Media

Gawker's Nick Denton: "I've created this monster"

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Gawker Media founder Nick Denton is probably the loudest advocate of ruthless, anything-for-pageviews blogging, but even he can be discouraged by always giving the masses what they want, according a just-published New Yorker profile.

Denton noted that many of his favorite stories, which usually focus on media gossip, don’t take off the way geekier, more gadget-focused posts do. Among Gawker’s blogs, the “geek sites” Gizmodo, Lifehacker, Kotaku, io9, and Jalopnik draw twice as much traffic altogether as the gossip sites, including Gawker itself.

“I’ve created this monster,” Denton told the New Yorker’s Ben McGrath. “Neither the stories that I like nor the writers that I like are rewarded.”

Keep in mind that one of the underlying themes of the piece, as with any Denton profile, is the way he cultivates a specific image of himself. (Yes, it’s kind of meta.) So there may be a deliberateness to the soundbite — it could be Denton’s way of saying, “Yes, even I must bend to the will of the readers. Those bastards.”

Even the geeky hits have a touch of Denton’s beloved gossip mongering. Gawker Media’s biggest story ever came when gadget blog Gizmodo purchased an iPhone 4 prototype from someone who found the device in a bar, a move that was controversial among traditional journalists. (For a month or so, anytime I talked to other tech writers, we’d ask each other whether we’d have paid for the phone, or if we found it unethical — I usually waffled.)

Another big hit came when Gawker’s Ryan Tate (who replaced my current boss Owen Thomas as Gawker’s Silicon Valley writer) published paparazzi photos of Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, declaring, “Mark Zuckerberg’s Age of Privacy Is Over.”

A good portion of the Denton profile is devoted to an overview of his biography, but it includes a few more details about Gawker’s revenue and future:

  • Here are all of Gawker’s sites, ranked in order of descending popularity: Gizmodo, Gawker, Lifehacker, Kotaku, Deadspin, Jezebel, io9, Jalopnik, and Fleshbot.
  • Altogether, Gawker blogs attract 450 million pageviews per month.
  • Denton now estimates that for a site to be financially “viable”, it must attract at least 20 million monthly pageviews.
  • Gawker is preparing a redesign (already viewable as a beta test) that focuses on popular content rather than presenting stories in reverse chronological order.
  • Gawker Media earns between $15 and $20 million in revenue annually.
  • Denton owns between 60 and 70 percent of the company. He tries to buy back stock from employees “every so often”.
  • In his last round of buybacks earlier this year, Denton valued the company at $30 million.
  • Denton on Gawker’s long-term potential:

    Maybe this is like Craigslist, where billions of dollars of value is destroyed, and only a tiny fraction of that is actually captured by the new winners. Or you could look at it like this is the early days of cable. You know, cable took a long time to get off the ground. But then, once you’ve got the franchise established, if you own MTV or the sci-fi channel, at some point it really starts to kick in.