Bye-bye Feed.
June 7, 2001 5:20 PM   Subscribe

Bye-bye Feed. No press release to link to, so I might be jumping the gun a bit, but my sources say everyone at Automatic Media was fired. That includes all of Feed and the production guy for Suck, though it appears Suck will be going on alone. Apparently, the line is is they’re looking for some quick cash to keep going, but I’m afraid I’ve heard that line often with no results. Supposedly they’ll announce it tomorrow, since no one will be around to update the site. Very sad day.
posted by capt.crackpipe (40 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

No doubt. Feed was always full of useful info and interesting stories. I may like to teese Plastic, but I don't wish them ill. I thought it was strange Suck had a filler piece Tuesday. I've been out of work since December. Not fun at all. Even traditional press is feeling the effects of lowered ad revenue. The Seattle Times annouced cut-backs recently.
posted by john at 5:43 PM on June 7, 2001

so today's suck feature on fuckedweblog would be irony?
posted by sad_otter at 6:38 PM on June 7, 2001

The people at FEED have been working without pay for at least the past six months, to my knowledge.

posted by holgate at 8:37 PM on June 7, 2001

Shitty news. I guess we've all had an inkling that something has been up over at Automatic Media for a while now, but still, if this turns out to be accurate (or, really, even if it doesn't and there's some last-minute mitigation of some stopgap sort) it's a very sad day.
posted by mikel at 8:44 PM on June 7, 2001

Is it really shitty news, or is it just shitty news to my imaginary friend? You know - Opus Dark - digital me - the web-centric, paradigm-playing, translucent avatar who sustains his own fragile self-importance by positing way too much significance to the web itself...

I mean, ask my Mom if she cares about Feed...

Seems like a fat number of people are always ready to moan about the demise of another web-service - yet very few of the "community" ever demonstrate much enthusiasm about paying for anything.

So...I figure there really isn't a community - at least, not one with any molecules involved. All just web-wraiths, and wraiths got no paper money. The community is a bunch of ineffectual avatars and nyms, oddly removed from the identity at the input end of the keyboard. And that key-puncher - well, he sure as hell ain't gonna whip out the plastic or write a check - he's related to his avatar by imagination only - easier to just have his nym express sorrow and regret - after all, it's not as if the web is real or anything...

Whew...pomo hurts my head......
posted by Opus Dark at 11:03 PM on June 7, 2001

It's true.

You know, there are at least three others (in addition to the aforementiond production dude) at Suck whose departure from my daily routine is going to bring great sadness:

Tim Cavanaugh, who's writing marathon over the past three months, as Automatic-Media sapped him of everything except for his soul, rivaled no less than the proverbial Jerry Lewis on Telethon day. I dare anyone to write and edit themselves as well as Cavanaugh did -- DAILY. Ladies and gents, Cavanaugh is one of the rare geniuses of the journalistic establishment.

Heather Havrilesky, whose insight into the psyche of Gen-X was profound in its hilarity.

Terry Colon, whose art captured it all.

In memoriam.
posted by josholalia at 11:36 PM on June 7, 2001

Well, if you go to tomorrow's suck you'll see that they're taking a vacation....

Not good news. I like suck. And Feed, a little bit....
posted by jaded at 11:39 PM on June 7, 2001

yet very few of the "community" ever demonstrate much enthusiasm about paying for anything

I hardly think this is true or even remotely responsible for the economic downturn. The causes of the whole downturn are legion and have been dredged elsewhere.

The web community is hardly ineffectual. It is a growing and evolving thing. Edision didn't get the lightbulb right the first time. The web is many orders of magnitude more complex and requires the coordination of many parties.

The checks are still being written. They are not going to risky ventures. The parties have died down, but the work it still being done.

But somehow I suspect you know these things and just want to piss on people. I hope not.
posted by john at 11:47 PM on June 7, 2001

Yeah, it'll be a LONG vacation.

Sad thing about this is that unlike Salon's Premium Porn subscription, Suck is actually something I'd pay for. I subscribe to the New Yorker, I could see Suck in a similar format.
posted by josholalia at 12:09 AM on June 8, 2001

Noooooooooooooo. I liked Feed a little (I guess), but Suck has been part of my daily routine practically since I've started surfing the web! It is definitely something I'd pay a reasonable amount for, and I wish that they'd give me a chance to do so... I hope they don't really go for good.
posted by gd779 at 6:09 AM on June 8, 2001

If this is true (and it's got the feeling of truth) I will fiercely miss both Feed, even in its newly Plasticized format, and Suck, especially Filler, which never failed to tickle my funny bone.

