Nick Denton’s Gawker Media empire made a name for itself with snark. Launched in 2003 in New York City, the company has grown from one blog to a company with eight content properties, including Gawker.com, Deadspin, Lifehacker, Gizmodo, io9, Kotaku, Jalopnik, and Jezebel. Although Gawker Media originally monetized based on the article traffic, as most web publishers do, the company is now moving to monetize the comments of its sites.
The move does not come as a surprise, considering the major changes that have taken place at the company over the past 18 months. Last year, Gawker Media implemented a complete redesign of all of it’s properties. The sites transitioned from a traditional blog layout to a more advanced, media rich layout that includes a scrolling sidebar and large feature articles. The transition of the sites in February 2011, was met with a major backlash from users, who flooded the comments section with outrage about bugs in the new user experience. Gawker Media’s pageviews fell dramatically from 1.75 million average views a day to less than 250,000, causing a significant loss in revenue.
On March 23rd of this year, Gawker Media announced that it was transitioning its commenting system. Commenters would now have to sign in using Facebook, Twitter, or Google. This move also outraged and alienated many loyal readers. It was a signal, however, that Gawker Media was valuing the comments on its sites as more than just increased engagement. Now, all of these moves have become clear. Gawker is moving to monetize comments.
“We all know the conventional wisdom: the days of the banner advertisement are numbered. In two years, our primary offering to marketers will be our discussion platform.” notes Denton.
Time will tell if Denton’s hunch is right. While it may work for Gawker Media, this model won’t be appropriate for all publishers. Gawker’s sites thrive on link bait and sensationalist headlines. Although many content sites strive to make their posts more snappy to appeal to web readers, new pieces that are not meant to shock will draw less discussion and thus drive less revenue under this new model.
Denton’s new model also deemphasizes good writing and instead places the original posts as mere discussion catalysts. Why bother paying writers to create complete posts? Gawker Media could easily turn into a forum free for all if commentors drive more revenue than the writers.
Denton’s move to monetize comments may work for a short while, but not every regular commenter is going to be okay with Denton and his team making money off their engagements. After all, Gawker has groomed its community to have an attitude just like the company’s writers.