What! How dare I ask such a question?
You are a man, perhaps, and you like to read — why, you have visited six different websites today alone. PandoDaily is just one of many fine periodicals that round out your day. Right?
But I’m still going to ask the question, and I am also going to broaden it into an action-oriented one: Is it worth it to launch a digital publication that targets men?
For me, the answer is no.
And so my next publication will target female readers, because I believe that it is the most no-brainer business decision that I can possibly make. When it comes to publishing, women are everything. And, yet, nobody wants to publish for them online.
So with all due respect to my previous baby Bleacher Report, and with all apologies to TheVerge, SBNation, HuffingtonPost, TechCrunch, Drudge, BusinessInsider, Thrillist, Curbed, Gawker — and pretty much every new media property … Here are the tea leaves:
Tea Leaf No. 1 — The Misery of an online advertising salesman
In the early days of Bleacher Report’s sales initiatives, I was part of a two-man team. It was our VP of Sales and I who ran around New York City pitching the top advertising agencies on why they should spend money with us.
And whenever we met with a top-tier agency — Mindshare (Unilever), Mediavest (Proctor & Gamble), etc. — we would give them a 30 minute crash course on why Bleacher Report was the best possible website on which they could spend their brand dollars.
Our VP of Sales was the best in the business. And having one of the founders there to talk about the vision was a great knockout punch. But there was one problem. The meetings seemed to end the same way…
“So, our agency loves what you are doing at Bleacher Report, and we could definitely see ourselves working with you. The only problem is that of our 40+ Unilever brands, only two of them target men.”
So, other than Axe and Klondike Ice Cream, we were out of luck.
It was a shame that Bleacher Report could not compete for Noxzema, TRESemme, Caress, Suave, Dove, Pond’s, Nexxus, Q-tip, or even Ragu. Or about 20 other brands. But, hey, we did as much business as we could for Klondike Ice Cream.
From the business perspective, a male reader is like a tree falling in the woods. If nobody cares that he is there, is he even a reader at all?
As Tim Armstrong liked to point out — before buying a male-focused website named after a famous woman — it is females who control 80 percent of buying power. That matters.
And, yet, so much of the new media publishing focus is still on men. Ironically, in addition to HuffingtonPost, the other major website that Tim Armstrong bought was TechCrunch. There was just nothing else to buy, evidently.
Advertisers want to reach women. Let’s give them what they want.
Tea Leaf No. 2 — Hearst vs. Time Inc.
Time Warner is an outstanding company. And, no, I’m not just saying that because they bought my business and made me sign all sorts of legal documents. Their stock is through the roof, and three of their business units (HBO, Turner, WB) are killing it.
But the fourth sibling was recently voted off the island, with the announcement of Time Inc.’s spinoff. And that was on the heels of some major layoffs.
So, magazines are doomed and their world is going to implode, right? Well, not necessarily. Consider Hearst Magazines president David Carey’s excellent interview with AllThingsD. One of the most important points he makes is about gender.
What are the hallmarks of Hearst’s portfolio? Elle, Cosmo, Seventeen, Marie Claire, Harpers Bazaar, and Woman’s Day. Compare that to Time Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, EW, and People — the heart of Time Inc.
Sure, there are some female-oriented magazines in the Time Inc. portfolio, but even EW has managed to take a female category and masculinize it. That partially explains why Time Inc. digital runs a 107 percent index for male readers and under-reaches women (per Quantcast).
We don’t have access to Hearst’s financials, since they are a private company, but all indications are that their business is in far better shape than the industry at large. And they have women to thank.
Those of us in new media sometimes feel that there is very little to learn from traditional media. And, on some fronts, we are right. My co-founders and I benefited from having never worked in a newsroom when we put together the Bleacher Report concept and CMS. At the same time, we failed in some important ways, because we didn’t pay enough attention to what worked in traditional media.
Female print publications — especially great magazines — still have life left in them, long after people expected them to be goners. There’s still an art there, and even young women… most young women… women who are too young to remember the iPhone’s launch… love magazines.
New media companies should be tapping into that spirit with great enthusiasm, but for some reason they are not.
So, I will.
The fact that so few new media properties have tried to capture the demographic and the appeal of women’s magazines is mind-numbingly inexplicable. The only possible hack of an excuse that I can think of is, well, that most of the engineers who launch websites are men. And men are funding most of the websites that raise capital.
Thank you, Silicon Valley, once again your groupthink and complete disconnection from the rest of the world is going to be an incredible asset for me.
Tea Leaf No. 3 — Dudes don’t read books
The Spanish word for ‘book’ is libro, a masculine word. That may need to change…
Because if you look at the books that are selling, and you look at the fiction books that have impacted our popular culture (Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, etc.)… they are for women.
The social network for book lovers — GoodReads.com — was just acquired by Amazon, and guess which gender embraced it? Yup, it was women. Not so shocking, right?
Until you see how much it reached women. By a ratio of almost 3-to-1, a social network that was simply about books, appealed to women.
The new website I launch is still in stealth mode in terms of who it will reach, how it will reach them, and what the voice will be. But now that I am building an editorial team, I am getting a lot of feedback that books — yes, those thick clunky bricks made of dead trees — are helping to define the next generation of smart young women.
And I want to be a part of it. That’s how I felt two weeks ago, before GoodReads sold for a fortune. Now I want to be a part of it even more.
In conclusion, there is a massive market failure going on right now. Magazines have outlived newspapers, based in-part on their affiliation with women. Not only that, but women have brought novels back into the popular consciousness, with young women leading the way.
With some small exceptions, the major new media ventures of the last decade have bypassed women altogether, and it is a regrettable mistake. It’s a big reason why — for all the success of Bleacher Report, Vox Media, Gawker, and HuffingtonPost — nobody seriously talked about IPOs.
The tea leaves are clear… targeting men is a mistake. And one that I shall not repeat.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]