A Blog Mogul Turns Bearish on Blogs
Published: July 3, 2006
THE blogging bubble has been taking on serious air of late. Last week, PaidContent.org, a blog that covers digital media, held its first mixer. It was, by all reports, filled to the brim with money and content guys speed dating on the way to marriage.
Nick Denton, the founder of Gawker Media, was there, but he wasn't looking for love or money.
"It made me want to move to Budapest, batten down the hatches and wait for the zombies to run out of food," Mr. Denton said cheerily.
One of the overlords of the blogosphere with 15 sites and enough buzz to arm every doorbell in the nation, Mr. Denton has watched page views at his sites double in the last year; Gawker Media and Nielsen/NetRatings put monthly unique visitors at 4.2 million. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that Mr. Denton celebrated a very upbeat stretch in the blogging industry by putting two of his sites on the block, reorganizing others and laying off several people.
Laying off journalists? How very old media.
No one would ever accuse Mr. Denton of being a sentimentalist. A former reporter for the Financial Times, he made his money on First Tuesday, a social networking site that reportedly sold for $50 million, and Moreover Technologies, which sold for a reported $39 million. He then built a chain of professionally staffed blogs that eschewed media conventions like, oh, fairness and reporting, for brutal, well-turned takes on fairly mannered industries.
BRACING candor is not the only relevant application at Gawker Media. Blogs, as they became a medium unto themselves, have generally been characterized not just by idiosyncrasy, but also by a publishing schedule known only to them. Not so at Gawker Media, where the writers publish early and often, delivering on the critical expectation that readers will always find new content.
And every site, regardless of subject, is built on speaking what mainstream reporters will only say sotto voce. It isn't journalism — as Mr. Denton and his pack of merry provocateurs happily remind — but it is the kind of media that attracts steady audiences that advertisers covet.
"I always thought that you needed to know the code for finding out what was actually going on when you read mainstream publications," he said. "We just say it. It is supposed to be the conversation that occurs between reporters at the bar after they have finished their stories."
But the whole digital veneer masks a bit of a media traditionalist. His sites are arrayed over very common contemporary interests — celebrity, pornography, sports, Hollywood — that would not be out of place in mass magazines (a dead-tree medium, by the way, that he believes is far from dead). He thinks all of the bluster around blogs, fueled in part by AOL's purchase of Weblogs, has brought stupid money off the sidelines. He has felt the touch of clammy hands from venture capitalists more times than he would care to count.
"There is no doubt that there is a bubble right now," he said.
So why not cash out?
"Because it would be too hard to start over," he said. "Sites need to be well-managed and well-designed and even then it is harder and harder to launch a site. The world does not need more blogs," adding that if you count all the pages on MySpace, "there is approximately one reader for every blog out there."
For his part, Mr. Denton spends a lot more time reading computer code than blogs. He believes that the common software behind blogs isn't up to the task and now has 11 people, including 4 in Hungary, working on developing proprietary solutions.
He has a massive noggin and a quiet ego to match, but has very little interest in routine publicity. Mr. Denton is an advocate of Fleet Street standards when it comes to the lives of public figures, but his own business approach has more in common with the Kremlin at the height of the Cold War. He leaves editorial matters to Lockhart Steele, the managing editor of the sites, and would only comment on the profitability of Gawker Media by saying, "I haven't had to sell my apartment yet."
Denton lost his one name writer, Ana Marie Cox some time ago, and given his relatively low wages, hasn't aquired another one. Denton pays for crap and in an industry where one can work for oneself, why aquire a low paying boss. Cox couldn't wait to find better paying employers and one can bet that more of Denton's editors will make the same choice, even with non-compete clauses.
I don't get why companies are investing in blogging companies. Blogging is personality driven. When these mostly young writers gain some self-confience, they're gonna go out on their own. So you buy a bunch of blogs, but without good writers, they aren't worth very much.
Then there was the Gawker stalking site. Talk about bad judgement, this was it in spades. Real time updates of celebrities.
Denton's employees will realize that they can be underpaid sans editors on their own and move on.
As he found out, you just can't create a blog, it has to find an audience, expecting it to just draw an audience isn't going to work. If someone wanted to run Denton to ground, if they were clever enough, they could easily pull it off.
posted by Steve @ 1:44:00 PM