Mostly because I love the taste of a fresh eyeball.
As you might know, I'm a site guide for About.com. I run a website on houseplants for About.com, which means I'm the resident houseplant expert and I have near total control over this website. My website is one of 750 discrete sites on the About.com network, each run by a different site guide. In total, About.com attracts about 60 million visitors per month, which makes it one of the 50 largest websites in the world.
I've been at this for almost two and half years now. It started off pretty small, because I was basically starting from scratch. But then I added content and articles, and over time, it built. I just got my site metrics for last month, and let me tell you, it gave me serious pause. I'm contractually prohibited from giving out my numbers, but let's just say this: my little houseplants site put up traffic numbers last month that would make many bestselling authors blush.
It really got me thinking about the changing nature of what it means to be a writer. I think the "writer" of yesteryear is a dead animal. Instead, the writers I've observed who are successful use the same techniques they teach us at About.com to grow a site. It's all about eyeballs. You want to control the most eyeballs as possible. You want to create an immersive "universe" centered on your subject. Your subject can be houseplants, or it can be your novel, your imaginary world, or if you're very good, the reflected light of your sheer awesomeness. Whatever it is, it should be narrow enough that you can wrap your arms around it, but interesting enough to attract your particular audience.
And it should be interactive. There should be interaction between you and the people who visit your universe—in the form of blog comments, emails, and forum posts—and interaction between the visitors themselves, usually in a forum. The point is that you want to give people as many chances as possible to join, talk, contribute and react. In a way, you're less a writer than you are a host at a big themed party.
I've been following a few writers for a a number of years (I'm thinking of two in particular). Both of them have done an amazing job of creating a true community built around their books, the worlds they've created, and their aesthetic. In both cases, these authors are infinitely accessible—they hang out on their own forums, they answer every Facebook message, every email, and respond to every comment. In both cases, they run forums and/or blogs that attracts tens of thousands of people every month, usually repeat visitors.
I think in the future—especially as e-books destroy the print business model—distribution will fade in relevance. Instead, we'll see the rise of the Metric Writer, someone who knows how to build, measure and maintain an audience in a vertical silo built around a complete entertainment community: books, video, a steady stream of blog content, short stories and novellas, active forums, linked social media, and author availability.
Personally, I think it's a very exciting time to be a writer.