February 10, 2005

Stop the Presses! Salon to Break Even in 31 Years!

Salon, the Ramparts Magazine of the Web, is not losing an editor at the same time it claws out a profit, it's gaining a messiah. This comes to light in a report on Salon in the NYT (The Founder of Salon Is Passing the Mouse) where we meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

"I think that when we went to a subscription model, we lost a lot of casual readers," Ms. Walsh said. "My job is to get people's awareness up and let them know that you can read Salon for free."
Translation: "You know those 88,000 'loyal' readers who give us $30 a year to subscribe? I want to let them know one thing.... 'Suckers!' "

Salon claims to have 3.4 million readers who visit the site every month, but it is not the buzz bomb of journalism it was when it was free. Slate, which was sold last year to the Washington Post Company, gave the subscription model a go a few years ago and threw up its hands. Now that advertising dollars are rushing toward the Web, it will be interesting to see whether Salon continues to charge at the door or will fling open the gates in pursuit of big audience numbers to sell to advertisers. Ms. Hambrecht said she and Ms. Walsh were being handed a stable, going concern that needed a bit of work.

"Salon has been a success from a journalistic and artistic point of view," she said. "We have been and will continue to focus on making this a business."

Well, I think that spending about $50 million of other people's money to make $400,000 last quarter is certainly a sign that you need to focus on business.
Ad sales have more than doubled in the last year, and revenues were up 69 percent, from $1.3 million in the quarter that ended in December 2003, to $2.2 million in the same quarter this year. And Salon's marginal profit of $400,000 is a marked improvement from last year's loss of $1.2 million. In addition, subscriptions grew over the past year by 16,000. Clearly, Salon - give or take the $50 million to get there - has found some business traction.
That's the good news for Salon and about as much as it is likely to get going forward. The bad news is that Talbot, even though he's gone, is probably still going to hang around.

Talbot will still be "Chairman of the company" and no doubt still collect a check while he spends his time writing a book about... wait for it... Robert F. Kennedy, an obscure American historical figure about whom little is known or has been written. Rumors that Mr. Talbott's access to the Kennedy papers and the Kennedy family has been greased by years of fawning interviews with and articles on Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. are utterly without foundation.[More]

And just because he is stepping down as the editor in chief and chief executive, Mr. Talbot is not relinquishing his pompoms.

"I still feel this whole messianic vision," he said. "At its best, Salon is not only progressive and crusading, but also running stories about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. A lot of that joyful spirit has been trashed by recent events, and I think Salon will play a role in reviving it."

Sigh, poor David, he'll never get over not being Jann Wenner in 1968. Even Wenner has moved beyond that sort of thing. You won't catch him running a magazine any longer with a groupie on his lap, a line on a mirror, and the iPod cranked up to 11. I guess that for the messiah of Salon it will always be 1968? No. For Talbot it will always be 1999 when you could party like you were burning up $50 million of other people's money.

Posted by Vanderleun at February 10, 2005 9:55 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Salon's loss of audience has much more to do with the fact that it began to suck before it went to a subscription model than with said subscription model. If its writing were still as good as it was in the early days, more people would subscribe and more people would be willing to sit through the idiotic ad.

My theory is that Table Talk went around the bend after the 2000 election (I vividly remember the woman who was threatening to kill herself, surrounded by concerned TT'ers, sobbing "He'll never be my president!"), and that (as sometimes happens with blog comments sections) the TT tail dragged the Salon dog around that selfsame bend.

Posted by: jaed at February 10, 2005 3:18 PM

"...A lot of that joyful spirit has been trashed by recent events, and I think Salon will play a role in reviving it."

"Recent events"?!! Salon started strangling that "joyful spirit" the moment it considered itself a 'player'.

Posted by: P.A. Breault at February 10, 2005 3:57 PM