For a guy who nowadays pretty much eats, sleeps and breathes Apple, author and editor Leander Kahney took something of a circuitous route getting to be a sort of fanboy’s fanboy.
“I lied my way into my first job writing about Apple for MacWeek back in the ’90s,” said Kahney, the London-born editor and publisher of San Francisco-based Cult of Mac, one of the more popular of the scores of online blogs for the Apple-obsessed. “I didn’t know anything about Apple at the time and had maybe read one article, but I convinced them I was an Apple fanatic.”
After moving to California, Kahney has made a living cranking out news and product reviews at a number of venues, including the Apple beat for Wired, where he took a fledgling blog called Cult of Mac and made it his own in 2008. With 3 million unique visitors each month to his blog, Kahney says a growing audience among iPad users is providing “an incredible opportunity for us and for all digital publishers. The tablet’s a great layout for the blog format.”
The San Jose Mercury News spoke recently with Kahney about his Apple blog and a newly launched sister blog for Android products. His comments have been edited for space and clarity.
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Q: So you weren’t a fanboy at birth?
A: My dad was the big Steve Jobs fan in the early years, but I was more skeptical. It was only later that I began to appreciate what my father had been trying to tell us. He was a college professor and had one of the first Macs back in 1984. He’d take us to play with it at night at his office, and it was awesome. They had this gigantic dot matrix printer that made the whole building shake, so we’d make MacPaint pictures and then print them out and my dad would plaster the walls of the corridors with them. It all seemed really magical to us.
Q: You eventually moved to California. How did you transition from the Wired job to formally launching an independent Cult of Mac?
A: I was covering Apple for Wired, which is where the Cult of Mac blog started. Wired eventually went through a bunch of layoffs and I was the last man standing, becoming managing editor and then news editor. In the meantime I wrote my book, “The Cult of Mac,” an anthology of my reporting at Wired. So I kept the blog going to help promote the book. Then I was laid off in 2008 from Wired and with my severance money set up the independent site, which is how the blog as we know it today came to be.
Q: How did that go?
A: I was naive about the whole thing. I had some volunteers chipping in, including my mom and brother, my wife and even my kids. I thought money would follow traffic, so I tried to get as much news up as I could. More clicks, I figured, would lead to more ads. But it wasn’t quite that easy.
For two years I had no idea if Cult of Mac would survive. Revenues were completely unpredictable. I had no money to pay anybody, so I was borrowing left and right. Gradually, though, I got a bit of money and started paying guys 10 bucks a post with a cap of four posts a week at first. Then as more money started coming in, I put it back into hiring these guys.
Q: How is Cult doing these days?
A: I now have six full-timers, about six part-timers, with another three or four contributors, and they’re all over the globe.
Q: Can you talk a little about your target audience? I mean, who are all these bloggers blogging for?
A: Cult of Mac is for the general Apple user. It’s consumer-oriented, so we’re not targeting the hard-core, tech-consumed Apple fanatic. We try in our posts to not be too technical but instead write with a general readership in mind. I like to think of our readers as the people you’d see at an Apple Store; it’s young kids and grandmothers and everyone in between. I think there’s a big opportunity there because nowadays you have more and more people rushing into the Apple world, and they’re hungry for information, like how do you send photos from your iPhone? We provide a lot of bread-and-butter stuff that the print magazines used to do with the Mac, but they haven’t really transitioned to digital.
Q: So what’s Apple like to deal with?
A: Apple is the worst possible company to report on. I have never had any official help from their PR department on a single story. Even with things that you’d think would be good positive publicity for them, they never lifted one finger to help me. Despite that, there’s actually more and more good information available about new Apple products in the works. But that’s coming out through their global supply chain, which is getting quite leaky now.