Ad Age Digital DigitalNext MediaWorks Gawker Media impresario Nick Denton, one of the more vocal Cassandras of media collapse last fall, got a surprise this spring when things turned out to be, well, not so bad. Mr. Denton told us earlier in the year that sales were actually up double digits, and it appeared marketers’ reactions to the recession were “more strategic” than he thought. Sales in the first quarter were up 27% from last year and the second quarter is looking stronger, he said, even with Detroit in shambles and few new products coming out of the consumer-electronics industry.
On his way to the bunker, Mr. Denton sold two non-core blogs, Consumerist and Idolator; folded Valleywag and Defamer into Gawker itself; and shed some staff. Now he’s hired some new journalists at Kotaku and Gawker, and while they’ll still live and die (or at least dine) by their page views, Mr. Denton said he believes traffic rewards scoops and original reporting over snarky reheats. Nielsen research shows that nearly 34% of Gawker readers have their own blogs, a key influencer statistic. Gawker readers, it turns out, have their own audience.
Ad Age: What part of your 40%-down prediction didn’t come true?
Mr. Denton: I still think most companies should have — and should still now — plan for the contingency of a 40% decline across the cycle. Let’s face it: There are plenty of properties — Wired down by half! — that have already suffered. But I’d assumed that marketers would just cut spending across the board in an undiscriminating panic. They’ve been much more strategic.
Ad Age: What happened? Was it new business, easy comparisons to last year, or something else?
Mr. Denton: Our most valuable entertainment-industry clients — like HBO and Showtime — seem to be advertising with sites like Gawker and Jezebel as a matter of routine now. Marketers such as Sprint, Samsung and T-Mobile remain anchors on our tech properties such as Gizmodo. And some clients — Symantec springs to mind — are more aggressive than ever online.
Ad Age: Don’t you think they should be consuming real news, and not riffs on the news in the pages of Gawker or on “The Daily Show”?
Mr. Denton: People — particularly if they’re under 40 — have news priorities other than those of the editors of The New York Times or producers of the “NBC Nightly News.” A new tablet from Apple — or last night’s episode of “Gossip Girl” or the adventures of the hipster grifter — is a bigger deal than the latest petty scandal in Albany. You think that’s a damning indictment of modern society and a recipe for idiocracy? Fine. Start a nonprofit to cover all the local-government news you think a healthy society needs. But don’t expect advertisers — or commercially-minded publishers or readers, for that matter — to share your interests.
Ad Age: “Healthy society” isn’t part of Gawker’s mission statement?
Mr. Denton: When Gawker started, there was a surfeit of information and not nearly enough context — so we provided that, in the form of links and occasionally snarky commentary. But now the balance has shifted. There are pointers to articles on the blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Digg. And all these intermediaries are looking for something to link to. If a good exclusive used to provide 10 times the traffic of a standard regurgitated blog post, now it garners a hundred times as much. That should be reassuring to people. The content market is finding its new balance. Original reporting will be rewarded.