Salon is going to be next and then I'll have nothing to read except CNN, FuckedCompany, and you people's sites. Which are all nice, you know, but hardly a nutritionally balanced content diet.

... feh. I haven't felt this much longing for the halcyon days of 1998 since Kozmo went bust.
posted by Sapphireblue at 6:21 AM on June 8, 2001

Did anyone notice that all the ads are gone from Plastic? That can't be a good sign.
posted by waxpancake at 6:54 AM on June 8, 2001

did anyone read the suck piece about how they believed in banner ads and thought that subscriptions were stupid and for fools. Or words to that effect?

Seems terribly ironic. And I'd only just noticed that suck and feed even existed. I feel cheated!
posted by nedrichards at 7:13 AM on June 8, 2001

Considering that subscriptions account for very little of any print media's operating budget -- advertising is what pays the bills -- it's hard to figure out how any online magazine will survive.

Most of the sites I enjoy for their consistently great writing: Sweet Fancy Moses, Opium Magazine, Flak Magazine, etc. make it very clear they can't pay writers and probably never will. But they obviously still get a lot of high quality submissions.

When Suck first started, weren't they doing it for the love and not the money?

Maybe all online magazines should accept this fact, restructure, and we'll see how many continue on the quality of their writing rather than their potential to generate cash.
posted by jamesstegall at 8:09 AM on June 8, 2001

Well, Feed hasn't had a new story since the beginning of the month, from what I can tell...
posted by tranquileye at 12:19 PM on June 8, 2001

What I don't understand is - how much money was Suck spending? There are a webloggers out there generating the same quality of writing with seemingly a lot less money spent. A lot of these operations (and I don't know if this applies to Automatic directly) have taken a print/broadcast staff and try to apply that to the web, which is a much more efficient medium.
posted by owillis at 12:21 PM on June 8, 2001

You should find this story to be informative.
posted by Humberto at 12:31 PM on June 8, 2001

Their biggest expense was bandwidth. Writing wasn't the problem.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 12:46 PM on June 8, 2001

Steven: really? where do you get that info? I'm intrigued, it sounds odd, unless they weren't paying their writers, which I guess someone said they weren't.
posted by beefula at 1:06 PM on June 8, 2001

"There are a webloggers out there generating the same quality of writing with seemingly a lot less money spent."

editors are vital.

as this sentence shows.
posted by maura at 2:12 PM on June 8, 2001

Fine. But how many editors? How many html guys? How many graphic designes?
posted by owillis at 2:55 PM on June 8, 2001

designers, he said.
posted by owillis at 2:55 PM on June 8, 2001

dotcom - realistic business plan = fuckedcompany.

Very few online businesses are willing to face the simple fact that they are competing against that which is free. The truth is, we ARE NOT seeing the death of free... we are seeing the death of businesses giving things away with no revenue model whatsoever. That is a completely different thing. Much of the content of true value on the web isn't brought to you through businesses, in the traditional sense of the word.

The question that every dotcom must answer if they want to stay in business is "How do we compete against free?"

There are several good ways of doing this:

1> Start charging for your content. You might be able to achieve profitability *IF* you have a big name already, have a ton of visitors, and have a valuble product (i.e. Wall Street Journal), but you will lose ~90% of your audience in the process. Those 90% aren't just lost to you as revenue, they are lost to you as evangelists, too. Expect your future growth to be sluggish without significant advertising.

2> Give away your product to the public, but target businesses for revenue. This is basically the model that Netscape, Google, and Blogger chose. You still have powerful evangelism benefits, but your ability to assist and develop for your general audience often takes 2nd place to your bread and butter... businesses. In some cases, you can lose any technological advantage your flagship product may have while you concentrate on pleasing specific customers. Most open source applications also rely on this model.

3> Donations. One of the least understood, least explored revenue models for the Internet, yet perhaps one of the most fitting, donations can work very well. They are actually a more stable, more predictable revenue model than banner ads, as they fluctuate less under poor market conditions. Basically, you give users full (or practically full) functionality and use of your site, but you settle for making what people are willing to give you for what you have to offer them. You will have the most powerful evangelism benefits (and rapid growth), but your ability to service potential business customers often takes 2nd place to keeping your user base happy. This is a very powerful revenue model for open source or collaborative projects, as the cumulative goodwill factor really boosts both growth and development.

It's worth noting that your website can use a combination of ALL these business models, as well as derive revenue and attention from other sources such as merchandise, 3rd party services, etc.

