August 14, 2002

Gizmodo a new weblog focused on gadgets, has recently launched. The full explanation for the site is here. Does this have a chance of becoming a profitable venture?

posted by mathowie to news at 9:43 AM PDT (25 comments total)

Good question -- but why should it be profitable? Maybe I'm missing something.

If I'm looking for something on the Web, I go to Google. If their reviews show up in Google, then I'll find them. Same thing with the new blogcritics site. What a turn off that they have an RIAA guy to launch the site. They want free books and CDs to review. BFD.

It's such a stale idea. The Web is distributed. Try to get the flow to coalesce in a premeditated way. Not likely to work.

Usual disclaimers apply, but they'll flame me anyway. ;->

posted by davewiner at 9:56 AM PDT on August 14

but why should it be profitable? Maybe I'm missing something.

I only mention profitability because Nick Denton describes it as the driving force behind creating the site, and also adds: "We're also looking at a couple of other vertical commercial blog ideas."

Nick's putting energy into something, paying someone to write for it, so I guess profitability is a lot more important than your average personal blog. It's still too new of a site, but I'm looking forward to seeing how well written it is, and if it keeps me coming back. If so, and it makes the people behind it money while doing it, maybe professional blogging can work afterall.

posted by mathowie at 10:40 AM PDT on August 14

Asking why blogging should be profitable is about as productive as asking why shouldn't it be profitable. Have we not yet figured out that on the Web, there is no "should," only "can?"

In Gizmodo's case, the question is indeed an old one: can someone earn a living based predominately on affiliate income, doing nothing but directing people to places that talk about and sell gadgets? I believe that's why the intro on Nick Denton's site used the term "experiment."

If that's indeed the goal here, earning a living, then they need to come up with something a hell of a lot more compelling than affiliate links. Never mind that Amazon's commissions suck and that they do everything they can to make sure they pay the least amount possible -- instead, think "reasons to click Buy." At first glance, I don't see any, except lazy convenience. And personally speaking, it's just as easy for me to go directly to Amazon.com, search for the item in question and find out more about it, including customer reviews, thus screwing Gizmodo out of their commission.

Still, as an experiment, it will be interesting to see where it goes.

posted by malleron at 10:58 AM PDT on August 14

Intresting thread. I was interviewed on this subject today, and developed it some more. Premeditated blogging-for-profit is a dead-end imho. The CEOs of the gadget companies will run weblogs. That will make money if the gadgets are good. And the fans will write about the gadgets they love on their weblogs, not for money but to share what they learn and to be a magnet for more learning through searches. That's the way blogs work today. The CEO thing is new, not many are doing it, but it will be the most direct "business model" for weblogs. Few people understand this. The interviewer asked if Ken Lay of Enron will have a weblog. I said no way, but his replacement, in 2007, will. Today is August 14, the day when CEOs are required to certify their company's financial statements. Lo and behold, trust is an important issue for CEOs. As Gomer Pyle used to say "Surprise surprise."

posted by davewiner at 11:50 AM PDT on August 14

Sure it's got a chance to be profitable. Eventually, with affiliate revenue, (maybe) some ad or sponsorship revenue and near zero costs, it will probably eke out a profit someday. Nothing wrong with profit....

I'm not a gadget guy, so I can't get excited about the stuff they highlight, but here's what I like about the "experiment", as Nick describes it:
  • transparency - the group behind it seems to be willing to share their experiences with building the business side of the site. That's going to be interesting for all of us who watch and it will build trust between readers and the site contributors. I hope it continues.
  • Ideas - All of us who are watching and trying to see new ways of supporting microcontent will get some good ideas
  • Tools - sites like this are pushing the tools forward, opening up new ways for small would-be publishers to leverage sound tools like MoveableType.

    Premeditated blogging-for-profit is a dead-end...
    If that translates to, "I'm gonna go start a blog and try and make some money" I'm with you, Dave. But this looks like something other than a typical blog. Aside from the format of the site (primarily short posts putting a link in context, order reverse-chronologically), I don't really see this as a blog. I see it as a publication, a newsletter. So, I don't consider the site to be blogging for profit, it's publishing for profit. Maybe that's splitting a hair, but I think it's an important distinction.

    So, whether or not the site is profitable for the owners on a revenue/costs basis I think the site will contribute some kind of profit back to the community it sprang from. If that means "dead end", I'll take it.

    posted by jimbler at 12:22 PM PDT on August 14

  • Gizmodo looks interesting, but I wonder if it hurts the site to be so upfront about the fact that it was launched as a money-making venture. While that makes for interesting discussion at places like this, I wonder if it will stunt the site's growth, since commercially successful weblogs up to now have all resulted from a grass-roots, word-of-mouth, oops-we're-making-money approach.

