There’s one website that breaks more Apple news than any other —9to5Mac.
Though its competitors are more experienced and better funded, 9to5Mac has established itself as the go-to website for Apple news. It’s regularly cited by the most influential news outlets in the world, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
But 9to5Mac can also ruffle the feathers of its competition — namely, other Apple blogs.
When Business Insider published an analyst note from 9to5Mac in July, the publisher of a rival site sent us an email, asking us to link to them instead. It called 9to5Mac a “dirty and ruthless group of guys, for which I am currently engaged in dialog with my attorneys over their absolutely disgusting business practices.”
When we called that particular site for this story, it was more cordial, saying its relationship with other Apple blogs, including 9to5Mac, was “friendly but competitive.”
Eric Slivka and Rene Ritchie, the editors-in-chief of two Apple blogs (MacRumors and iMore, respectively), offered similarly neutral responses when asked about 9to5Mac, even though their sites are direct competitors.
“It is pretty cut throat behind the scenes, and you can imagine how rough it is,” says Seth Weintraub, 9to5Mac’s founder, and publisher.
Weintraub for his part said he’s never heard from any lawyers. He also has a pretty good idea about who might have sent us that email.
While these Apple bloggers may be cordial on the record, there is a competitive tension that can get nasty from time to time.
The fact is, there’s a lot of money in writing about Apple, the world’s most valuable company that’s also notorious for its secrecy. And 9to5Mac’s ability to get exclusive stories, paired with its unique pay structure, makes it a big target — for better or worse.
It’s an incredible feat for a 7-year-old site, started by an IT guy who stranded in Paris, looking for something to do.
Seth Weintraub, 40, is the founder of 9to5Mac. He also founded two other “9to5” sites: A blog dedicated to Google news, 9to5Google; and 9to5Toys, which highlights popular deals for gadgets, technologies, and more. He also recently launched “Electrek,” which covers electric cars, mostly Tesla.
Between the three 9to5 properties, which attract more than a million visitors each day, Weintraub employs 20 people total.
“I hire people that I think can be positive contributors to the whole thing,” Weintraub told us. “Everybody helps out.”
Weintraub doesn’t come from a journalism background, and never had plans to become a media maven. In the ’90s, he was an engineering student at University of Southern California, where he fixed and upgraded computers at his campus bookstore. (He was an Apple fan then, as he is now.)
After stints in Los Angeles and Hong Kong for IT jobs — and a year-long backpacking trip around the world — Weintraub, then 28, moved to New York. He attended and graduated from NYU’s two-year program called ITP, which focuses on finding creative uses for communication technologies.
ITP actually has some very notable alumni, including Foursquare cofounder Dennis Crowley. ITP grads have also gone on to work at tech companies like Microsoft, Motorola, IBM, Google, and Yahoo.
At ITP, Weintraub fell in love with a woman named Rachel, who would later become his wife.
“She’s the more educated person,” he says, grinning.
Weintraub had a steady job at the time, helping manage the IT department at the NYU Medical School. Immediately after graduation, when the free tuition was no longer a benefit, he moved on to manage IT at different creative ad and branding agencies in New York City’s Soho district.
But when Rachel received a fellowship offer to study in France for nine months, he said, “Screw this, I’m just gonna go enjoy Paris.”
“I had some money saved,” he says, “And I had some Computerworld contacts I had corresponded with for some time. There was a need for Apple IT writing but I had always put it off. But once I got to France there weren’t a lot of options for someone without command of the French language or valid working papers, so at that point, I kind of jumped.”
“My first office was the laundromat down the street from our 1700s-era Marais apartment, because it was nearly impossible to get our own internet connection there,” he laughs.
Weintraub hadn’t considered reporting or publishing his own material previously, but had contacts at market research firm IDG who would regularly bounce tech questions of him for story ideas. When Weintraub contributed his first freelance story to Computerworld, it was an immediate success — it hit Slashdot, Reddit, and Digg, three prominent sites known for distributing news around the Web.
“It was heavily edited by the editor at the time, Ken Mingis, who was a great mentor. But they were really stoked, and they wanted more,” Weintraub says. “It was a big turning point.”
Weintraub started writing for Computerworld, but he was cranking out more articles than it could actually run. So with his surplus of Apple-related stories, he started a blog.
“[I called it] 9to5 because it was about Apple business, Mac business, and Apple enterprise stuff at the time,” Weintraub says. “I don’t know why I ended up with that one but it just happened to be, if you think about business and ‘9 to 5′ or whatever. Hindsight being 20/20, I would probably make it ’24/7’ [instead of ‘9to5’] and ‘Apple’ rather than ‘Mac.'”
At first, 9to5Mac was a solo effort. Weintraub would post three or four times a day, importing stories from various Apple business magazines and adding his own analyses. But about three months into the blog, a friend of a friend who had worked with Apple, had some unseen images of the “fat iPod nanos” Apple had yet to announce — so after some editing, he posted them to 9to5Mac.
