Another one bites the dust.
February 14, 2003 5:34 PM   Subscribe

Salon going down? Looks like it. According to this article, they may not make it past Feburary. Even with 47,300 paying subscribers, it still can't pay the bills. What's it take these days?
posted by Hackworth (35 comments total)
Will someone please hurry and download their entire available archive, so it can remain accessible on the web?!
posted by dgaicun at 5:49 PM on February 14, 2003

Well, it's been real...
posted by Smart Dalek at 5:59 PM on February 14, 2003

Well, it's been real.

$81 million deficit, huh? Heck, the U.S. government functions despite a multi-trillion dollar deficit. I think the Salon guys are over-reacting. *smirk*
posted by ZachsMind at 6:08 PM on February 14, 2003

Hey, how much does it cost to maintain an archive that's not being updated? (I'm honestly curious).

Btw, there was an interesting exchange involving Steve Gilliard from Netslaves on the Romenesko letters page between Jan. 27-29. Gilliard called Salon "an amazingly poorly run" business and attacked it for what he saw as continued extravagance:

If this was a company which was not a journalist's favorite, people would actually bother to examine their public documents and wonder why the company still leases space in an expensive building and has 50 people on staff when the company is losing millions a year.

Everything I've ever read about Salon's business model led me to believe it was needlessly bloated and top-heavy (which, to be fair, probably describes a lot of media operations that cut corners on writer pay while spending high on salaries for a few upper-level execs). Is Gilliard's assessment correct? I dunno. But for at least two years now, Salon has felt almost exactly like every other old media site I visit. I'm finding it hard to get upset at the idea of its impending doom, although I know it's historically interesting.
posted by mediareport at 6:17 PM on February 14, 2003

I'll believe it when I see the 404.
posted by briank at 6:29 PM on February 14, 2003

I'll believe it when I see the 404.

Same here. Salon doomsaying seems to be an annual event.

That said, I recently had a sour exchange with Salon. It was my time to renew and their renewal offer included magazine subscriptions. I renewed, and only then did I find out that I couldn't get the aforementioned bonus because I live in Canada. Their response: you don't actually pay for the mag subscriptions, only the Salon premium content subscription, so sorry but take what you get. I thought it over, and cancelled. I was getting sick of the predictably shrill and ever more sloppy writing anyway.

Point is, the might be going down, but I suspect that a goodly part of it has nothing to do with being innovative or alternative or before their time - it might have to do with plain old bad service.
posted by holycola at 6:40 PM on February 14, 2003

So do their money problems come from debt or other financial obligations left over from when they were burning a million dollars a day?

I.e., could they fold the company, and have a new one start up with the same writers, with the same subscriber base and simply try and not spend more than they make from now on?
posted by Space Coyote at 6:42 PM on February 14, 2003

Au Revoir.
posted by hama7 at 6:50 PM on February 14, 2003

3rd Annual Furniture Outlet Factory Liquidation Going-out-Business Everything Must Go Blowout Extravaganza! Monday Monday Monday! Open 'till Midnight! We're not kidding this time!
posted by Stan Chin at 7:08 PM on February 14, 2003

Maybe they should hire an actual businessperson or two. If you've been perpetually on the brink of going out of business, and you're still paying over a million a year in rent, that might seem to indicate a rather strange attitude towards cost controls.
posted by MidasMulligan at 7:11 PM on February 14, 2003

Unfortunate. Remember when Salon mattered? In the old days, it was one of only a very few sites (metafilter among them) that merited a daily visit.

Just the other day, I removed Salon from my RSS news reader. It wasn't so much because the content had declined (though it clearly has) as it was that I had to pay for each and every article. While I want to support quality web sites, it's hard to fork over the cash when every other site I frequent is free.
posted by aladfar at 7:26 PM on February 14, 2003

This is the net.
People use browsers to read Salon. There's no paper. No ink, etc.

Why couldn't they run it out of a former hardware store for $1500 a month like these guys?