    To ask another way, if Andrew Sullivan had started his weblog with the express purpose of making money, wouldn't people view his thrice-weekly mentions of hits, visitors, and profit in a different light?

    posted by rcade at 2:08 PM PDT on August 14

    It looks like a great source of information, and it serves that purpose well. But most of the popular weblogs I read have other aspects that make them more compelling. Things like the personality of the editor(s) behind the weblog. Gizmodo, in its current state is pretty "dry." There's no personality or character there at all, just info. Weblogs should have opinions. Weblogs should have character. Tie it all up together with good information, and you've got a site people will come back to again and again.

    posted by camworld at 2:18 PM PDT on August 14

    I think of weblogs as the online equivalent of a newspaper column, written by a journalist who readers come to know and understand. Try comparing it to the Ann Landers column and you'll see where I am coming from. Her column had personality. It had character. It had information. It had an updated-daily format.

    A weblog that is solely information is nothing more than a directory of information. When was the last time someone came up to you and said they read DMOZ every day? Sure, it's useful but it has no feeling -- nothing that readers can relate to and identify with.

    Weblogs that are participatory like Metafilter, Slashdot or any of the comments-enabled blogs attract readers because they exude the personality of the posters. Can you imagine how boring these sites would be if people we only allowed to post links with their opinions and feelings stripped out?

    posted by camworld at 2:31 PM PDT on August 14

    Weblogs should have opinions. Weblogs should have character.

    Gizmodo reminds of catalogs. I love reading catalogs and magazines that are merely catalogs wrapped in a thin veneer of journalism. These have opinion (everything is great, buy it!), character (of the brand or store), and are often profitable (you buy the product or they sell ad revenue). Although you could narrow the definition of what is a weblog, why not have weblogs that correspond to different print genres? "Cata-weblogs" could get revenue from ads, commissions, payment for placement (!), or at the least, perhaps the author can get free samples.

    posted by girlhacker at 5:13 PM PDT on August 14

    It's all in the presentation - gizmondo is too cut and dried for my tastes. In other words, I agree with camworld.

    If a weblog like the fabulous Sew Wrong decided to start trying to earn revenue by linking to projects and patterns and cool little buttons and doodads, though, I would be first in line to buy, buy, buy. Take the Revolt Dress project: you get to see the pattern, check out a scan of a scrap of the fabric that's being used to make the dress, get inspired by the music choices that go with the image that the dress conveys, read commentary and comments from people following along with the project, and then check out the seamstress wearing her latest creation. Even the "mistakes" projects (I think she looks great) are informative and entertaining. I would buy the patterns and gizmos in a heartbeat if they offered them for sale.

    Gizmodo could learn a thing or three from Sew Wrong.

    posted by iconomy at 6:47 PM PDT on August 14

    girlhacker, I like the idea of catlog/blog. Call 'em catablogs. (sorry)

    Camworld has it nailed. Personality + insight = something special. We create relationships with personalities, not information. There are a lot of sites with links to weird stuff, but there are only a few BoingBoing or Sharpeworld sites out there.

    If enough readers make a "connection" with Gizmodo, if they hear something unique in the voice of the site editors, if they learn to trust the instincts of writers, they'll keep coming back. And consistent, committed traffic from an understood group of users is what will convince certain potential sponsors to take a chance on reaching out to those users. Sponsorship and ad revenue may eventually lead to profit for the Gizmodo folks. Hopefully. It would be cool to watch a micro-publisher succeed on their own terms without having to bow down to the "man".

    posted by jimbler at 7:26 PM PDT on August 14

    I think we're all pretty much in agreement.

    A couple of prior arts -- the Fetish column in Wired, originally written by a good friend of mine David Jacobs, was like going over to his house and having him show you all the neat shit he had accumulated. He spent huge amounts of time writing the column every month.

    Another example -- the Sharper Image catalog.

    In the 80s, the articles in the catalog were written by the owner of the company, Richard Thalheimer. He only wrote up products he himself used. (I bet he would like weblogs.)

    I got a glimpse into the process because he used ThinkTank, my first outliner, and then the Sharper Image carried it. He wrote a beautiful essay about the product, unfortunately the product didn't sell well through his catalog, but it was a great insightful piece he wrote.

    posted by davewiner at 10:10 PM PDT on August 14

    I'm pretty up on Gizmodo's chances, just because it doesn't take *that* much in the way of Amazon affliate links to generate a not-inconsiderable revenue stream. After thinking about it, though, I realized I was supportive because I heard about the idea from Nick and Peter first-hand.

