Chris Blattman

2014: The annual report

Every year about this time, I escape from either work or family obligations to thank everyone for reading, and of course navel gaze a little, reporting back what happened in the blog in the past year. Also, I have a few upcoming changes to report.


For the first few years of the blog, readership grew. the last three years have stayed pretty steady, at about 1.1 million page views a year, or about 3000 a day. This seems like a ridiculous amount even to me. It might help to know that a large chunk of these are 3-second visits. So there are a lot of people coming through from Twitter or Google search and saying, “this is definitely not what I wanted to read”. So the world seems a little more sensible now.

Even so, a lot of you stay and read and come back, and thank you for that. The landscape of readers has changed a lot in the last couple of years, however. Most people come to the blog from Twitter or Facebook or Google search, and a smaller and smaller number are regular readers who come regularly by their browser or RSS feed reader.

I’m guessing this reflects a very general and surprisingly rapid change in how people consume online news and opinion, partly because of the huge increase in the number of voices. It certainly reflects my own shift as a consumer. I think it means I have a much broader but less regular readership than before.

I think it also reflects the fact that, after reading the same blog for a few years, people get tired of it. Tyler Cowen said this to me once, and I didn’t believe it at the time. But I’ve found I typically tire of a blog after shorter and shorter periods now, and follow very few people regularly.

Most-read posts of 2014

Excluding the home page, or fixed pages like “About me” and my research page, here were the most viewed posts of 2014. Almost all were pre-2014 posts:

  1. When are you too old for a PhD?
  2. 10 things I tell undergraduates
  3. Frequently asked questions on PhD applications
  4. Students: How to email to your Professor, employer, and professional peers
  5. The problem with graduate degrees in international affairs and development?
  6. Getting a job in international development
  7. The standing desk: I am a convert
  8. What MA, MPA, or MIA program is for you?
  9. What The Economist should have read before suggesting that US slavery wasn’t always so bad
  10. Which is for you: MPA, MPA/ID, or PhD?

Number 1 had almost 40,000 views, which is kind of nuts. There’s clearly a lot of PhD angst out there.

The fact that these are all old advice posts is kind of boring, though. The most read new posts were the following:

Referrals and searches

To the extent people come from other blogs, it’s mostly from Marginal Revolution and The Economist’s View. So thanks to them. But a majority now come from Google searches.

The most common searches are always interesting. I continue to get a lot from “should i be an accountant” because of this post, and also “average age of phd student” because of the most read post, above. “Chris Blattman wife” used to be a common search term, but now it’s gone, perhaps because I turned 40 and am no longer so sexy to the stalkers. Sigh.

Do I make money off of you?

I continue to say no to ads, because it feels icky. And there are no sponsored posts or instances where I get free products for a review. In short, I don’t blog for the money.

That said, somewhat by accident, this year the blog started to make real money. Whenever I blog a book or music I like, I usually link to the relevant Amazon page (if there is one). In the interest of full disclosure, Amazon gives referrers a percentage when this happens. This year, almost 10,000 of you clicked on one of the Amazon links, you bought 3,000 items for about $85,000 total (as it happens, mostly stuff I didn’t link to), and so Amazon gave me almost $6,000.

So, the blog is now at the point where I have a financial incentive to link to books and related stuff. What does this mean for my reviews? Not much I think. I only link to about a half or a third of the books I read, since I don’t bother mentioning stuff I didn’t like or find provocative. But it means I am more likely to blog books than I was before. Probably the quality margin is now lower. So I’m trying to be clear what I loved versus just liked.

Thus, in this small way, you are helping me send my children to a truly wonderful albeit politically correct Manhattan daycare, where they learn to sing “baa baa white sheep” in addition to “baa baa black sheep”. The world is mad.

Upcoming changes

There will be two small ones. One is that I’d like to donate ad space to charities I particularly like, so you may see an ad in the near future. It’s given for free.

The second is that I may try to highlight the Amazon book recommendations with a widget in the sidebar. Because, let’s be honest, baa baa white sheep ain’t cheap, especially in Manhattan.

7 Responses

  1. Great summary, and congrats on another vintage year Chris, but can I persuade you to rethink your link to Amazon? They are chronic tax dodgers, and I’m trying to avoid linking to them as far as possible – there are better options for buying books, even online, but not sure if they reward linking.

  2. Why read the blog. It contains enough on development to keep me interested. Like the idea on books being prominent by a link. If you know of any charities that donate books to libraries of universities in developing countries then that would be a good link for starters. Yesterday I had a visit from a man I know and his daughter. He had been bothering me about flat brokeness and her fees at Uni. I was quite surprised to find out she was doing a degree in development studies. She had heard of Professor Collier having seen something by him in the University library. I gave her a copy of the Bottom Billion to be returned in due course. It would seem that some donations in that line would help students in places where books are expensive and library budgets limited.

  3. people get tired of it. Tyler Cowen said this to me once, and I didn’t believe it at the time. But I’ve found I typically tire of a blog after shorter and shorter periods now, and follow very few people regularly.

    This may be a good reason to turn a focused blog into a self-published book that consists largely of “best-of” pieces: that way new readers can get a sense of your oeuvre and more easily refer back to it even if they get tired of the day-to-day postings.

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