I can't even think of what I'd miss if they folded.
posted by jeremias at 7:30 PM on February 14, 2003

The site still employs way too many people: 25 in editorial and another 25 on the biz side. 50 people to run a Web site? I can't even comprehend such numbers.... If I ran Salon, I'd cut the staff to a dozen -- six on editorial, six on business. I'd cancel the subscription program, "Salon blogs," that audio crap, the lousy replacement for Mr. Blue, Table Talk, The Well and all the other chaff. Get out of that ritzy office space -- two floors? -- and take 1,500 square feet above a bar in Chinatown. Hold meetings at the bar. -- and much more, from Ken Layne (see also thin-media evangelist Henry Copeland's addendum).
posted by dhartung at 7:45 PM on February 14, 2003

I can't think of anything I'd miss if they folded, either. Salon is good for some mild entertainment when I'm bored at work, and that's about it.
posted by sarcasticah at 7:48 PM on February 14, 2003

I also used to read it daily. I don't anymore, but I would hate for the archives to go away. They used to run some quality stuff, way back when.

And boy, do I ever agree with Ken Layne's comments. The sheer amount of money Salon wastes is ridiculous. This bit is particularly funny: "Keep payroll under $1 million. (Sorry, Mr. Talbot.)" Heh, I once saw a chart showing executive pay for Salon (sorry, can't find the link anymore). Talbot was making $400k a year. And I'm sure that's the very last thing that would ever get cut in a pinch.
posted by Potsy at 9:02 PM on February 14, 2003

Maybe they should hire an actual businessperson or two.

I'm sure you made at least the longlist, MM. By the way, did the homeless shelter get its annual supply of mattresses this year?

Anyway, paying Andrew Sullivan, when even the Sunday Times thinks better of it these days, means that the sooner Salon goes, the better, just to hear him squeal and beg for more cash on his vanity site.
posted by riviera at 10:56 PM on February 14, 2003

Mediareport: I keep the archive running and it doesn't cost me anything. Even though it still gets around 170k+ pageviews/month, the bandwidth/CPU resources are minimal. Salon gets much more traffic, but I believe most of their site is exported as static pages.
posted by waxpancake at 11:20 PM on February 14, 2003

The combined effect of crappy content and annoying scheme-of-the-month finally drove me to drop Salon from my reading list. It's still on my bookmarks, but it's been moved into the section with entries such as Suck and Feed.
posted by chipr at 11:23 PM on February 14, 2003

The Internet Archive already has archives of Salon going back several years. Seems fairly complete, except for the ads, which are broken, but I doubt anybody's crying over that.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 11:32 PM on February 14, 2003

who's keeping running? Plastic? Maybe MeFi could run Salon? (and
posted by blue_beetle at 12:37 AM on February 15, 2003

I used to read Salon for the comics. This Modern World and Tom the Dancing Bug, especially. Now that they've developed their new system, requiring all users to endure three pages of ads before seeing any content, I don't even bother to do that.
posted by eustacescrubb at 6:15 AM on February 15, 2003

Why couldn't they run it out of a former hardware store for $1500 a month like these guys?

My thoughts exactly! When you're in a business that is as location agnostic as running a website, to be renting premium space in one of the most expensive urban areas in the country is simply hubris. In a business that deals in hard goods or face to face meetings the mantra was always "location, location, location" - in the web world it revolves around brand identity ("URL, URL, URL".) Salon has great brand recognition at this point and all the cash they've dumped down the shitter renting those offices did absolutely NOTHING to enhance their profitability. Their refusal to move to cheaper digs and seriously reduce overhead after the first bankruptcy scare is indicative of a lack of realistic planning within their ranks.
posted by RevGreg at 8:43 AM on February 15, 2003

Well, put me down as the Lone Dissenter. I like Salon and I pay to read it. My subscripition to the daily e-zine is about what I pay for some printed-on-paper weeklies. I usually print out two or three articles a day (on my boss's dime) and have no complaints about the content.

It's no great mystery why Salon is fading away, of course. There's all kinds of cool stuff to read for free on the Web; and forty-seven thousand people are probably fewer readers than The Chihuahua Breeder's Monthly. Too bad.
posted by kozad at 9:13 AM on February 15, 2003

You can skip the ads and get the premium content, but I won't tell how. Poke around the HTML...
posted by nicwolff at 9:23 AM on February 15, 2003

Maybe MeFi could run Salon?

Um.... isn't it already?
posted by hama7 at 9:28 AM on February 15, 2003

I keep the archive running and it doesn't cost me anything.