The business models that aren't working well for dotcoms are:

Banner ads - only the largest companies or those with the absolute best demographics can make good revenue off of banner ads. For most websites, banner ads are a tradeoff... you gain money, but you turn off your audience. The rates for banner ads are very unreliable under adverse economic conditions, as we have seen.

micropayments - Not only is the technology not quite ready for prime time, and awkward due to all the little payments flying all over, but it is self-defeating, since you are killing off the evangelism you want your visitors to feel after visiting your site. Which of you would tell your friends "You really have to visit this site. It takes your credit card information and charges you, like you're on a timer." The natural instinct of consumers is to avoid "watching the clock", so you lose a great deal of stickiness for your site, too. Sure, it might be the revenue model that is most fair to the designer, but what about the consumer? Shouldn't the revenue model be focused on their needs? It is far better to stick out a tip jar and ask nicely than to turn your visitors into meter watchers.

If there is one thing I could impart to any site owner, it is that the community you build up around your site is its most valuable asset, and their goodwill to you directly effects your pocketbook. A site's users can make a HUGE difference, providing that the users feel empowered and are having their needs joyfully exceeded.

Case in point. Google. It's grown 20% a month ever since it started, without any significant advertising whatsoever. If you were a failing dotcom, wouldn't you wish you had back all those millions you shelled out on unnecessary advertising? Wouldn't you want to have concentrated your resources into features and functionality that empowered (and even spoiled) your users? Wouldn't you have rather built upon the user/designer relationship, empowering them to help themselves, each others, and your business all at the same time?

I bet you would.

Hey, don't just listen to me. Read Robert Cringely's column from last week...

And if you are still thinking to yourself "You want me to pay for my site and its staff with a tip jar? How is that going to happen? We're professionals here, and we deserve to get paid as such."

Well, actually, you are developing for the web now... you deserve to get paid what the market (i.e. the people that visit your site and that use what you create) are willing to pay you, assuming you'll let them. If you base much of your revenues on user donations and your site goes under, you were probably paying yourself too much money, or you probably weren't creating anything that worth having around in the first place...
posted by markkraft at 4:12 PM on June 8, 2001

Mark, that's a very good analysis. But you left out the fourth alternative: Offer something that can't be gotten for free (so that you're not longer competing with "free").

Like, say, really good pictures of really beautiful naked women.

It's no accident that the most successful commercial sector of the web, and the only one not being butchered now, is pay-for-porn. It's the only place on the web where subscription-access really works well. (Big surprise.)

Membership sites can work and work well, but only if they really do offer things not available elsewhere, which people are willing to pay to get. Another example of that (not quite web but similar) is games like Ultima Online or EverQuest.

But there are a lot of things people are not going to be willing to pay for (or at least, not enough people willing to pay enough) like opinion/variety magazines. (Which is why I think Salon is doomed.)
posted by Steven Den Beste at 4:27 PM on June 8, 2001

This Salon article on the shutdown says they had 20 employees, traffic of 1 million users/month, and costs of $50,000/month. And their "plan" to sell the Plastic engine (which is open source Slashcode) sounds scummy.
posted by owillis at 4:39 PM on June 8, 2001

Donations to a for-profit enterprise would indicate to me said enterprise shouldn't exist.
posted by owillis at 4:41 PM on June 8, 2001

These articles should be re-titled "Its the bandwidth, stupid!"

Distributed HTTP anyone? Say you're an avid reader of feed so you load a small mirroring webserver on your PC and get sent an approriate % of feed traffic. Think seti@home but substitute processor cycles with bandwidth. You and your buddies can start a feed team and show off how many pages you've served. Could happen.
posted by skallas at 5:19 PM on June 8, 2001

You know who will buy them? MSN. (You heard it here first.)
posted by Steven Den Beste at 5:26 PM on June 8, 2001

Look in to Swarmcast. When that becomes more integrated with the web, it could solve these problems.
posted by owillis at 5:26 PM on June 8, 2001

I don't think anyone saying it's the bandwidth has read the comments about: 20 employees. 50,000/month. 1 million users/month. Even if the site is fairly sticky, which I assume it is, the bandwidth/servers should be costing them like 2,000-3,000 or so. It's not the bandwidth, it's the employees, office space, etc, stupid.
posted by beefula at 7:34 PM on June 8, 2001

There are a webloggers out there generating the same quality of writing with seemingly a lot less money spent

If there are, I've yet to come across them. No, I take that back. Lileks is as good and as prolific, but he's a pro. Who were you thinking of who regularly writes 600-word essays on as varied topics as Cavanaugh can -- and as well?

Don't get me wrong. Weblogs are great for certain things; I don't know how else I'd keep up with my imaginary friends. But none has the quality of writing -- let alone combined with such analysis and wit -- that Suck has/had.