“I was [breaking news before] then, but nobody knew who I was,” Weintraub says. “So [the iPod nano story] brought a lot of traffic, way more so than the stories like ‘Is Apple going to support the next version of Java?’ business stuff. So my writing on 9to5Mac kind of quickly trended towards consumer stuff rather than the business stuff, even though it was called 9to5Mac.”
By breaking news, 9to5Mac quickly become bigger than Computerworld’s blog, at least in terms of page views.
“I started saving my best stuff for 9to5Mac,” Weintraub says, “especially since Computerworld needed more vetting and time.”
9to5Mac was burgeoning, but it wasn’t enough to live on. When we ask Weintraub how much money the site was making at the time, he says, “Pennies.”
“Five bucks a day, tops. On a big story day, probably $US30 to $US40, through ad sites. At that point, we were still living off of my wife’s fellowship.”
Eventually, 9to5Mac turned into a real business, but Weintraub says it all happened gradually, and he needed to keep working full-time at other jobs.
After getting married in Florida and spending a day of their honeymoon at DisneyWorld’s Paris pavilion at EPCOT as a jokey tribute to their time in France, Weintraub finally got French work papers and landed an IT communications job on Paris’ iconic Place de la Concorde, working for an English-speaking international organisation.
But with his first child was on the way, he and his wife soon returned to New York, eventually settling just outside of the city, in Westchester.
But Weintraub stood at a crossroads: He was still working on 9to5Mac, but he also continued his day job in IT management — sticking with that job longer than he wanted due to his growing family. The newlyweds had recently welcomed their first child, and he needed proof of a job to get a mortgage.
Other opportunities rolled in, too. Weintraub was revered for his scoops and analysis and coveted by companies like Apple Insider and Fortune; the latter company recruited him as it looked to expand its technology coverage.
“Pretty much every one you’d think of was just asking,” Weintraub says. But when Fortune came along with a lot of money… I jumped on it.”
Coverage at Fortune was focused on Google, however, a subject Weintraub had only dabbled in while at Computerworld. So he would write about Google during the day, and Apple in the evenings.
Weintraub stayed at Fortune for a year. He says he learned how to gain access to bigger players in tech, and also learn from industry veterans like Dan Roth and Jessi Hempel, both of whom have moved on from Fortune. But Weintraub was ready to move forward with 9to5Mac, so he went full-time with his blog at the end of May 2011.
“At that point, I had that friend at Apple that was breaking every story, breaking every product. They were never actually at Apple, they were just connected. So I was in a good position at that point because I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to do my own thing.'”
To Weintraub, it was an easy decision to forge his own path, as opposed to becoming the equivalent of a “junior reporter” at a reputable publication. And that’s when he started allowing others to contribute to his blog.
One of the first contributors to 9to5Mac was a 15-year-old reporter named Mark Gurman.
Long before he approached 9to5Mac, Gurman had a natural curiosity about Apple’s software: By the time he was 14 years old, he had written several Mac and iOS apps, as well as some dashboard widgets. But before Apple announced the iPad, Gurman did some digging and found the company was registering domain names for tablets.
Discovering “iSlate.com” was Gurman’s first major scoop, but he would scoop and break exclusive news items much more over the next five years.
“Seth broke the news about the iPad nano the unibody iMac, and what I really wanted to do was come in and continue that,” Gurman says.
His work was “raw,” but it was extremely well-researched, and he was churning out a ton of material. In time, Gurman would break some of the biggest Apple news of the last decade, including the introductions of Siri and FaceTime, the MacBook Pro with Retina display, Apple’s intentions to build its own maps app and drop Google, the details of each major iOS release including the total redesign in iOS 7, and much more. And he’s 20 years old.
“Over the years I’ve had a lot of scoops and I’ve received tons of attention from huge publications offering me extravagent packages to join their publications and work for them, but the loyalty and flexibility and comfort of working with a good friend like Seth… I couldn’t leave right now,” Gurman says. “Something important to me I haven’t gotten from people at other publications is he really cares about me, and I care for him as well.”
“He’s got this whole clique of Internet folks, including other writers,” Weintraub says of Gurman. “He’s a peer with the best. He’s on a first-name basis with Kara Swisher. It’s funny because you have this dichotomy where he’s in college and he has a bad date and I’m like, ‘Relax, there’s going to be hopefully lots of other tries’… So on the one hand, you have this young impressionable kid, and on the other, you have this titan of the Apple reporting world.”
Soon, Weintraub would hire other important pieces of the 9to5 puzzle, including 25-year-old Jordan Kahn, who’s worked with Weintraub for about three years now and is largely in charge of the 9to5Google property.
“I think 9to5’s success is more about the culture Seth has created than any one individual writer at the site,” Kahn told Business Insider. “It’s like a bootcamp for Apple/Google bloggers.”
