Denton: Everyone into the bomb shelter

Listening to Gawker Media overlord Nick Denton’s predictions for the coming online-media apocalypse, I’m reminded of the story about the boy who cried wolf. That said, however, it’s worth remembering one thing about that story: In the end, there actually was a wolf. And as he describes in a post on his personal blog, complete with scary charts and graphs about projected advertising demand, Nick is convinced more than ever that there is a wolf at the door — and a pretty damn big one at that. How does a 40-per-cent drop in online-advertising revenue sound?

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Nick Denton: Master of deception

Maybe it just makes for a great headline. Or maybe Nick Denton’s powers of deception are so advanced, like Steve Jobs’ legendary “reality-distortion field,” that he can get people to focus on what he’s holding in one hand, and ignore what’s in the other. How else to explain why so many people focused on Gawker Media’s 19 layoffs, while downplaying the fact that Gawker is hiring 10 new staffers at the same time? (Joe Weisenthal at PaidContent was the only one to get hiring into the headline).

For the math-challenged, that’s actually 9 layoffs, not 19 — and at the end of the day, it’s not 14-per-cent reduction in staff either (yes, Peter Kafka at Silicon Alley Insider reported on the new hires, but he still had a headline about 19 layoffs). This is classic Denton. As he himself admitted in his lengthy memo — which in typical fashion he encouraged his own employees to leak — he has done this several times before: battening down the hatches for a downturn, cutting staff and/or pay levels and selling underperforming titles, moaning about a decline while making money hand over fist.

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Denton: Evil genius or just plain evil?

If you’re any kind of online publisher — a traditional outlet looking to learn about online media, or a blog network looking to grow — you could do a lot worse than to follow the career of Nick Denton, a former traditional journalist (or at least the British version of same) who has become a new-media mogul thanks to the Gawker Media network of blogs. Nick has been conducting a kind of ongoing media workshop for the past couple of years, right out in the open (more or less). In the latest installment, the Dark Lord of the blogosphere has chopped the pay rate for bloggers at Gawker, for the second time in the last six months.

It’s not quite as bad as it sounds, however. Since the beginning of 2008, bloggers at the various Gawker properties — the flagship celebrity-obsessed blog, geek oracle Gizmodo, gossip rag Valleywag and so on — have been paid in part based on the traffic their posts attract. But that’s not their only pay; they still get a salary. The traffic-based payment is effectively a bonus — an incentive program (although whether it encourages bloggers to go for the cheap and titillating is the subject of debate). In other words, bloggers have to “earn back” their base salary first, and then whatever traffic they get after that is a bonus. And even with the cuts, Gawker bloggers still do pretty well.

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Denton: Why I sold them… maybe

Not long after writing my previous post on Nick Denton and the sale of several Gawker properties (which I have reposted below), I got an email from the Dark Lord himself, in which he elaborated on the rationale behind the sale — essentially, that advertising is in for a downturn and the Web won’t be spared, which is pretty much what he said in the memo that Silicon Alley Insider and others have posted. Among other things, he said:

“Gawker traffic up, advertising market slowing: these may not be contradictory interpretations, merely trends that are in tension with each other. i.e. everybody will suffer, but Gawker less than others.”

But that’s not the best part. The best part is that Nick said the forthcoming sale of some Gawker properties was telegraphed earlier this month. Where? Why, in a post he wrote for Gawker itself, in which he talked about why he was selling Jezebel to Conde Nast. But Gawker didn’t sell Jezebel, you’re thinking — it was an April Fool’s joke. Indeed it was. But Denton, the cheeky blighter, put the real reason why he was looking at selling certain titles in that April Fool post. Here’s the important part, he says:

The short of it is that we’re entering an advertising recession, and the internet will, whatever the wishful thinkers believe, not be immune. Rupert Murdoch’s closure of Page Six website is harbinger of the tough times to come. All web publishers will have to make hard choices about the properties they’ve launched during the good years.

