How Fake Steve (and Others Like Him) Can Cash In


Fake Steve Jobs was finally outed as Forbes editor Dan Lyons yesterday . I worked with Dan for a long time at Forbes, so it’s hard for me write about this objectively or without disclosing confidences. That said, let me draw your attention to this Feb. 4th, 2007 post by David Churbuck, in which David talks about advising someone whose “blog has a lot of buzz and attention paid to it” and was trying to figure out how to make money from it. David’s talking about Dan here, though he shielded his identity by changing the anonymous pronoun from “him” to “her”. The interesting part isn’t the (successful) attempt to cloak Dan, though, but a description of the dilemma Dan faced at the time: How do you turn a popular blog into a profitable one?

The page view/CPM model, David writes, doesn’t work for a blog like this, because the ever-increasing volume of Web content inevitably pushes prices down across the board, and doesn’t account for original and hard-to-replicate stuff like Fake Steve. David is also down on solutions like Federated Media’s ad network, arguing that they cost a lot and don’t produce much. Instead he suggests that blogs like Dan’s try the sponsorship route:

…some online content will have such high value, and be so unique, that their creators will be able to eschew the tyranny of metrics and pageview economics and offer their stuff on a flat sponsorship basis sold purely on the basis of time, selling a patronage model that essentially lets the sponsor bask in the glory of the content and perhaps receive some business on the side. This is the PBS/Nova model….Expecting a low-traffic, high value content site to incorporate the kind of metrics and accountability and ad ops that a traffic behemoth has is ridiculous.

At the time of the post, David writes, Fake Steve/Dan was getting CPM-based ad offers that valued his 250,000 monthly pageviews at about $2,000 a month, which he describes as “chump change.” Now that Fake Steve’s traffic is running at about 4x that rate, the CPM model would theoretically translate into $96,000 a year, which would please most working journalists. But would still be much less than, say, a writer at a mediocre sitcom makes for a season’s worth of work.

In a post from this weekend, David now estimates that Fake Steve/Dan should be worth closer to $250,000 a year. But still, he says, “the issue is how does an anonymous blogger sell it.”

Dan is no longer anonymous, and Fake Steve is moving over to So does this mean he’s now making sitcom money? I don’t know. But for the sake of the rest of us hacks, I certainly hope so.

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