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It's hard to believe, but Salon started in 1995. The site described as a "’left-coast, interactive version of The New Yorker,’” was valued at one hundred seven million dollars. just a few short four years after its inception.
Twenty-five years later, the site is now for sale to a new buyer for 5 million dollars. For the mathematically inclined, that's a little under 4.7% of its 1999 IPO’s worth. The filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which occurred on May 8th, required Salon Media Group LLC to list any risks involved, “including the fact that there are no guarantees that the sale will be completed and if it is not completed, Salon may have to file for bankruptcy and liquidation of assets. If the sale does not complete in time, the asset sale could be considered 'abandoned.'"
To put this into a greater perspective, in 2006, the stock price was 100 dollars USD. Now it's 0.030.
Tempting as it might be to ascribe the fall of a magazine to one particular thing, there are myriad reasons for the demise. The dot com bubble burst was one reason. Salon was one of the first new media outlets, which paved the way for the competition from other companies, many of which relied on selling ad space rather than charging subscriptions.
Changing tastes (perceived or otherwise) had a lot to do with this, too. Where once the magazine chose top-notch journalists who wrote thought-provoking articles of substance, it became known more for moronic hot take articles more akin to click bait than anything else, A cursory look at recent articles contain salaciously stupid headlines like "Are influencers inherently authoritarian?" tap into America's constant outrage and paranoia with the current president "Will Donald Trump step down if he loses re-election in 2020? Scholars echo Nancy Pelosi's concerns," weird, narcissistic diary entries like "Farewell, once-favorite organ: I am officially breaking up with my penis," or far more troubling, supporting paedophilia with articles such as "Meet the paedophiles who mean well," as well as a few they deleted, including one called "I'm a paedophile but not a monster."
The amount of criticism garnered from those last articles, in particular, didn't do much to preserve the legacy of a once-great journalism site, especially in the social media age, where your mistakes (intended or otherwise) spread faster than you can spit. Consider the New York Times publishing an anti-Semitic cartoon so vile that Charlie Hebdo would have told them to slow their roll, and the swift disciplinary action as a result. Such cases like this and paedophilia apology is not what people want to hear.
Nor do brands. If Salon's hot takes are cringe-worthy, they aren't new. The Guardian and Vox ensure traffic this way. But if Gawker's toxicity was any indication, self-respecting brands will think twice about placing their ads on said sites.
If Gawker was a cautionary tale, perhaps Salon is the canary in the coal mine. "Build it and give it away for free and they will come in droves" was the internet's utopian promise. But it was also short-sighted. They may come in droves, even accidentally click on one of your banner ads. But if the content isn't worth anything, then it isn't worth anything. Making a drastic shift into noxious territory might do well in the short term for traffic, but time has proven it isn't a sustainable business model.
By the way, this is true of both traditionally left, and traditionally right media outlets. After conservative outlet, The Weekly Standard folded, Charlie Skykes and bloated war-loving neocon figurehead Bill Kristol decided the best course of action was to create a new outlet that insulted the conservative base. And thus, The Bulwark was born. The site seems destined to appeal more to those perpetually outraged against President Trump and conservatism in general than offer any nuance or insight into politics. Its antagonistic brand voice seems more geared toward the Salon and Vox crowd than any red state resident.
As usual, Conservatives are late to the party. Outrage is being phased out, if Salon is any indication.
Left, right, in between-- the biggest misstep of many sites is underestimating the sophistication of their audiences, as well as their patience for stupidity, and appetite for outrage. The mantra among the right is "Get woke, go broke." I prefer a more apolitical truism: If a site exists only to create vapid, facile or controversial hot takes, or has made it its constant mission to provoke outrage, there's nowhere left to go because its already at the bottom. While you were in a race to see who got down there first, audiences left in droves. It might be a result of audiences wanting more quality content. Or a more niche media. Maybe they've just had enough of your shit. All are valid reasons. Like any good brand, if you want to grow the market share, you have to know what your audience really wants. This includes the audience consuming your content for free, and the advertisers who are supposed to pay for that free content with their ads.
Even advertisers (and maybe a few years from now, ad agencies) are realizing after all this time that perhaps the allure of such sites isn't the best use of media dollars any more than Buzzfeed's non-traffic driving listicles and fraudulent digital media that costs hundreds of millions every year.
Speaking of, now's a great time to mention, Adland was started by one person, Åsk Dabitch Wäppling and is still maintained by her (the back end and the front end) with a very small staff who don't have funding from either George Soros of the Koch brothers. As an independent media outlet, we are also free to give honest critiques of your ads, giving high deserved praise when warranted and calling the industry out on its shit when warranted, too. But it does cost a lot to host an archive of decades worth of ads including Super Bowl ads.
And like Salon, our free traffic doesn't bring home any bacon. If you like what you read, please donate below, so we can have some bacon.