A source writes in: ink on the long-rumored deal selling IAC property Very Short List to Jared Kushner and The New York Observer's dry. VSLers have been fired, and the property's clumsily fallen into the Observer's hands, now. Update: confirmed.
The deal slinging Barry Diller's attempt at reaching for some of that Daily Candy scrilla, Very Short List, was officially finished around Thursday night, we hear. Brief history: Diller, pissed on missing out on some of that email-blast money that he thought would be a shoo-in for solid ad sales with Daily Candy, decided to form a literal, cultured, once-a-day mailer for high-minded consumers to read. Diller, ever fond of his media buddies, got Spy-founder Kurt Andersen to jump on board. And it was highly enjoyable!
But then they didn't make any money off of it, and had to find an easy mark to unload it on. Enter New York Observer boy wonder Jared Kushner, stage left. Cut to: Thursday night. Six full-time VSL employees are given notice to pack their boxes, and get their shit out, as Friday would be their last day. After a messy, messy ordeal. A (now former) IAC employee writes in:
Timeline: We get a bunch of emails Thursday morning. At 10AM, the GM said he might have news (at 6PM, that news would finally be delivered). Someone else said that the deal had already gone through, and that it was finally over. And yet someone else said that we still had assignments for the next week, so it would stretch for another week. And then we heard that the person who was supposed to take over at the NYO had been fired the week before in their bloodbath. So nobody knew anything. Thursday night, the news came through. Our last day was Friday, after SIX WEEKS of being told we were going to be laid off. The worst part: some of us were on the phone with the NYO's people on Friday, trying to teach them how to do our jobs.
Very Short List recently won a Webby Award! :)
But now Observer staffers - who're probably a little overworked since a grip of their most able colleagues were fired - are going to be running Very Short List. :( So who knows what's actually going to happen to the mailer, or what the Observer plans on turning it into.
Most people familiar with the deal are pretty shocked by it, and by how easily Kushner was rolled on this one. The fact that the young mogul thinks he can make money off of VSL where Diller - with all of his resources - didn't is pretty incredible, and rather audacious. Lesser so is the fact that Kushner just fired a stable of some of the most able writers in New York, possibly capable of turning the Observer's web presence into a viable product. Right before acquiring VSL, something - again - actually proven not to make money.
Among other problems IAC had with Very Short List: the only people who have time to look at some bullshit emailer telling them what to read are broke writers like me, who don't have the money to spend on advertisers' products. Besides which, I already know what book I'm buying next week, because I have the time to figure it out. The high-minded, high-income consumers VSL originally set out to target are actually out there earning money, and are too busy to look at an email telling them how to spend it (besides which, they can typically suss that kind of thing out for themselves). So instead VSL had to depend on a niche audience, and at last count, that was only 200,000.
No telling how many people are going to hit that "unsubscribe" link over the next few mornings as VSL does (or doesn't) begin to hit their in boxes, quality control of the thing in check, or otherwise. For that matter, The Observer's daily mailer, too.
Update: Just found out that Sara Vilkomerson, a onetime VSL editor, will be working on the product at the Observer, where she already is. She'll be working on it there on top of her current responsibilities for no additional pay. And an email, sent to 30 or so VSL staffers, stringers, etc. that went out today:
Dear Team VSL:
Needless to say, this has been an intensely bittersweet week. Last Monday we picked up our Webby, which was the sweetest part, and testament to how inspired your work has been. Tomorrow, The New York Observer is taking over majority control and day-to-day management of VSL from IAC. Unfortunately, as part of the transition, they will not be taking any of VSL's existing staff. But as this extraordinary team disperses, we wanted to tell you how incredibly grateful we are for everyone's great work and dedication to this project. We are very proud of it, and aware of just how hard everyone has worked.
We're also pleased that Very Short List will endure — and sincerely hopeful that it can maintain the remarkable standard of excellence established by all of you, so that our 200,000 subscribers will continue being uniquely surprised and enlightened and entertained every weekday.
Thank you. And let's raise a glass together soon — date and place TBD.
Kurt Andersen, Gary Foodim, Michael Jackson, Emily Oberman and Bonny SIegler