TECHCRUNCH DISRUPTED: AOL's $30 Million Startup Blog Is Tanking

Disrupt sign

Photo: Scott Beale

Disrupt. The name of the biannual conference TechCrunch is hosting at this very moment in Manhattan is especially fitting this year.That’s because even as TechCrunch celebrates the doom of incumbents at the hands of faster moving, more innovative entrepreneurs, it faces its own.

For years, TechCrunch itself was a disruptor – a scrappy and capable startup turning the business of tech news reporting on it’s head. Just ask the people who used to write for the San Jose Mercury News.

Then in September 2010, TechCrunch was acquired for a reported $30 million by one of the online world’s oldest incumbents, AOL. 

Now, TechCrunch finds itself on the wrong side of the disruption equation.

According to ComScore, TechCrunch traffic is down 13.1% year-over-year – from 4.8 million monthly unique visitors to 4 million.* 

Even those poor numbers are perhaps not an accurate reflection of the site’s decline in readership.

In March 2012, TechCrunch traffic was down to 3 million uniques – a 34% decline in 12 months.

TechCrunch stats

Photo: ComScore

Traffic recovered between March and April because AOL.com sent a lot more traffic in April. Inbound links from AOL.com to TechCrunch increased from 5.5% in March to 21.4% in April.

The fact is: the people that read TechCrunch now – the people AOL.com sends to TechCrunch – are not the people who used to read the site.

You can tell because these days, according to ComScore, the site that shares the most readers with TechCrunch is an AOL-owned rap and R&B site called TheBoombox.com.

TechCrunch still shares an audience with Silicon Valley startup blog GigaOm, but others in the top 10 include dissimilar AOL.com-fed sites Mandatory.com, Pawnation.com, TheBoot.com, Parenting.com, and Spinner.com.   

By contrast, Engadget, another AOL Tech site, shares readers with non-AOL sites with similar subject matter: Vice.com, SlashGear.com, TheVerge.com, and ComputerWorld.com.

See for yourself:

Cross Visiting

What’s happened to TechCrunch?

Some ideas:

  • While the site is currently staffed by very talented reporters in Silicon Valley producing good work, they are not Michael Arrington, the extremely talented reporter/insider/brawler who made the site so big in the first place. Arrington left in the middle of last year. Several TechCrunch staffers followed him.
  • The tech news world has become more competitive. TechCrunch used to dominate tech news aggregator Techmeme’s Leaderboard by several percentage points. But in the past couple years, new tech sites like The Verge and The Next Web have launched. Those two in particular have shot up the ranks to capture a combined 12.53% of the links on Techmeme.
  • AOL mismanagement surely contributed to TechCrunch’s decline. AOL bought the Huffington Post five months after buying TechCrunch, and put Arianna Huffington in charge of both sites when she arrived. During this time, Arrington and number of other TechCrunch writers left. So did Heather Harde, former TechCrunch CEO. A couple months ago, AOL took TechCrunch away from Huffington and gave it to new exec Jay Kirsch.

All this said? It it is a testament to the brand Arrington built and to the sites’s current staff – led by Alexia Tsotsis and Eric Eldon – that TechCrunch has been able to keep three million people reading despite the bungling of AOL management and the exodus of nearly its entire staff.

*ComScore numbers are considered low, industry-wide. They are considered accurate and useful on a relative basis, however.

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