In the ancient pre-Internet days, which is only ten year ago, consumers and car buffs got their information from the monthly glossy magazines and newspapers’ weekend auto sections. The new reality of always-on, instant information has changed everything – from the frequency and volume of information to the very identity of the major publishers.
One of the most prominent upstarts in online automotive journalism is a web blog, or “blog,” known as Autoblog.com. With well over 3 million monthly visitors [exact statistics are not disclosed] in less than two years, Autoblog has become one of the largest and most influential portals for buffs and buyers.
One of the amazing things about Autoblog is that it’s staffed by six part-timers, four writers and two editor-writers, who oversee the content. We spoke with John Neff, one of the editors, and asked him why he thinks Autoblog has become such a phenomenon in such a short time.
AIADA: Why do you think people come to Autoblog?
John Neff: Two reasons, really. One is the constant flow of information -- when we do 30 posts a day every half hour starting at 7 a.m. and ending at 9 p.m., people hit it up at work when they get there, they hit it up on their break, they hit it up before they leave work and they hit it up when they go home. One person can visit it half a dozen times a day and then they visit before they go to bed. These people who buy the larger car magazines, they can’t wait every month for the information to come out, they want it when it happens.
The second reason people come to Autoblog is that it’s a lot of unfiltered information. We can put our comments there, we can frame it any way we want, but we’re going to give you all the information we get. When we go to an auto show, within two hours of the press conference our live shots are there, all of the press shots and the complete press release is there on the site. We’re not going to sit there and pick out the information we think our readers want to read, they’re going to get all of it and we can do that because we don’t have to worry about what it costs to print on paper. We can put as much up there as we can stuff and it doesn’t cost us anything.
AIADA: Can you describe Autoblog’s editorial approach?
John Neff: Autoblog’s editorial approach is interesting in that it is a blog, and while that scares a lot of automakers because they think we might be unprofessional, we might be biased, we might fly off the handle if we’re having a bad day, none of that’s true. We’re very professional but the advantages of being a blog is that you don’t have to be a perfect writer -- you don’t have to write a magnum opus for every article.
AIADA: Do car buyers visit the site?
John Neff: We’re not like an Edmund’s in the sense that people would necessarily search us out for that, but if you type the name of a car in Google, chances are Autoblog is going to be in the top five hits and we get a lot of traffic from people doing research. You can hop on Autoblog and type in a car and get all the posts -- any news concerning that car -- so it’s a great way to research a car they’re interested in.
And we do the Autoblog garage reviews which are the media vehicles and we do it differently than a magazine is going to do it. We usually do three posts on a media vehicle during the week we have it, usually a post on Monday, a post on Wednesday and a post on Friday, and since people can leave comments on our posts, after we do our first article people can leave comments and it influences the way we do the second article. We answer questions so if somebody says ’take a picture of that,’ we take a picture of that and let them see it. So it has that level of interactivity that other mediums don’t have and for some reason a lot of other auto sites don’t take advantage of the fact that you can respond to your readers.
AIADA: Do you think that interactivity is a big factor in your success?
John Neff: Absolutely, the whole idea is to promote discussions and a blogger doesn’t go around posing necessarily as an expert although we like to think we know more than the average person. But if I print something and it’s wrong I know immediately because there’s probably five thousand engineers sitting at all the various automakers who are going to correct me in the comments immediately.
So that’s another facet of a blog -- I’m not going to say we fact check as much as a magazine because we’re posting too fast, but even if we make more mistakes our mistakes are corrected faster so that factual information gets on the site anyway. So readers become really good resources for the research because the people who comment are experts and become part of the editorial themselves.
AIADA: Is there a downside to that interactivity?
John Neff: I learned the hard way when I started that you have to have a thick skin, because if you’re commenting on something [its our discretion if we want to put our opinion in] but if we do so that makes us part of the conversation and people will either bash us in the comments and call us stupid or people will deal with us. I can say my opinion so that opportunity makes it completely different from other kinds of automotive sites.
AIADA: Where do you get your information?
John Neff: We go at such a fast pace -- we’re searching like gluttons for content and we’re going to find it in the major places, like we’ll find article in Auto Week and we’ll find an article in Inside Line and we find them the most obscure places, and I think that adds a whole other level to it. You can find all the major news like the GM-Delphi buyout, but you can also find the most obscure car from Thailand that just launched and those are the things you don’t usually get to see, and the traditional magazines don’t have the space on paper to do those things.
AIADA: Any additional thoughts on the blog phenomenon?
John Neff: As a blog, with the automakers sometimes I have to educate them, because that scares them. They think of guys in their pajamas writing in their basement -- Autoblog and all the Weblogs Inc. blogs are professional blogs -- we are doing this from home, but at the same time we either have a passion for the subject or some of us are actually trained, educated and skilled in the subject.
One of my writers is an engineer, another one is a Motorsports expert, myself and the other co-lead, Chris Paukert, we both come from backgrounds in auto journalism, so we aren’t some guys in a basement doing this. We try to assemble teams who not only have a passion for it but are also knowledgeable about the subject. It’s not my job to take down a car because I don’t like it. I treat it just like a writer at Motor Trend would, I want to find something good in every car and I want the companies to succeed so I’m going to give every car a fair shake regardless of whether I like that style of car or that company.