Thursday, May 20, 2004

Incestuous Navel-Gazing as a Business Strategy

Personally, I can't stand Gawker,Wonkette or any of the other gossip and buzz-driven sites operated by Nick Denton, and this article linked to by Brad DeLong illustrates why.

Call me old-fashioned, but I'm one of those people who still believes in the virtues of technological innovation as a driver of economic progress, and guys like Denton represent for me the sorts of smooth-talking free-riders who did so much to discredit this engine of growth during the great IT bubble of the late 1990s. Denton's success with his stable of blogs indicates that there's clearly a market out there for media properties that cater to the New York and Washington DC elite's penchant for self-referential navel-gazing, but I'm doubtful that this is the sort of stuff of which an entire media empire can be built. Vacuous celebrity-worshippers around the world will shell out $3 for a copy of Hello! or OK! to read about the latest exploits of Gwyneth, Madonna or some other entertainment press darling, but beyond the small circle of megastars of worldwide interest, things get too fractionated for any small stable of writers to cover in the insider style that has worked so well for Denton thus far; for instance, most Americans have probably never heard of Amanda Holden, Ulrika Jonsson or any of the other TV celebrities that are the stuff of daily fodder in the British press, while the average German celebrity could probably spend a month walking the streets of London without ever being recognized by a single stranger.

To be honest, there's something about celebrity chitchat that really gets on my nerves, especially when it's of the self-referential sort so beloved of Manhattanites and DC talking heads (let's be honest here - outside of a small coterie, who really gives a sh*t what Tina Brown's up to?); as such, I wouldn't be in the least aggrieved if I were to learn that the Denton empire had gone belly-up someday. In the meantime, I can at least take solace in the fact that the man's failure to appreciate that good writers aren't quite as repleacable and interchangeable as he imagines, in combination with the virtually non-existent barriers to entry in the niche he's currently attempting to monopolize, ensure that any profits he currently enjoys are likely to be extremely shortlived.