Mainstream Digital Media Sites Are Apparently Struggling Right Now. VSB, However, Is Not. » VSB

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Mainstream Digital Media Sites Are Apparently Struggling Right Now. VSB, However, Is Not.

There’s a couple ways to look at the recent spate of news on the difficulties multi-million dollar digital media companies — Buzzfeed, Mashable, Salon, and Gawker Media to name a few — are currently having. The most popular way, it seems, is to conclude that we’re reaching a bust period; that Facebook’s (and Google’s) ubiquity is so pervasive that both advertisers and audiences are choosing to spend resources there instead of on these platforms.

From The New York Times

This month, Mashable, a site that had just raised $15 million, laid off 30 people. Salon, a web publishing pioneer, announced a new round of budget cuts and layoffs. And BuzzFeed, which has been held up as a success story, was forced to bat back questions about its revenue — but not before founders at other start-up media companies received calls from anxious investors.

“It is a very dangerous time,” said Om Malik, an investor at True Ventures whose tech news site, Gigaom, collapsed suddenly in 2015, portending the flurry of contractions.

The trouble, the publishers say, is twofold. The web advertising business, always unpredictable, became more treacherous. And website traffic plateaued at many large sites, in some cases falling — a new and troubling experience after a decade of exuberant growth.

Online publishers have faced numerous financial challenges in recent years, including automated advertising and ad-blocking tools. But now, there is a realization that something more profound has happened: The transition from an Internet of websites to an Internet of mobile apps and social platforms, and Facebook in particular, is no longer coming — it is here.

While this news should seem troubling to someone like me — a founder of a digital media platform and a contributor to several others — it’s not. For one simple reason: VSB is not struggling. From 2014 to 2015, our traffic tripled. And if you compare the first three months of 2015 to the first three months of 2016, we’ve increased 400%.

Granted, comparing VSB to a Buzzfeed is like comparing an extremely popular food truck to the Cheesecake Factory. We have a considerably lower overhead. For instance, earlier today we ran a piece from Dara Mathis. I first learned about this piece after (1) going through our email account and finding her pitch. Then (2) I vetted the pitch, and (3) responded directly to Dara. And then she sent me her piece, which (4) I read, (5) copy edited and (6) line edited. Since she’s a new contributor, I needed a bio and picture from her to create her profile, so I received that and (7) created it. Then I (8) inserted her piece into the CMS and published it. But not before (9) finding, screenshotting, and cropping an appropriate picture. And then I (10) shared her piece on Twitter and Facebook. And, along with writing this, I’m (11) moderating the comments on VSB.

I included numbers in that paragraph because each one represents a different job. While some of these jobs have natural and intuitive overlaps, there are publications that may have as many as 11 different people for each. And we haven’t even gotten into the business/publisher aspect of running a media company or even all that far into the creative end.

While VSB is the shit, we’re not particularly unique in this regard. I’m sure of you polled the staffs at The Root, Madame Noire, Black Voices, and many of the larger media companies ran by and targeted towards Black people, you’d find similar instances of multiple people regularly doing multiple jobs. But, like VSB, each of the sites I mentioned grew in traffic from 2014 to 2015.

Which brings me to the second way of looking at the news of the digital media company struggles. Maybe these investors — the ones anxious about pouring millions more on top of the millions they’ve already poured into these companies — are investing in the wrong platforms. Or perhaps they should be less exclusive. Maybe its time that the Black news and media companies who’ve been able to maintain growth during this bust period actually receive these types of opportunities; the chance to grow and perhaps even fail spectacularly. Maybe instead of “here’s another $50 million for you, Buzzfeed” it’s “here’s $30 million for you, Buzzfeed, but we’re going to give $10 million to The Grio, five to VSB and five to Blavity.”

Now, to be fair, I know The Root was acquired by Univision last year, I know Blavity was able to raise a substantial amount of money, and we’ve had a few separate entities in the last year approach VSB about investments, partnerships, and even possible acquisitions. So it’s not like Black spaces are outright ignored.

But, let me just say this. Imagine what a company with 400% growth in the last year — growth with one person working full-time, one working part-time, and various occasional contributors — could do with an infusion of that type of capital.

And then imagine how much more attractive that number would be if we were White.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • TJ

    Congratulations for the constant growth!

