your product does what it says on the label. They want to believe in you and what you do. And they’ll go elsewhere if they don’t. ”
Ad Agencies Authentically Clueless About Blogging
The big surprise in the mainstreaming of blogs is how utterly clueless advertising agencies are about it, Macleod says.
The ad agency business model doesn’t support blogging, he explains. “When done well, a blog is cheap and easy. Ad agencies are in biz of selling stuff that is neither. For every employee on Madison Avenue you have to sell a million worth of advertising. Fifteen percent of that is $150K. Then subtract the cost of doing business in an agency. That leaves you earning $40-50K per million in sales. You can’t do that selling websites. You gotta sell TVs.”
All of his projects “are extensions of the blog,” which is “an idea amplifier. ” People read him, he believes, because he writes “about tangible examples of how to turn blogging into sustainable careers.
Macleod thinks his success with English Cut is responsible for gapingvoid’s popularity jump. Until then, he says, he was writing about marketing theory. “Then I stopped waiting for others to hire me and just started doing it.”
Jobs Suck, Don’t They?
He’s not looking for a job anymore. “Jobs suck, don’t they?” he says. His relationship with English Cut is not an employer/employee relationship. “It is very clear. He doesn’t teach me how to market the site, I don’t try to teach him how to sew.”
Macleod left New York City behind for a tiny English village. “Rent is 15% what it was in NY,” he says. He grew up in the UK, but went to New York to pursue a Madison Avenue career. “New York stress was beginning to get to me. I thought I would just take a couple months off. And then 9/11 put that plan on hold.”
“Rent is less than a lot of people spend on Starbucks in New York. And now the global micro brand thing has kicked in, and everything I do is web enabled. There is no point in going back to Starbucks rent,” he says.
“It’s great to be 21, go live in Brooklyn; be a hipster,” he says. “Over 30 it has to be part of a very compelling business model or you’re just another guy having brunch in the West Village. I love New York and all that. But what happens to single people?”
“I probably post too much,” he says, “but it’s starting to make money comparable to what I made in New York and my rent is 15% of what it was there. I look out the window and see rhodendrum bushes in bloom.”
Ideas evolve into products
Gapingvoid’s business ventures start off as ideas and evolve into products. Before he started the Blog Card site he printed his own cards and found that people got a kick out of them. So he got a programmer to build the site, which lets people select their cartoon, pick a background and type color, put in their copy and place the order, automatically. The programmer gets a percentage of sales.
He found a young man with a very successful t-shirt business to produce his editions of 200 t-shirts. “The editions had to be limited,” Macleod says, “or why bother.”
Although they’re selling well, the Blog cards and t-shirts are done for the fun of it. “If just wanted money from readers, I would have made a lot lesser quality. Instead I decided to do them the way I want them to be and not dilute brand equity.”
How Macleod Built GapingVoid’s Audience
To promote his blog, he does some blog advertising. His ads on Adrants are an exchange. “I send readers his way and he sends readers my way. We’re about the same size.”
He “played around” with Blogads but didn’t spend a lot of money on them. To achieve name recognition, he left a lot of comments on people’s blogs, sent emails, linked to bloggers, and generally, “Got involved in the conversation.” He may, he says, “have been a bit more relentless than other people.” He also called a few people “here and there.” Including me. “I tried to talk to people to see what they were doing,” he says. “Two years ago we had a lot less to go on. In fact, a lot of people thought I was nuts when I talked about blogging.”
Macleod likes to experiment with his blog. “I don’t believe in the blogging purity laws of 1837. Purity: rhymes with obscurity. A lot of purity laws come from basic passive aggression. The whole purity thing makes people’s dicks feel bigger. Nothing more selfish in this world than a purist.”
Advice to bloggers starting out
There is some kind of quaint, silly idea that blogging is a meritocracy, he says. “The truth is that people will not spend their time on you unless they get something they want.”
“You have to have something to say, that’s given. And you have to have something else going on in your life that’s interesting. Robert Scoble works for Microsoft, that’s interesting; belle du jour the prostitute, that’s interesting. Thomas, the English cut tailor has something going on besides being a blogger. You have to have something else to write about. Update often, add comments to other blogs.”
A lot of bloggers are between gigs and are looking for ways to accelerate their journey from A to B, he says. Many had the Madison Avenue rug pulled out from under them. A blog is a great place to coalesce ideas.
“The best advice is Seth Godin’s – he said no one will read your blog unless there is something in it for them.”
Interview: Hugh Macleod of GapingVoid, Poster Child for Unemployed Creative Types Seeking Blog Fame and Fortune