Weintraub has a unique pay structure. Every writer has their own Google AdSense ads on their posts.
“It just started when I was like, ‘How do I pay these guys based on my advertising?’ and I thought, ‘Just give them an ad,” Weintraub says. “It’s like, ‘What’s the fairest way to pay a writer?'”
Some people get more or less ads — Gurman, for example, contributes more than the average reporter so he gets an extra ad on the homepage, whereas copy editors don’t publish nearly as much so they get paid in cash. But Weintraub says this system is “huge” for his staffers, some of whom make over six figures. Gurman, for example, has “never had a sub-$10,000 month,” Weintraub says.
“I’m honestly surprised more people don’t do it because it actually takes away a lot of the complexity, because if people say ‘I’m not making enough money,’ I’m like, ‘Write more stories, get more page views.'”
But it’s not always easy to attract readers: 9to5Mac must compete with other Apple blogs, as well as other major news outlets and websites that talk about Apple. And even when 9to5Mac breaks the big story, it doesn’t always get the credit. And nothing bothers Weintraub and his staffers more.
“People bury links and stuff like that,” Weintraub tells us. “It’s kind of frustrating because we’re making a lot of the news that they’re making money off of. Unfortunately, that’s going to get more and more common around the web… I hate to say this, but most of our competition’s doing that. They’re just rewriting our story.”
Weintraub particularly hates it when other news sites take credit for his writers’ observations and thoughts — as if they just happened to arrive at the same conclusions.
“If you want to actually break a news story, that’s expensive. That’s Mark doing a day’s worth of research or a week’s worth of research or cultivating a source who’s scared they’re going to get in trouble (by the way, none of our sources have gotten in trouble for anything),” he says.
“In the Apple space, there’s about maybe one or two partial blogs that are actually trying to go out and get original material. But most of them are rewriting our stuff or The Wall Street Journal.” In the same breath, Weintraub admits his company is guilty of the same tactics. “We do that too, because we would have one exclusive per day and nobody would come to us and they would just go to an aggregator and read what they read.”
9to5Mac still doesn’t get invited to Apple’s big events and product unveilings — likely because Apple is none too pleased with the news these bloggers are collectively breaking. But that’s exactly why Weintraub created his other 9to5 properties, particularly 9to5Google.
“Apple comes out with one product a year, and it’s hard those first six months of the year when there’s nothing, and you’re just throwing stuff up from Chinese blogs,” Weintraub says. “But Google’s a little more interesting in that sense. With Google, there’s always a new product, there’s always a new phone, and there’s always Google doing weird stuff with Maps and Google X. We’re cultivating separate sources for all these things and trying to get some exclusives.”
Weintraub says Google is much friendlier to the press, and is much more willing to offer early exclusives. For example, Weintraub was the first person to review the Galaxy S smartphone publicly, even though he says “nobody really cared” about the “huge” 4-inch Android phone. But recently, Sergey Brin personally invited Weintraub to the unveiling of Google Glass, which is indicative of how different Apple and Google are in terms of approaching press relations.
“Sergey was like, ‘You seem very interested in this stuff, and we’re excited about it too,'” Weintraub says. “He put the Google Glass on me, he was like, ‘You gotta check this out.'”
These days, Weintraub still contributes to the site now and then, but he’s been leaving the bulk of the 9to5 leadership up to Gurman and Kahn, who lead 9to5Mac and 9to5Google, respectively. When he’s not blogging, he’s busy taking care of his two kids, aged 3 and 6, or spending time on Reddit (he and his wife have a love-hate relationship with the website).
But he’s also pointing his blogging efforts in a new direction, given his interest in electric cars. He’s recently started a blog dedicated to electric vehicles, called Electrek, which he says is mainly a hobby right now — even though he got to attend the unveiling of the new dual-motor Tesla Model S, and test drive the car’s Autopilot feature that night.
“I’ve got two electric cars, and I love them both: a Tesla and a plug-in Prius,” he says. “I could probably talk five hours about Tesla right now but I’m not going to… I think it’s going to change the world.”
When we ask about the future of his current 9to5 sites, however, Weintraub says, “Everybody has their price.”
“I’ve never taken any venture capital, but I would get out in a heartbeat for $US100 million,” he says. “I would certainly work with a company on some sort of transition, but frankly I’m having fun right now. I enjoy it, I really like my team, everybody’s getting bigger, and there’s more responsibility. When I check in now, it’s more like me catching up with everything — the times that people actually need me is when something’s wrong with the CSS (I just tell the developers or whatever) or when there are weird ads coming in (I just tell the ad people). The editorial decisions are now out of my hands.”
“I could fall off the face of the earth, and for the most part, the thing would just run because people are getting paid automatically,” Weintraub adds. “It’s kind a bummer. They don’t really need me anymore. It’s like the kids have left the nest and are flying away.”
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