    I think one of the main differences between “mainstream” sites and sites like yours is the loyalty. I don’t actively log onto BuzzFeed, Gawker, etc. looking for what’s been posted since I last checked. If I’m reading an article on a “mainstream” site, it’s because I saw it somewhere else on the internet, and I found it relevant to me or my interest. However, with sites like VSB..I’m actively logging on daily to see what’s being read. Also, VSB has the BEST comment section on the internet. If you’re not reading the comments…you’re missing out. You guys fill such a big void in the media space.

    Something about the mainstream sites that are kind of annoying nowadays–this sponsored content and brand publishing shift. Consumer are too smart.

    • ElephantInTheRoom

      Upvote x100

      VSB is one of the few sites I check daily and I can get lost in the comments for HOURS.

      It’s been easy to notice the growth anecdotally because I see more and more VSB articles being shared in my timelines by people other than myself!

      I appreciate that this site isn’t commercial like mainstream sites. It feels like the VSB writers have a voice that’s authentically theirs instead of always trying to low-key pitch us on the latest NBC Universal movie coming out…

      Keep up the good work! :)

    • Brandon Allen

      Disqus is definitely on the rise. I know if I see an article and I doesn’t have comments I’m not participating.

      • Jaris Cole

        Exactly!

    • minxbrie

      VSB is the only place I actively check the comments and participate.

      But I think VSB has also remained so strong because they don’t operate like other mainstream platforms as they get more successful – usually when they switch focus to click-bait and ads, the content weakens and attempts to broaden the audience actually diminishes quality (at least in my opinion).

      The content and schedule have remained pretty consistent – you know what you’re coming for when you come onto VSB and even with the slight increase in posts per day, you know you’re getting at least 2 articles from Monday through Friday. And then you have a large online community that consistently speaks back to the content. I mean, when something works there’s no point in changing it right?

      • Christinekellis2

        “my room mate Lori Is getting paid on the internet 98$/hr”…..!cs39ctwo days ago grey MacLaren P1 I bought after earning 18,512 DoIIars..it was my previous month’s payout..just a little over.17k DoIIars Last month..3-5 hours job a day…with weekly payouts..it’s realy the simplest. job I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months. ago. and now making over. hourly 87 DoIIars…Learn. More right Here !cs39n:?:?:???? http://GlobalSuperJobsReportsEmploymentsBestGetPayHourly$98…. .??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??::::::!cs39n….,….

        • Cheech

          Sure would be nice to filter this freaking ad, though.

      • Jaris Cole

        @minxbrie:disqus VSB is also the only place I actively check the comments and participate.

        The lack of “click bait” is also what keeps me coming back. That and all of the talented and different contributors here. So many different voices that are smart and witty. And when VSB buckles down and covers the real/tragic/etc. stuff, they do it in such a way that helps you “cope” more with what has happened or helps you to think deeper (maybe I’m only speaking for myself now). I know there have been numerous articles that were able to articulate something I was thinking or feeling.

        Just a great place that great people continue to revisit.

        • Jennifer Carlson

          “my room mate Lori Is getting paid on the internet 98$/hr”…..!ca35ctwo days ago grey MacLaren P1 I bought after earning 18,512 DoIIars..it was my previous month’s payout..just a little over.17k DoIIars Last month..3-5 hours job a day…with weekly payouts..it’s realy the simplest. job I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months. ago. and now making over. hourly 87 DoIIars…Learn. More right Here !ca35n:?:?:???? http://GlobalSuperJobsReportsEmploymentsInternetGetPayHourly$98…. .??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??::::::!ca35n….,…

        • Joansharrington3

          “my room mate Lori Is getting paid on the internet 98$/hr”…..!ca624ctwo days ago grey MacLaren P1 I bought after earning 18,512 DoIIars..it was my previous month’s payout..just a little over.17k DoIIars Last month..3-5 hours job a day…with weekly payouts..it’s realy the simplest. job I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months. ago. and now making over. hourly 87 DoIIars…Learn. More right Here !ca624n:?:?:???? http://GlobalSuperJobsReportsEmploymentsPerfectGetPayHourly$98…. .??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??:??::::::!ca624n….,….

      • Cj

        I agree, I was introduced to this website via an fb friend’s post and I check it every 2 to 3 days in my browser looking for good info, great writing, and an abundance of laughter.