Do people really go to Weblogs for good writing? I shudder at the thought.
posted by luke at 8:15 PM on June 8, 2001

But none has the quality of writing -- let alone combined with such analysis and wit -- that Suck has/had.

I agree with you for the most part...very few sites out there are/were as special as Suck. But you can find some good short form writing on weblogs (Textism, onfocus, Mighty Girl, EOD (rip)) and non-weblogs (Ftrain, Fireland, Hoopla500, Ironminds)

I dunno...I just don't buy the argument that writing sucks on weblogs because they are weblogs.
posted by jkottke at 9:26 PM on June 8, 2001

I just don't buy the argument that writing sucks on weblogs because they are weblogs.

Have you spent an hour poking through The 10 Most Recently Updated Blogs lately? Shiver ... Yes, there are rare gems out there, but TTMRUB is all the proof I need that 90 perecent of everything is crap. (Apologies if anyone here just updated their blog. You're the one in ten, I'm sure.)
posted by luke at 9:53 PM on June 8, 2001

"Donations to a for-profit enterprise would indicate to me said enterprise shouldn't exist."

Does that mean Blogger shouldn't exist? Public television? Churches? If some people get paid salaries for working, and if it they would naturally get paid more money the larger and more successful things get, is it a business? What is a business anyway, and are "non-profit" businesses really non-profit if people get paid?

I think donations are a good thing, actually. Depending on the site, they may or may not pay all the bills... but if the site is providing a substantial amount of users a valuable service, and if they have goodwill from the users in question, they will create a noticeable revenue stream.

If you want developers to pay attention to developing for all those free users out there, it helps if a statistically significant percentage of those users are paying the bills. Having all the money provided by businesses, and especially by a single business, is poison to these kinds of services, because the attention goes where the money flows. This often hurts the business in the longterm, since the core technology languishes while all attention is paid to business clients.
posted by insomnia_lj at 11:42 PM on June 8, 2001

jkottke writes:
I just don't buy the argument that writing sucks on weblogs because they are weblogs.

The writing sucks on most weblogs because most people (including those whose vanity urges them to litter web space with daily updates) are not good writers.

Once upon a time, there was a suspicion that there were boatloads of talented people mucking about in the shadows simply because they had never had the luck or motivation to showcase their hidden skills to the world. There was a lurking suspicion that the glorified stars of many professions were simply benefactors of a superficial cosmic serendipity.

"I coulda been a contender".

"If only..."


So along comes the golden age of the cheap computer, and suddenly a whole lot of those privileged, high-dollar, star-making processes become democratized. Lots of people can produce studio quality music. Lots of people can produce technically flawless graphics. Lots of people can make and edit videos. Lots of people can write...and write and write and write...

So how come so few new stars are being born?

Surprise! There really isn't a huge wad of under-appreciated talent out there! In fact, most celebrities are probably sleeping better than ever - their rareness and specialness has been heroically demonstrated...

Technology frees us to be extraordinary, and holy crap, most of us just can't get there from here.

Depressing, isn't it?
posted by Opus Dark at 4:48 AM on June 9, 2001

Yeah. So quit bringing down those of us who can get there.
posted by crunchland at 6:45 AM on June 9, 2001

TTMRUB is all the proof I need that 90 perecent of everything is crap.

But Suck was the 1 out of the 10 tech/pop culture zines back in 95/96.
posted by jkottke at 9:27 AM on June 9, 2001

Opus, how often are new writing "stars" born, anyway? There is so much writing, of all kinds, available today, and the market for "serious" writing small and fragmented; I'm not surprised that the Web hasn't produced any "stars."

That being said, I think the notion of a "high level" of writing is flat-out silly. Yes, communicating clearly and effectively through writing is a skill, but a skill most educated people can acquire. After that, it is a matter of fashion and style: what appeals, what seems to be current, what feels new or different or trendy or pomo or whatever.

Read what you like,
and screw fashion.
posted by tranquileye at 11:59 AM on June 9, 2001

Yes, communicating clearly and effectively through writing is a skill, but a skill most educated people can acquire.

Hah! Good one.
posted by kindall at 12:23 PM on June 9, 2001

What we need to do is convince successful, published authors with real writing chops that the Web is the place to be. What do writers want? Prestige and enough money to survive. So what's the problem? Writing for the Web pays really well, up to $150 for 10,000 words, and the Web features many reputable, well-respected publications, like Slashdot. While writing a novel puts you in the company of Don Delillo and Norman Mailer, on the Web your peers will be far more esteemed writers like Jon Katz and teenage girls on What doesn't make any sense to me is why writers aren't just leaping into this egalitarian pressure cooker!

posted by lucius at 7:42 PM on June 9, 2001

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