King Of The Apple Geeks

John Gruber’s Daring Fireball is the homepage for Mac nerds. Even top Apple (AAPL) brass tune in regularly. And it’s a real business, too, now in its fourth year as Gruber’s full-time gig.

Daring Fireball’s influence was in full display last week, including the rarest of public responses from an Apple executive.

Last Tuesday, Gruber broke the news that an iPhone dictionary app called Ninjawords had apparently been censored by Apple. This at a time when Apple is getting the most flack it’s gotten in years — mostly because of its sometimes heavy handed management of the iPhone App Store, which has even drawn an official FCC investigation.

In a roughly 1,000-word post, Gruber explained how Ninjawords’ developers has just been through a two-month back-and-forth with Apple over their $2 dictionary app, which was having trouble getting into the App Store because of language that Apple deemed offensive. “Apple censored an English dictionary,” Gruber asserted.

Within a day, more than 20 publications had noted Gruber’s report, ranging from PC World to top gadget sites like Gizmodo and Engadget, to this publication.

But the most important response came from Apple headquarters. Not only did Gruber’s report draw an official reply from Apple, but it came in the rare form of an on-the-record e-mail from Phil Schiller, Apple’s marketing head. That simply doesn’t happen very often.

In his e-mail, Schiller explained why Gruber’s assertion was off-base — Apple had not, actually, censored anything — and that the developers had actually removed the bad words themselves. But he also wrote to Gruber about baseball: “Schiller, a Red Sox fan,” Gruber writes, “ended with a postscript to let me know he’s looking forward to the Red Sox-Yankees series that starts tonight in New York.”

It’s that kind of rapport with developers, Mac fans, and Apple employees — Gruber is arguably the best-sourced Apple writer in the business — that’s helped turn Daring Fireball from a hobby into a real business.

Gruber likely pulls in $125,000 in annual revenue from the site (and potentially much more). Income sources include ad revenue from The Deck, a minimalist ad network; self-sold RSS sponsorship with a $2,500 per week published rate; and “membership,” which is basically an annual t-shirt drive. Expenses are not high: Web hosting, trips to a few conferences a year, and, of course, Mac computer equipment and an iPhone.

Indeed, Gruber has effectively created a job as one of the few self-sustaining, solo Web “columnists” out there — a job that didn’t exist five years ago. (Others include Jason Kottke, Dooce‘s Heather Armstrong, etc.) The downside — from a business perspective, at least — is that no one will want to buy that business from you. Once the founder leaves — or needs to take more than a few days off — it has lost much of its value to readers.

John, reached by e-mail, wouldn’t comment on how much money his site makes, but he says it provides his full-time income. He says the site has recently been close to averaging 2 million monthly pageviews and about 250,000 monthly unique visitors — including some very important ones at Apple headquarters. He also estimates about 150,000 subscribers to his RSS feed.

Very impressive, especially for a one-man media company. A coy one, at that: “Sounds corny, but I don’t focus on numbers,” Gruber is quick to add. “I just try to write good stuff.”

Photo: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid via Flickr

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