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.

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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.

  • #HumbleBrag

    • Blueberry01

      Yes, but it was a still a valid point. I feel like humble braggers mention irrelevant things when they boast about themselves.

  • The problem with investors and the internet is that they don’t understand the internet. You can’t keep expecting growth as the sole measure to how well you’re doing. Everyone will eventually meet critical mass. What then?

    • Val

      That’s always the problem with going public. The expectations become about money rather than content.

      • Kas

        There are ways around that.

    • Mike Norman

      This is why its great to have your customers as investors and they appreciate the non financial returns. Great writing , sharp wit, etc.

  • Buster Cannon

    Food truck >>>>> Cheesecake Factory

    • Cheech

      One upvote was not enough.

  • The question is whether you, or anyone, can hold that audience. While it’s possible, no one wants to be the next Gawker out in these streets. Also, there’s the fact that Black media is an odd fit for this environment, in that everyone either wants to be the biggest thing on the block or hyperfocused. I’m curious where the financial lane is for investors to sell.

    So, does the VSB collective wanna help Champ with his paper?

    • Mike Norman

      Yes! Big law change comes into effect on May 16th. We could all invest as little as $100.

      • Wild Cougar

        Please tell us more

    • Kas

      As long as it’s money and not helping write an actual paper, I’m down.

  • LMNOP

    Champ, you’re a very talented writer, you create a quality product and people keep coming back for that. When you decided to take VSB to the next level you had a vision for what you wanted to create and why and how you wanted to do it. You are a huge part of why VSB is successful.

  • StickyGeranium

    I used to read Salon because they have at least a number of interesting articles, but their headlines devolved into such painfully idiotic clickbait that I just couldn’t take it anymore. I think if they just fired all their headline writers and let the actual journalists pick titles, they’d probably see major economic benefits.

  • Edith Parker

    Oh, we’re Matthew McConaughey, right now?! I see what you did there.

  • her

    Often times as sites grow the content gets weaker. I hope vsb comtinues to grow but not in the same direction as the other sites that have so much going on i get lost.

    • Vsb does itself a lot of favors by not having a distinguishable “VSB writing style” where all the writers have the same voice due to editing. That’s how good publications thrive imo

      • LMNOP

        Even when it was just Champ and PJ, their writing styles are so different and they’re both comfortable writing about all kinds of different topics in different ways. I definitely think that’s a good thing.

      • her

        Agreed. I found this site from a link to one of Damon’s post so I originally started only reading his. One day i came back and started reading an article and after the first paragraph i had to scroll down and see who’s work I was reading because I could tell it was not Damon. I can rarely visit a site and be able to tell who the writer is (or is not) without looking.

        • Blueberry01

          Didn’t Damon used to contribute for MadameNoire? I feel like I remember some weekly post called, “Ask a Black Man”.

  • Mary Burrell

    Please don’t turn into Bossip.

    • Val

      Right. Lol Whenever someone sets up a new social media site the first thing they should do is check in at Bossip to see what not to do.

    • cakes_and_pies

      I’ve very happy to read a Black blog that doesn’t consist of slideshows spread over 20 pages, so much advertising and pop-ups, I’m terrified Imma wind up on the rush card website, unstable platforms where the whole page can’t load, and doesn’t have gutter trash commentors.

      • Val

        Yep, they should have left those slide shows in 2005 where they belong.

      • GenevaGirl

        I think all slide shows should have an option to see the entire article on one page. I may have clicked on to that page to find the one item that’s #17 on a list of 18. I don’t have time for that ish.

        • cakes_and_pies

          There is a plugin that loads all the slides on one page, but it is a CPU hog. I understand why some urban blogs depend on page views, but I’m not that pressed to spend 20 minutes clicking through 18 pages on Madame****.

  • truthseeker2436577@yahoo.com

    One thing that I like about VSB is that it combines critical analysis with wit and humor. You can learn something, experience humor, and witness intellectual commentaries in an unique fashion. As others have mentioned, the comment section is excellent filled with black people with exceptional wisdom on a wide spectrum of issues. Times are changing. People are increasingly rejecting the status quo. People want unvarnished truth.

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