At Gawker Media, we’re determined to make those choices sooner rather than later, putting sentiment to one side. Already in 2006, we sold or shuttered three sites—Oddjack, Screenhead and Sploid—that either weren’t performing or didn’t fit the rest of our portfolio. The internet boom, even then, seemed unsustainable. We told the New York Times then we were “hunkering down.”

That wasn’t the last of it… the bulk of Gawker Media’s traffic and advertising, despite the attention paid to our more gossipy blogs, goes to the group’s geekier titles such as Gizmodo, Kotaku and Lifehacker. We have to decide where we’re going to hold the line. Gawker is a technology media company, in a fierce battle with companies such as CNET and AOL’s Weblogs Inc unit.”

Unless, of course, Nick is just playing with me and none of this is even remotely true. You be the judge — I’ve pretty much given up at this point. Oh, and the comments back and forth with Arrington? Nick says he doesn’t know if it was really Mike or not, but he responded “just in case.”

Original post:

I can’t help it — I like Gawker founder Nick Denton. I realize that for some he is the blogosphere equivalent of Dr. Evil, but I just can’t help liking him anyway. It’s true that he seems to come up with sweatshop-style compensation methods just for the fun of it, and he also seems to take an inordinate amount of glee in shuttering blog titles at his Gawker empire, or selling them off when it’s least expected. Maybe that’s what I enjoy: the fact that he just seems to be having such a good time, even when he’s firing people and leaking his own memos.

The one that Silicon Alley Insider has — which plenty of other people seem to have as well — is about Gawker selling off (or giving away, as the case may be) several blogs, including Gridskipper (travel), Idolator (music) and Wonkette. One is going to join Gawker investor Lockhart Steele’s stable, another to Buzznet, and the third to Ken Layne. Wonkette, as Nick himself notes, is a former flagship title, which launched Ana Marie Cox to superstardom (she’s at Time magazine now), and so seems like an odd candidate for sale — but there you have it.

That’s the genius of Denton: give people contradictory quotes about the current health of the business (there’s a storm coming, but Gawker’s pageviews have climbed by almost 90 per cent to 221 million or so), shut down blogs here and there whenever it suits you, change the compensation method for your bloggers suddenly and without warning, and just generally create mayhem and confusion. Brilliant. For bonus points, read the back-and-forth in Valleywag’s comments between Nick and someone who is either Mike Arrington or pretending to be.

Why Nick Denton is good and/or evil

I can’t help it — I like Gawker founder Nick Denton. I realize that for some he is the blogosphere equivalent of Dr. Evil, but I just can’t help liking him anyway. It’s true that he seems to come up with sweatshop-style compensation methods just for the fun of it, and he also seems to take an inordinate amount of glee in shuttering blog titles at his Gawker empire, or selling them off when it’s least expected. Maybe that’s what I enjoy: the fact that he just seems to be having such a good time, even when he’s firing people and leaking his own memos.

The one that Silicon Alley Insider has — which plenty of other people seem to have as well — is about Gawker selling off (or giving away, as the case may be) several blogs, including Gridskipper (travel), Idolator (music) and Wonkette. One is going to join Gawker investor Lockhart Steele’s stable, another to Buzznet, and the third to Ken Layne. Wonkette, as Nick himself notes, is a former flagship title, which launched Ana Marie Cox to superstardom (she’s at Time magazine now), and so seems like an odd candidate for sale — but there you have it.

That’s the genius of Denton: give people contradictory quotes about the current health of the business (there’s a storm coming, but Gawker’s pageviews have climbed by almost 90 per cent to 221 million or so), shut down blogs here and there whenever it suits you, change the compensation method for your bloggers suddenly and without warning, and just generally create mayhem and confusion. Brilliant. For bonus points, read the back-and-forth in Valleywag’s comments between Nick and someone who is either Mike Arrington or pretending to be.