(Part Two) RaceTalk(S) with Gizmodo’s Wilson Rothman: Why Denton’s Pay-Per-View Model for Bloggers is like Television Ratings 1

Wilson Rothman

By Kyle Austin

Here is the much overdue second part of my discussion with Wilson Rothman. If you missed part one of our conversation a few weeks back, check it out here. This part of our conversation focuses on Denton’s pay-per-view model, bloggers interaction with their readers and his quick take on GizmodoGate. I’ll post the third and final part of our conversation later this week (UPDATE: I made the “rookie” journalistic mistake of recording over the last part of our conversation on my tape recorder. Hence, this is all folks – until I meet up again with Wilson the next time I’m in New York).

Racetalk: How have things changed since you started using the pay-per-view strategy after using the pay-per-post strategy?

WR: There are some changes. I liken it to TV ratings. Our business is such that we can see how we do every day, every week or even every minute. You can slice it up how ever you want it. It’s much like TV ratings and we have the same push and pull that TV people are often accused of. That meaning, how much you play towards what the audience wants versus playing the role of prescribing what the audience needs to know and see.

You get to this level where sometimes you play to populist – Sex is an easy sell, Apple is an easy sell, Lego and Star Wars. There are obviously some things that are easier to sell to readers then others. The bloggers that are paid by per-click’s know that if they start pandering too much they are in trouble.  A) Hyped topics burn out too fast. If you’re just playing to a fad like Steampunk – well guess what, Steampunk is played out. So you can’t do that anymore. You have to look for another fad. You’re cool hunting essentially.

People have really made a bigger deal out of the model change then it actually was because people’s pay checks haven’t changed a lot.

Racetalk: It seems like a smart decision on a business level. The major print publications like BusinessWeek now have directives from the top down to make sure there is user engagement with each online article. They are going after advertisers, leveraging the engagement statistic attached to each article.

WR: I will say this. My “Gadget of the Week” column for Time.com suffered because there were no comments enabled. The only reason I knew my traffic numbers was because I was friends with the tech department. It wasn’t because I was supposed to or even allowed to know. I had to track it all informally. They didn’t know what they were doing and they didn’t know how to monetize something that was actually one of their biggest money makers. The joke was, no matter how dry the advertising season was there was always an ad on my page. There’s no secret to that, that’s why Gizmodo and other technology sites do well.

So with no comments for my TIME column, I would get these nasty emails from Apple fan boys. You make one mistake (I’m talking typo, not a factual error), and you have 400 fan boys telling you – “You’re an idiot.”

Getting it in an email you can’t gauge the intensity of it. If you have it in the comments you can quickly see what the errors are. Sometimes it’s just a typo and we can change it quickly. They also can’t be total jerks to you when they are commenting publicly, because there is a Gizmodo community. In other words, if someone is really mean to a writer on Gizmodo, there are three people that will jump on that person in the comments. Or they get banned, which isn’t fun for anybody. There is more of a community aspect.

RaceTalk: That leads me to another question. Forrester put out this study a few weeks ago on “How to connect with Bloggers.” There was this one interesting question on there “If you had to choose only one source of information about a product before purchase what/who would it be?” Those that answered indicated that the first place they’d turn (33%) was “A recommendation by a friend or family member” and number two was “A consumer review or rating posted by someone like you.” It sounds like you guys are position nicely with this finding based on your friendly connection with your readers – more connection with them then you ever had at TIME.

WR: I feel a connection with my readers. Yes, once you get into this you realize the futility of doing the print thing. I worked steadily at Money magazine through my first eight months at Gizmodo and this December I resigned. I had worked with them since 2004 doing service journalism pieces. It got to a point where people are changing stories or tweaking things without any idea what kind of feedback there was. It’s like now, I put up stories or round-up reviews where people say, “This is bad, here’s why.”

I take that into consideration and I’m like wow I just got a critique. You get feedback and it’s constructive even when they are hostile. Look, if 100 people are hostile in comments to you – you don’t ban 100 people –I screwed up. If 90 of them are nice and 10 of them are hostile, really hostile, well then you may ban them.

RaceTalk: Speaking of banning. I guess I have to ask you about GizmodoGate and what happened at CES and the blow-up that followed it. Do you have a position or opinion on what happened there?

WR: What I have to say first and foremost is, I had no knowledge of it and I wasn’t involved with the actual prank or the posting of the video in anyway. It was a decision made by other people that had the right to make that decision. I think most people know that. It’s not in my character and it’s not really my thing.

With that said, I also have to say that we have not seen any significant backlash from it. At least from our readership.

RaceTalk: There was some talk that you were banned from CES?

WR: I was at a CEA event a few weeks ago and I’ve been invited to another panel. I don’t know what their final decision is. I feel like they can’t punish all of us. There are a lot of us here and I don’t think we should all be responsible for a prank – carried out by a few people.

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