Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Is Deadspin next on the Gawker chopping block?

To many sports fans in this Internet era, Deadspin is the great example of what blogs can do. Their staff of talented writers and editors, including Will Leitch, A.J. Daulerio and Drew Magary consistently churn out interesting takes on the sports news of the day while providing far more wit than you'll find in any newspaper sports section. Granted, the style isn't for the easily-offended (Buzz Bissinger, that means you), but there are plenty of us out there who enjoy reading Deadspin daily. Sadly, our days of enjoyment may be numbered.

When I first read Gawker Media (parent company of Deadspin> overlord Nick Denton's November 12 post on the upcoming apocalypse facing Internet media outlets, I thought it was an interesting take on how the current economic recession might affect Internet advertising. He figures that Internet companies should prepare for a 40 per cent decline in advertising revenue. From my contacts in the print world, I know that plenty of newspapers are getting killed by the current economic climate, as it's much easier to cut advertising expenditures than start cutting jobs. It's only logical to think that the same trend would hit Internet media to some extent; it may not be as severe as Denton predicts, but there certainly is a downturn coming.

Denton's solution is quick, massive expensive reductions along a six-point plan, which includes getting out of problematic categories, consolidating titles and renegotiating vendor contracts. The consolidation paragraph is particularly interesting. Here's what he writes:

"Time-pressed media buyers are drawn to scale. Most websites are still way too small to register with the audience-tracking services that agencies rely upon. Of 18 titles launched at Gawker Media, we've already spun off or shuttered six. Even now, 91% of advertising revenues come from the top six remaining titles. Every media group has a similarly lopsided distribution. It's time to choose which properties make it aboard the lifeboat. The era of the sprawling network—established franchises mixed in with experimental sites—is over."

On the same day, Denton backed up his words, closing down [Caroline McCarthy,] tech industry gossip site Valleywag and rolling editor Owen Thomas into a job writing columns for the main Gawker site. Thus, Gawker Media is now down to 11 titles, and Denton says six provide 91 per cent of the revenue. The Globe and Mail's Mathew Ingram concludes that means the other titles are at risk.

Now, as to how this relates to Deadspin. At first, I was sure it would be one of the top six titles. It's sports, right, and surely there must be a massive audience for sports? Moreover, Deadspin is clearly one of the leaders in the field (along with Sports By Brooks, The Big Lead, FanHouse and Yahoo! Sports Blogs). However, if you go from an audience standpoint, Deadspin is surprisingly far down the chain, according to the title-by-title numbers Gawker provides. Here's the list. All descriptions are summaries of Gawker's information about each site: I don't read most of these regularly, so they might not be exactly true to what each site is like.

Gizmodo (gadgets, gizmos, electronics): 6.1 million unique visitors monthly.
Lifehacker (gadgets applied to life): 4.3 million unique visitors monthly.
Kotaku (video gaming): 3.1 million unique visitors monthly.
Jalopnik (cars): 2.4 million unique visitors monthly.
Gawker (media and culture gossip): 2.2 million unique visitors monthly.
The Consumerist (modern consumerism): 2 million unique visitors monthly.
Defamer (celebrity news): 1.3 million unique visitors monthly
io9 (sci-fi): 1.2 million unique visitors monthly.
Jezebel (feminist takes on celebrity/fashion): 1.3 million unique visitors monthly.
io9 (sci-fi): 1.2 million unique visitors monthly.
Deadspin (sports): 765,000 unique visitors monthly.
Valleywag (tech industry, now no more): 621,000 unique visitors monthly.
Fleshbot (porn news): stats aren't listed on this page.

By those numbers, Deadspin is near the bottom of the pile, not the top. This seems somewhat unusual, especially considering the new hires they've made recently (although Dashiell Bennett came in from Fleshbot). However, it might explain Daulerio's negativity in this post.

Deadspin does have some points in its favour, though. For one, it's easy to explain to advertisers what it's about (sports) and what demographic it's hitting (sports fans); some of the other sites have a more mixed readership. It's also picked up ads from several major companies and publications, including The New York Times Magazine and any number of beer and alcohol companies, which probably won't be advertising on other Gawker titles. Sports fans are a conventional demographic target, and one that should be reasonably easy to sell to. According to the Gawker stats for Deadspin, 81 per cent of readers are 18-34 and 91 per cent of those are male. I'm sure there are companies that will want to reach the 765,000 or so sports fans who read Deadspin a month. The question is the cost/profit ratio.

I'm a pure outsider, so I don't have any information on if Deadspin is profitable or not, but the page views would seem to indicate that it's not in that top-six title list (unless the demographic concerns raised earlier mean that it gets a disproportionate share of advertising). Thus, if we assume that it's not in that list, it's in the group of other titles that makes nine per cent of Gawker Media's profit, and thus is probably seen as expendable (or certainly more expendable than the core titles).

Now, this may not lead to Deadspin getting shut down. More likely, what we'll see is more and bigger ads and a smaller roster of writers. The possibility of the site being sold to someone else is not out of the question, though, especially if you take Denton's comments about cost-cutting and spinning off sites at face valley. Valleywag, which was drawing similar numbers to Deadspin, is already gone. However, part of its demise may have been attributable to the overlap it had with Gawker's other tech and gossip sites. Deadspin is much more isolated, so it wouldn't be easy to roll it in to anything else.

On the selling question: there likely would be interested suitors, especially from larger and more traditional sports media outlets like CBS, Fox or ESPN. The question for them would be if there would be a way to retain Deadspin's audience under a traditional media umbrella, as much of the site relies on humour that wouldn't fly at most media outlets (see Magary's weekly "Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo" for an example). If the site goes to a different corporate overlord, it might just lose what made it special.

Will Deadspin survive the current round of cuts? My guess is it will endure in some form. Whether that's in the present state, at a reduced level under the Gawker umbrella or with another company is yet to be determined.

Comments, questions or responses? Leave them here or send them to me at andrew_bucholtz [at]

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Here's hoping Deadspin survives.