Gawker Media boss Nick Denton is “rationalizing” his blog business by spinning off three underperforming sites: Wonkette, Gridskipper and Idolator. The sites will find new homes/owners as follows:
- Wonkette: Current editor Ken Layne will take over the political site, in conjunction with ad network Blogads.
- Gridskipper: Former Gawker manager Lockhart Steele will absorb the travel site into his Curbed network; Denton is one of Steele’s investors.
- Idolator: The music site is going to Buzznet, the music site which says it doesn’t want to roll up other music blogs, but seems to do so, anyway. This was the last of the three deals to be finalised, which apparently happened over the weekend.
“There’s a cold wind coming,” says Denton, via IM. “We need to focus on our core titles.” The move will leave Denton with 12 sites, including science fiction site io9, launched in January
Denton wouldn’t release financial details but says they’re “not material” — i.e. he’s more or less giving the sites away. In some cases an earnout clause could eventually give Denton a few more bucks if the sites do well. We don’t know details about which editors and writers are staying or going. “We’re hoping that the site leads at very least will all be retained,” Denton says. Internal e-mail from Denton to Gawker staff follows post.
Denton’s move to shed Gridskipper and Idolator isn’t surprising: Those two are Gawker Media’s lowest-performing sites, clocking in around 1 million page views a month. Idolator had reportedly been on the block last year, and we noted then that Gridskipper might be a sale candidate as well.
Wonkette is a different story: It was one of Denton’s earliest success after launching Gawker, and continues to generate traffic: In March it logged 5.8 million page views, a record for the site. But it’s never reclaimed the buzz it had under founding editor Ana Marie Cox, now a freelancer for Time Inc. More important, Denton’s sales team had trouble moving inventory; political blogs are tough sells to begin with, and Gawker Media specialises in consumer electronics and entertainment brands.
The big picture: You can interpret this two ways. Either Denton is dumping three weak sites to concentrate on his strong ones, or he’s worried about the online ad market in the face of a looming recession. Denton is happy to provide both spins.
The “look out!” take: “I’m not so sure that an advertising recession will spare the Internet,” he says. “And, if there’s a chill coming, I’d rather be stocking up on firewood.”
And the “things are going great!” take: Denton says that his 15 sites generated 227 million pageviews in March, up 96% y/y; uniques are 29.7 million, up from 22 million six months ago.
How about a nice middle ground? OK. How about this one, from 2006 — the last time Denton “rationalized” some of his sites. NYT:
“We are becoming a lot more like a traditional media company,” Mr. Denton said last week. “You launch a site, you have great hopes for it and it does not grow as much as you wanted. You have to have the discipline to recognise what isn’t working and put your money and efforts into those sites that are.”
Internal email from Denton:
From: [email protected]
Subject: Gawker spinning off three sites — Idolator, Gridskipper and Wonkette —
Date: April 14, 2008 10:26:06 AM EDT
To: [email protected], [email protected]
I’m amazed we’ve managed to keep a lid on this news; that, given your
naturally gossipy natures, must be a first! We’re spinning off three
sites: Idolator, Gridskipper and—this one may be a surprise—Wonkette.
There were indeed some rumours about Maura Johnston’s music blog late
last year; they were true of course. For reasons that I’ll explain
below, both it and our travel and politics sites have better
commercial futures outside Gawker than within. (Excuse the corporate
lingo: some of it is unavoidable.) But, first, the facts, which will
be hitting the wires later this morning, or as soon as you leak this
email. Go ahead!
* IDOLATOR is going to Buzznet, a music-focused web and social
network. Buzznet recently acquired Idolator’s chief rival, Stereogum,
and received a big investment from Universal Music Group.
* GRIDSKIPPER isn’t going far: it’s being taken over by Curbed, the
network founded by Lockhart Steele, in which Gawker Media is a
* WONKETTE is being spun off to the managing editor, Ken Layne, former
founder of one of the web’s very first news sites, Tabloid.net. The
title will become part of the Blogads network of political sites,
which includes Daily Kos, among others.
Why these three sites? To be blunt: they each had their editorial
successes; but someone else will have better luck selling the
advertising than we did.
Music audiences are fragmented across genres; Maura’s Idolator gave
Stereogum a good run, but a group with a whole array of music sites
will command more attention from record labels than we could. In the
case of Gridskipper, our urban travel guide, we could never match
Curbed in attention to city-specific content and advertising. As for
Wonkette: political advertisers are a strange breed; they don’t come
through the same agencies our sales people deal with.
I’m relieved we’ve found pretty decent homes for the three sites, and
most of their writers, but we’re gutted to lose them. Idolator’s Pop
Critic’s Poll was a tremendous coup—and Patric’s bleeding-heart logo
for the site was one of my favourites. Gridskipper is so far the most
sophisticated travel blog: it entirely deserved its inclusion in
Time’s list of the 50 coolest websites.
And Wonkette is one of the brands with which the company is most
associated; people will be shocked that we would ever part with it.
The political site has won an array of Bloggies and other awards; it
introduced the word arse-fucking into the dictionary of political
abuse; the founding editor’s slippers are even on display in the new
media museum in Washington, DC. And Ken and his team have brought a
new liveliness to the site this election season—validated by the
record traffic of the last three months.
So why not wait, at least till the election? Well, since the end of
last year, we’ve been expecting a downturn. Scratch that: since the
middle of 2006, when we sold off Screenhead, shuttered Sploid and
declared we were “hunkering down”, we’ve been waiting for the internet
bubble to burst. No, really, this time. And, even if not, better safe
than sorry; and better too early than too late.
Everybody says that the internet is special; that advertising is still
moving away from print and TV; and Gawker sites are still growing in
traffic by about 90% a year, way faster than the web as a whole. But
it would be naive to think that we can merely power through an
advertising recession. We need to concentrate our energies, and the
time of Chris Batty’s sales group, on the sites with the greatest
potential for audience and advertising.
The dozen sites that remain represent some 97% or our 228m pageviews
per month, and an even higher proportion of our growth and advertising
revenue. (Key facts are below, in case anyone asks.) We’ll be able to
devote more attention to breakouts such as Jezebel and io9, as well as
established titles such as Gizmodo and Kotaku, which are becoming
utterly dominant in their domains. And, then, once this recession is
done with, and we come up from the bunker to survey the internet
wasteland around us, we can decide on what new territories we want to
Both Noah and I are around to answer any questions. On email, IM, or
phone. I’m xxx-xxx-xxx and Noah is on xxx-xxx-xxxx.
GAWKER MEDIA KEY FACTS
* A dozen sites, Gizmodo first launched in August 2002, most recent,
io9, in January 2008
* Gawker, Gizmodo, Kotaku, Lifehacker, Jalopnik, Deadspin, Defamer,
Jezebel, Valleywag, io9, Consumerist, Fleshbot
* A record 18 “Bloggie” nominations in 2008, way more than any other
blog collective (one of those was for Idolator)
* Audience of 29.7m unique visitors a month for the whole network, up
82% at annualized rate (http://www.quantcast.com/p-d4P3FpSypJrlA)
* Each individual site has at least 1m uniques or, in the case of io9, soon will
* Pageviews of 227m in March — 219m if you take out the three sites
being spun out — up 89% on a year earlier (Sitemeter)
* For those who measure these things, Gawker is the web’s leading
independent blog group
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