    Not that I'm being a mindless booster for my friends, but that it made me *perceive* a personal connection or personality to the site that, apparently, others don't see.

    So the site certainly works if one assumes it has a distinct voice, I think the only long-term obstacle is ensuring that it acquires an intrinsic voice for visitors who won't infer one.

    That being said, I think a topic-specific business knowledge pay-to-read blog would be a much more certain revenue generator than trying to "passively" earn income through affiliate fees. I can see Gizmodo evolving to include explicit ads, but I think a more solid business case could be made for doing a publication like Microsoft Watch, which charges $400 a year or $40 a month for business-critical information.

    Of course, by that measure, Fucked Company's been a paid blog for a good while now.

    I also think, due to its irresistible can't-turn-away-even-when-you-want-to nature, Dave could probably charge his readers for access to Scripting News, even though it's not nearly as tightly-focused.

    posted by anildash at 10:43 PM PDT on August 14

    Another catalog that once had a strong editorial voice was Land's End, which made the most of its location in God's Country, a/k/a SW Wisconsin's bucolic, homespun image. Every item was written up as "we picked these fine cotton threads from India just for you!" I understand L.L. Bean had a similar vibe going. But the apotheosis was, of course, the original Banana Republic catalog, personally written by the founders with ambience-ridden travelogues as the opening for discussing items of upscale yet still down-and-dirty clothing, and the J. Peterman, who did pretty much the same thing for an even classier set, and which was parodied on Seinfeld. In both cases the strong editorial voice created a catalog that people actually looked forward to reading, like a magazine, and they built strong brands because of it. I believe both companies had, in those early days at least, strong Cluetrain-ish elements; Land's End certainly had one of the strongest customer-feedback systems in the business.

    In short, people can like reading about products if the writing is worthwhile. They may be more skeptical about it now in the aughts than in the eighties, but that personality aspect, which is the key to a good blog, can work even if the subjects are mundane.

    posted by dhartung at 12:55 AM PDT on August 15

    I'm pretty up on Gizmodo's chances, just because it doesn't take *that* much in the way of Amazon affliate links to generate a not-inconsiderable revenue stream.

    I don't think that's true any more, because the number of 15 percent commissions has dropped considerably in the last few years. On the same amount of traffic, I'm getting around one-fifth of the Amazon affiliate fees I used to earn on a few sites.

    posted by rcade at 5:23 AM PDT on August 15

    Did you fix your links so they don't go to the new intermediate pages?

    posted by xian at 7:16 AM PDT on August 15

    Wow, I didn't even know it was possible to not go to the intermediate page. How do you do that?

    posted by kindall at 8:51 AM PDT on August 15

    Tack "ref=nosim" (without the quotes) onto the end of the URL.

    posted by jjg at 9:27 AM PDT on August 15

    jimbler, I like "catablogs".

    dhartung, excellent summary (as usual) of the catalogs with strong voices. Banana Republic was one of my favorites; the catalogs are getting peddled on eBay these days.

    posted by girlhacker at 11:13 AM PDT on August 15

    I guess it's a good thing they didn't name it 'Gizilla' - for more than one reason...

    posted by raster at 12:30 PM PDT on August 15

    I have used the nosim URL, but I find the commissions have still dropped precipitously while my traffic has not. Perhaps there are other explanations, but it seems like Amazon has figured out ways to undercut its own affiliates.

    posted by rcade at 1:14 PM PDT on August 15

    I want to start a porn weblog called 'Jizzilla'. :-p

    posted by camworld at 1:17 PM PDT on August 15

    More priors:

    Gareth Branwyn's www.streettech.com is essentially the same, but more attitude. http://www.streettech.com/shoptalk is a well-kept secret. This is a self-plug.

    posted by Craniac at 3:59 PM PDT on August 15

    i think that this type of thing is just awesome. this is that great entrepreneurial drive that gives this country's economic system its backbone - which is why america is basically the richest country in the world - to the benefit of all its citizens.

    yeah, it's small, but strong.

    posted by swifting at 12:19 PM PDT on August 16

    I am not sure the affiliate business plan is the greatest but a couple microcontent sites I know of are making a couple thousand dollars a month from Amazon.com sales. They are niche and have a good reputation but it seems to be working.

    I think it will come down to how good of a job that Gizmodo does in standing out in a crowded field.

    posted by coop at 8:40 PM PDT on August 19

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