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On Wonkette and the rest of Gawker media…

So Nick Denton’s Gawker media has released its latest offspring into the world, and so far (particularly after the enormous success of fleshbot) it doesn’t look like much of a contender. Wonkette has been described as Gawker for DC (by Glenn Reynolds, no less), but so far she’s evidenced little of the ready wit and weblog-savvy of that rather superior organ’s array of editorial talent. Wonkette’s Ana Marie Cox writes like a weblog-naif – she’s overly fascinated by the speed of the publishing and the novelty of not having an editor (and too involved in the immediacy of her voice over the quality of the material she’s referencing) to make the site a really compelling read. I’ve no doubt all this will change of course – the novelty of writing for a weblog can fade over time. But in the meantime: For God’s sake, calm down before you do yourself a mischief!

Gawker media is in my mind a lot at the moment, for a whole range of reasons. First and foremost, I’ve got a paper that I should be writing for an upcoming conference on e-publishing at the London Book Fair. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about writing about Nick’s model of nanopublishing and the way in which these small ventures can create grass-roots, highly-targetted brands – brands which could be floated off into larger ventures, used as branded chunks (syndicated columns perhaps) within larger publications or simply used to colonise the brain-space of people who feel disenfranchised by the large and inhuman face of large-scale media. In particular I want to talk about that alternative model of online publishing – in which large teams of individuals are brought in to run online presences / support sites for commercial magazines or other large media presences at tremendous expense – expense which evidently might simply not be necessary.

But of course the problem with Nick’s nano-publishing model (and he problem with my proposed paean to it) is that it doesn’t really seem to make anyone that much money and that perhaps as a direct consequence, no one else seems to want to do it. I mean, short of business ignorance (which we shouldn’t dismiss as a likely proposition) what other reasons could there be for the lack of competition to Gawker Media? I mean, it’s established a model that’s far from hard to replicate if you have a little money lying around and a certain amount of savvy. And it’s even generated a core concept (local savvy correspondents filtering and condensing the regional media down to thick paste that is as much about myth-making the place as it is purporting to give back-stage access into what’s really going on) that’s eminently replicable to every decent-sized on the planet. I mean, we can all imagine a London equivalent, a Tokyo equivalent or a Sydney equivalent – we can all see the possibilities in a version of this model for Rome, Paris, Edinburgh and Barcelona. Which leads me to wonder – where are they?

I have my theories, of course. Do you have any?

9 replies on “On Wonkette and the rest of Gawker media…”

Daily Candy sold for $4 million a couple months back, so that’s pretty solid evidence that someone is making money off the micropublishing model. Suspect that Flavorpill is making good cash too. Two key factors to both of them, they publish as email lists first, but archive on the web, and they both have dedicated sales teams.
Basically if you want to make cash with micropublishing you need to be able to convince advertisers to pay significantly more then standard web ad prices. Convince them that this is branding advertising, not convert directly to sales advertising. Not easy, but doable give how much lower the costs are compared to print publishing.
Not exactly sure is Denton has figured out how to do any of this though…
Finally worth noting that Ana Marie Cox is a better blogger then the Wonkette debut would let on see for reference.

Thanks for that – it’s much appreciated. I’m particularly interested in Ana Marie’s personal site. Reading back, my inherent pre-lunch grumpiness may have manifested itself a little too aggressively and I kind of wish I’d rephrased that first paragraph a bit before posting it. I’ll consider dropping the bitch-level on it a bit later (obviously I’ll flag that in the quotes if I do so though). The market in online mailing lists is pretty evident – both at the professional level and at the gossip / entertainment level (Popbitch being a prime example here I would have thought), although the specific examples you cite aren’t ones I’m that familiar with (so thanks again).

An interesting discussion. I’m surprised too that there haven’t been more organized efforts to create low-cost niche web media. There’s Calacanis, and some of the pre-blogs, like Flavorpill and Daily Candy.
You put your finger on one reason: there really isn’t all that much money yet. The readership of these sites may be growing rapidly, but they’re still tiddlers. You can go for a high-intensity ad sales approach: deep integration of a sponsor’s creative, events, advertorial content creation, dedicated mailings. But that’s expensive — your sales costs would be a multiple of editorial expenses — and risks alienating the audience over the long term. It seems a shame, with a low-cost model for editorial, production and marketing, to revert to high-touch ad sales. And some of the techniques — Daily Candy’s dedicated mailings on behalf of advertisers — risk alienating the audience.
I’d rather make half the revenues, through Google, self-service, and inbound — and keep the organization lean. Outbound ad sales can come later, when the size of the audience justifies it.