    • Jas

      I agree 1000%. I discovered VSB a few weeks ago after reading a few articles written by my former high school teacher and have been coming to this site every since. I’m guilty of skimming some of the articles and heading straight to the comment section for a good laugh. :-)

    • Aye Bee

      EXACTLY!!! I check it all the time because I look forward to reading the articles. I have been hooked since day one years ago. And the comments section has made me laugh until I cried while also educating me. It is a place where you can laugh but also learn while conversing on the innannet with others. I learned wypipo and 2520 all on VSB and use it on a regular basis.

      • Cj

        What’s 2520?

        • Blueberry01

          The 25th letter of the alphabet is “Y” and the 20th letter is “T”.

          So, 2520 stands for YT. White people were originally referred tp as “You Tube” people…before YouTube Black became a thing.

          Shoutout to all of the Black Vloggers!

          • Cj

            Got it. Thanks.

        • TinyRiot

          I thought it was, 25th letter = Y & 20th letter = T. Put them together and you get YT or “whitey”.

          As in, “those 2520s are at it again.”

  • Stanley

    Maaan. It’s a double edged sword. Or at least I think it is. Once these investors come in all they care about is the money. If you’re not growing in traffic and money raised every year they’re not trying to hear it. Look at what investors are doing to twitter? Twitter made over 2 billion last year. But investors are tight because that number isn’t as high as they thought it would be. So now we’re getting ads thrown all over our damn timelines, and what not. I’ll continue to support this publication because you folk do great work and I love the writing here. And maybe, just maybe we can get to a point where VSB, or any other publication like it will need investors.

  • kayleb

    Read this post and imagined you putting the nail painting emoji at the end.

  • Mike Norman

    Hey Champ. Long time reader second time contributor (my first comment was unjustly moderated out ;) ) I’m one of the founders of Wefunder.com, and your readers can legally be given the chance to invest in VSB for the first time come May 16th. I know I would be interested. Anyone else?

  • CookieGugglemanFleck

    Beware of investment. It comes with great strings attached. You will find yourself sacrificing quality and/or integrity to meet investors’ expectations for growth every single year. They will never be satisfied and get off your back. If you can, stay your own boss. It is definitely possible just maybe more slowly.

    That said, I have been an AVID Gawker reader pretty much from day one and I skim now where I used to devour every word. It’s become less focused, lowered the quality of its writing and has persisted with stupid series (500 Days of Kristin anyone?) but dropped good ones (celebrity spottings in NYC or movie reviews come to mind). Much of the change there has happened to increase clicks in order to…drumroll please…increase numbers for investors. Sometimes more is just more. Stay golden, VSB.

    • miss t-lee

      Your screen name though. ?

    • cakes_and_pies

      I used to knock hard for Gawker, but they fired or ran off all the good writers and now its just terrible. I’ll visit thesaladbowl sub-Kinja for WOC articles, but that’s about it.

      • Hugh Akston

        i only go there for Kinja…i need to stay away…though…i’ve bought five items in the past two weeks alone…yeah…

        • cakes_and_pies

          You like Kinja? How?
          It’s embarrassing and people are always begging to “get out of the grays.”

          • Tambra

            I can’t stand kinja. A couple times I got logged out and couldn’t get back in so I just gave up. Tired of creating burners.

            • cakes_and_pies

              I do miss being a starred commentor, but I ain’t begging for isht to be ungrayed. I use my alternet Google account used only for promotional deals. The site lost focus and churns out BS.

              • Tambra

                It’s not worth the effort.

                • cakes_and_pies

                  Not at all. I’d be embarrassed if I wasn’t gray. The site has turned into trash.

                  • Tambra

                    Well a lot of the good editors and writers have left, they have scraped a lot of the subblogs, so basically it garbage.

          • Hugh Akston
            • cakes_and_pies

              Lifehacker and kinja deals don’t count! They are the most innocuous sites on that platform

  • Greg Simms Jr

    Damon Young…you are my HERO!!!! Ha!!!! Let the Church say “Amen”!!!!!

  • KB

    Shouts out to the team at VSB for doing your thing and the community of commenters.

  • Brooklyn_Bruin

    There’s a wall street lesson here too

  • Tambra

    Congrats!

  • Hed_busta

    Maaaaan, ya’ll are sustainable and growing for one reason and one reason only:

    “Granted, comparing VSB to a Buzzfeed is like comparing an extremely popular food truck to the Cheesecake Factory”

    That ish made me laugh out loud! The writing does it…definitely the writing, by you and others here…Good dope sell itself…

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