On Tuesday, Bleacher Report co-founder Bryan Goldberg announced on PandoDaily that he had secured $6.5 million in funding for Bustle.com, his latest digital venture, which aims to “completely transform women’s publishing,” an industry that he said “has long served as a symbol of ‘old media’ stagnancy.” Goldberg framed his announcement as a FAQ, or FauxAQ, as the questions were not asked frequently, but once, by the same person who answered them. Goldberg, who is a columnist for PandoDaily, is optimistic that Bustle.com has the potential to become as successful as Bleacher Report, which sold last year to Turner Media for somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million.
Isn’t it time for a women’s publication that puts world news and politics alongside beauty tips? What about a site that takes an introspective look at the celebrity world, while also having a lot of fun covering it? How about a site that offers career advice and book reviews, while also reporting on fashion trends and popular memes?
The announcement was criticized by some media insiders, including author Rachel Sklar and Gawker co-founder Elizabeth Spiers, who took Goldberg to task in the comments for presuming that Bustle.com is boldly going where no digital publisher has gone before in simply offering a variety of content to a mainstream female audience. On Thursday, Spiers published an extended critique on Flavorwire, and Goldberg was also lampooned on the Hairpin and on Slate, in a post titled “Man Creates Very First Website for Women Ever.”
Goldberg has been an easy target of exasperated ridicule, in part because he appears to believe that women cannot digest political and global news unless it’s served with a chaser of fashion tips or meditations on concealer. To wit, Goldberg’s editorial opens by listing a number of new media properties he says aim “to attract men.” As we were surprised to see titles we thought were fairly gender-neutral on this list, we took a closer look at their audience demographics by way of Quantcast analytics, which Goldberg notes he used as the source for his characterization.
Below are the results, in order of appearance:
Politico: 85% male, 15% female.
This surprised us. Politico’s website reports different numbers: 68% male vs. 32% female. There are a several possible explanations for this -- among them the likelihood that Politico is pulling its data from comScore or another analytics source. Politico did not respond to a request for comment.
Bleacher Report: 93% male, 7% female.
Tech Crunch: 57% male, 43% female.
Business Insider: 64% male, 36% female.
Mashable: 51% male, 49% female.
Grantland: Does not have a Quantcast profile. Did not respond to requests for comment.
The Verge: 93% male, 7% female. (!)*
Break: 89% male, 11% female.
Break.com is pop culture site that primarily traffics in viral videos and is indeed targeted to a male audience.
College Humor: 77% male, 23% female.
IGN: 54% male, 46% female.
Thrillist: An even 50/50.
Gawker Media: 68%, 32% male.
Gawker Media includes a number of different properties, including Jezebel, Deadspin and io9. In her comment on the PandoDaily story, Spiers challenged the inclusion of Gawker on Goldberg’s list. “As one of the two people who did launch Gawker.com,” she wrote, “I think I can attest that it was definitely not targeting men and does not now.” Gawker did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Spiers.
So yes, all but one of the twelve properties Goldberg said were “aiming to attract men” showed at least a slightly higher male than female readership. In some cases, very slightly. Only four -- including The Bleacher Report, which publishes sports content exclusively -- showed metrics that reflect a significantly male-heavy readership; significant enough that we could safely assume the publishers are targeting men. But we absolutely should not assume that, says the editor-in-chief of one of them.
*Verge EIC Joshua Topolsky said that the Quantcast data is not an accurate reflection of the Verge’s audience demographics, pointing instead to their comScore metrics, which reflects a growing female audience that is nearing 30% of the site’s total readership. “We've seen a shift in the direction of a more diverse audience, and that's the way we like it,” Topolsky said. “Our goal is to be inclusive, not exclusive.”
Further, “the concept of a ‘girls’ site and a ‘boys’ site is an outmoded concept — we want to build sites for smart people everywhere, regardless of gender.”
Let’s assume that Goldberg was just too excited about his $6.5 million to consider how tone-deaf his PandoDaily post would come across. And while he clearly did not look very closely at the data he claimed to use for his sweeping assumption about target audiences (ie. Grantland isn’t even on Quantcast), we were expecting the demographics to look a little different than they did.
Now there’s the matter of deciding whether or not we wish him luck – after all, what’s the harm in Bustle succeeding? Goldberg’s self-congratulatory mission statement might have been offensive, but nothing I’ve found on Bustle.com is. Goldberg promised to keep his hands off editorial, and it appears that he’s hired some good writers and editors with appropriate backgrounds. But by revealing his ignorance about the very industry he’s proclaiming to transform, he’s made their jobs a whole lot harder. So let’s wish all of them luck.
Ellen Killoran is the Media & Culture Editor at IBTimes. She previously contributed to The L Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, and The Daily, and co-produced the HBO...