I can definitely sympathize with your position Nick, I took a brief look at all these economics before deciding it wasn’t worth the energy output at the moment. But at the same time someone needs to be out there unlocking huge pricing differential between online and print/broadcast advertising. Once advertisers start looking at online ads as a branding space, then its going to open a lot of doors to a lot of publishers.
Little mystified by the audience size issue though. Sure no blog is getting People/Vanity Fair sized numbers. But compared to trade magazines? From what I understand the big political blogs actually have larger audiences then most political magazines. Think DailyKos is tipping in at 80k unique visitors a day, which is more then the monthly readers of Ms Cox’s ex-employer. Its not about getting the audience now, its about turning it into ad sales…

Interesting post and discussion. To answer your main question, Tom – “where are they?” – I think some potential entrants look only at the profit/loss sheet and see that, in many cases, it’s going to be hard to make a case for spending the time and effort a good weblog requires. In terms of bringing this concept to other cities, I’d much rather be creating a weblog in just about any decent-sized American city ahead of Edinburgh, or even London, as the size of the US market transforms everything, and makes the marginal case… well, a little less marginal. But you hit the nail on the head when you write about “grass-roots, highly-targetted brands”, and there remains a lot of potential for established media brands, and big-name/expert individuals, to take the nanopublishing model and do something useful. The profit/loss account case may still be tight, but the P&L doesn’t record all assets. Enhanced reputation or a lower cost of sale for the core product (consultancy or writing, for instance) could be the main, but intangible, benefit a nanopublishing site could bring. Finally, I don’t agree this is an established model: blogging, especially in the UK, is in its infancy, and is still regarded as very geeky. Many of the people you’d be hoping might break new ground in this area are, in fact, still blissfully unaware; of the model, of the technology, of the emerging form of journalism that supports it.

I’m particularly interested in how Nick’s model will fare here in D.C. Amazing that I hear of Wonkette from Tom’s UK-based site, rather than through all the people I know here with their political and net media connections, but which may illustrate some of the trouble of building an audience here. For one thing, news doesn’t spread too fast here in D.C., even among the reasonably well-linked.
The other thing that gives me pause: unlike New Yorkers, we live in a city that possibly becomes less fascinating the more you hear about it, so I’m not hopeful that outside readers like you, Tom, would regularly follow Wonkette, and while Gawker could do with content of interest mainly to locals in a city of, what is it, 14 million, the D.C. area’s around 3 million people, and many of them never set foot inside the District, identifying more with Dulles or wherever their house and job is. Wonkette’s at least got the benefit of election-year news to log now, but even most of that is getting generated outside D.C. (our own primary was a bit of an embarrassment). But really, how much of us even here in D.C. can get excited about posts about a Supreme Court Justice seen eating at 2941 (a place that most New Yorkers would not find “glamorous”), or a link to an article from the unfortunately-named GW school paper, The Hatchet ? A little more scandalous content (Wonkette could use some better-placed stringers, it looks like), and maybe some more appearances of Clooney at The Palm (no luck there – “K Street” is cancelled) would probably help the site quite a bit.
A couple of us D.C.-area bloggers had fooled around with a D.C.-based Gawker parody last year (called “Gvwrker” – may still have the masthead graphic around somewhere), if only to point out how dull D.C. can be (sample post: “Saw Tony Williams and his wife dining at Cashion’s during Orange alert. They were sitting outside, no security in sight. Guess we’re safe.”).
At the same time, our small city does have a healthy, 100% ad-supported weekly independent paper, a well-distributed (if stiff) monthly glossy, and a number of local papers for communities like the Hill, the club scene, and the Northwest, so perhaps the ad money’s there for a tightly-run, daily site, if they can find enough interesting content to make it work.

With the amount of money Denton is pouring into plugging the worthless Wonkette, the page should have ten times the traffic it does. Some of us put up similar numbers without full color banner links from Instapundit and feature pieces in the Boston Globe. Perhaps he should have focused on hiring someone a little less poltically-correct, and a little more professionaly qualified if he wanted a writer who had a ghost of a chance in DC?
“Snarky”? Uh, I would go with “laughable”. 20 year-old staff assistants have more political connections and savvy than Ana Marie Cox.
Six months.

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