You know the golden age of the new media? Over. Old news. Been done.
lumthemad.net is a reasonably successful niche web site. We got about 1.6 million page views in December (the last month before I and our webhosts both took a little holiday). I have no idea how many unique vistors we get daily – my off-the-top-of-my-head estimate is about 20,000. It’s a bit humbling and a bit laughable at the same time – we’re successful enough so that it doesn’t feel like I’m completely wasting my time posting these little essays, and niche enough that we’re not being crushed by the weight of our own traffic.
Other sites have problems, though.
Oh well, there’s Vault Network, right? Except that Snowball, their owner, is going through the business version of Tourette’s Syndrome trying to keep their NASDAQ listing alive. It won’t help. They’ll get delisted. They’ll default on their debts. Go bankrupt. Close. Another entry on fuckedcompany.com. Too bad, since Gasper was a really nice guy who kind of helped start this whole MMOG community thing, and even he left finally. Bye Vault Network.
But hey, there’s Stratics, right? I mean, we like to make fun of them for basically having sticks surgically implanted up their asses, but they have a lot of sites and a lot of good people and they’re really popular, and, you know, it’s not gonna help. Their host and sponsor, UGO, is collapsing. They defaulted on all their contracts, told their affiliates that they would just have to suck up and take less money because that’s the way it is, and unless you’re Blue or sCary you didn’t even get what little ridiculous 50 cent CPM you were promised to begin with. And you know, I suspect Blue is pretty sCared right now and sCary is pretty blue. Especially since I have it on good authority that UGO laid off over 50 people today. Oh well. It was a nice community while it lasted. Bye Stratics.
But wait! There’s… No! There’s… Hey… Wait… Stop… No…
The ad banner model is dead. The dot com economy is done. Yahoo is no longer more valuable than General Motors. Investors are starting to require radical changes in the way the New Economy does business. You know, requiring a profit and stuff. Bandwidth isn’t free. Server space isn’t a charity. Content doesn’t write itself.
Or, to put it in the more dulcet tones of real journalists, I direct your starving eyeballs to the Washington Post, still free as of last report. According to them, the Internet is, well, dead.
. “There is no prognosis; the patient has died,” says New York magazine columnist Michael Wolff, whose own Internet company went belly up. “Virtually everyone who took public money is either going to go out of business or be merged out of business. . . . Everyone who’s saying, ‘We’re going to make these businesses work, blah blah blah,’ I don’t think it’s real. Everyone in their heart of hearts feels what I feel.”
Detroit Free Press columnist Mike Wendland puts it bluntly: “I’m getting bored with the Internet. . . . It looks like the Net itself is losing appeal and the surfing public is becoming dot-bored.” The average time spent online dropped from October to December, from 17.5 hours a month to 14.9 hours, says Nielsen/Net Ratings.
“My God,” writes J.D. Lasica of Online Journalism Review, “was it all . . . just . . . a meaningless fling?”
To be sure, big media companies are drawing heavy traffic to such sites as MSNBC.com (9.8 million visitors last month), CNN.com (7.7 million), NYTimes.com (3.4 million), USAToday.com (2.7 million) and washingtonpost.com (2.6 million), according to Media Metrix. But with modest exceptions, the online material is mostly the same as in print or on the air. And most of these sites lose millions of dollars.
“I can’t deny it,” [Michael Kinsley of Slate.com] says. “There hasn’t been a site launched in the past couple of years by a major media player that has taken off.”
The larger problem is that the dominant model — content supported by advertising revenue — isn’t working, in part because so few surfers click on the ever-present ads. In this free-lunch culture, Slate and TheStreet.com had to give up on charging for subscriptions.
The free lunch is coming to an end. Whatever is left standing – subscriber-only web portals, or corporate-sponsored megalopolises, or game company house organs, or the odd guild page on GeoCities – no one can say. The only thing you can say – it will be different from yesterday.
If again the seas are silent
in any still alive
It'll be those who gave their island to survive
Drink up, dreamers, you're running dry.
-- Peter Gabriel