Well that explains this amused comment. Let it be known that at least one deviant person appreciates your effort Waxy.

I don't think the internet archive is complete enough for Salon. And would the search feature still work?
posted by dgaicun at 10:33 AM on February 15, 2003

It's too bad that they're heading out. Great articles..
posted by meanie at 11:13 AM on February 15, 2003

I know how to get to everything but the comics, nicwolff. Another way around, mayhaps?
posted by eustacescrubb at 11:22 AM on February 15, 2003

You just need to get the daily-pass cookie.
posted by nicwolff at 11:29 AM on February 15, 2003

The reason why Salon has kept up its budget is very simple -- the management has recognized for 2+ years that it is not a going concern, and their one and only goal was to carry the site through to an acquisition by a leading old media company, as a premium West Coast outpost, with employment contracts for the top managment. The stockholders were dropped out of the equation a long time ago, and now the creditors are too, so the acquisition is now or never.

Budget cuts would have defeated the point, since moving to downscale office space or cutting down on the original content or occasional big features would simply make the site and executive staff less marketable to Conde Nast / Miramax / whoever. I guarantee that Salon comps premium memberships heavily to the New York media community in order to make it all that much easier to get the deal done.

I think that they've probably done themselves in with their shift towards a sustained left-wing focus. Nobody makes money doing that ... and, there's no lack of premier websites with a left wing orientation, whether old school (The Nation, the Progressive, MoJoWire, American Prospect) or new school (MoveOn, DemocraticUnderground, etc.) If they'd stayed more on the cultural tip, they'd have a lot more to offer.
posted by MattD at 10:28 PM on February 15, 2003

Salon doomsaying seems to be an annual event.

That's because kind-hearted benefactors who see Salon as a charity case keep donating money over and over again. Anyone who thinks Salon will ever be profitable at anything like its current size is kidding him- or herself.

Budget cuts would have defeated the point, since moving to downscale office space or cutting down on the original content or occasional big features would simply make the site and executive staff less marketable to Conde Nast / Miramax / whoever.

I dunno, MattD; it's fairly common to pare an operation down to make it more attractive to potential buyers (or just allow the buyer to pare it down for you immediately after the sale). Remember when Brill's Content bought out Yeah, like that.

If I felt like being cynical, I'd suggest that there's really not much of an incentive for Talbot, et al, to cut costs, since they know they're always assured of failing upward - or at least sideways - in the magazine world. And before anyone goes away thinking that was a cheap hit, check out DotcomScoop on Salon in Dec. 2001:

Salon could have been anything, but Talbot insisted on going for broke. He wanted the best, the biggest, and he wanted it delivered on a daily basis, regardless of whether his vision was viable or not.

...Their combined leadership could be summed up as control freakishness mixed with inexperience and lack of strategic imagination that was driven by a wanton desire for fame. They were handed a pot of gold and by god they were going to spend it. In business terms, this was amateur hour at the most obvious...a catalogue of Booish type errors were made long before the ad market ever disappeared.

The idea that Salon's perhaps been a bit too concerned with image and not quite concerned enough with efficiency is hardly new, but if Talbot's ever given a good answer to the charge, I've missed it.
posted by mediareport at 12:34 PM on February 16, 2003

In case anyone is still tuned in, the Financial Times ran this story over the weekend about Salon's impending demise. (registration required)

To be honest, I've read little online media since Ironminds went down the pan. Such a shame that alternative content couldn't be made to work.
posted by dmt at 4:15 AM on February 17, 2003

I've read these impending doom reports a couple of times now, so I'm taking it with a grain of salt. But if it's true, I'll be sad. I think people who complain about the costs of Salon are not taking into account that good content costs money; there are lots of freelancers / cartoonists / columnists and they all need to get paid right? Plus if you're running a media company and a lot of your reporting focuses on dot-commy / silicon valley stuff (cultural & otherwise), it doesn't make sense to have your offices in BFE.
posted by jcruelty at 2:23 PM on February 17, 2003

Why did Salon have an IPO, jcruelty?

Why did any dotcom biz with a failing business plan have an IPO?

Hint: it wasn't to assure the long-term success of the company...
posted by mediareport at 9:02 PM on February 18, 2003

Apple should buy Salon.
posted by sudama at 11:12 AM on February 24, 2003

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