News broke earlier today that Nikki Finke had sold her Deadline Hollywood Daily blog to Jay Penske's Mail.com Media Corp. Now, fantastical numbers are being floated around about how much she got. Who would do a thing like that?
Finke's success at turning the thin gruel of studio press releases into high-drama gossip has always hinged on her ability to put herself into the middle of every story. Everything is "Toldja!" this and "I just spoke to" that. Take her coverage of this past weekend's executive shakeup at Paramount - Finke can only write in the first person:
4:20PM: As my sources predicted...
4:20PM: I just heard that
3:50PM UPDATE: I've just learned that my story today
She is a fantastic story-teller, but the greatest character Finke has created is herself: dogged scoop-monger with spies in every corner of every studio lot and agency suite. It's neat stuff, and puffing up one's persona puts her square in the tradition of columnists — well, good columnists — everywhere. But Deadline Hollywood Daily is a pretty small Internet property. Finke's 90,000 pageviews per day is less than a tenth of what Gawker (to pick a site at random) receives on a good day. So, when figures start getting thrown around about how she sold her blog for $15 million, it's easy to suspect that there's some self-mythmaking at work. (On that basis, Gawker.com alone would be worth $150 million. Hey, Nick! I want a raise!) To put that number in perspective, you would have a tough time finding anyone to pay $15 million for The Hollywood Reporter these days.
The deal was announced this morning via a press release that did not disclose the terms. But sometime this afternoon, PaidContent started the ball rolling with a report that Finke's deal was worth around $1 million, which even then was hedged. Citing just "sources," Rafat Ali wrote, "the sale amount was in 'seven figures' and there are some other incentive triggers built in. My bet is it is in very low seven figures." Though even that number was pretty jaw-dropping, it's pretty easy to imagine that there are incentives — Penske guarantees some salary to Finke and bonuses based on revenues or traffic — that could theoretically push the value of the deal up to seven figures.
But pretty soon, another zero was added. Jeff Bercovici got ahold of "a source with knowledge of the details" who put the pricetag at $10 million. He qualified that by noting that included "a long-term contract for Finke's services" — again suggesting that there is no way that Penske cut a big check to Finke today — but still struck a gobsmacked tone: "Who says you can't get rich blogging? Showbiz reporter extraordinaire Nikki Finke did — to the tune of eight figures."
Then Finke's arch-nemesis Sharon Waxman, who's got her own startup The Wrap to run, took up the story. Waxman said Finke "would not comment on the purchase price" and couldn't get ahold of Penske (a classic journo tell), but she got the scoop: Deadline Hollywood was sold for $14 million. And we weren't done yet. The Financial Times, without citing anyone, just stated flat-out that the deal is "worth about $15m."
Do I know that it's Finke spreading this absurd number around? No. She didn't reply to my email, which in my state of shock after seeing Waxman's story was, in its entirety "$14M? Really?" And when I told Waxman "I simply do not believe the $14M number" she stood by her report as the "real deal" and added a qualification that "the number is paid out in chunks, over years. And she has something like a 10-year contract." Her story, however, was a less explicit: "The individual knowledgeable about the purchase price said it would be paid out over several years. Normally such deals are tied to traffic or to revenue projections. Nonetheless, it is an exceedingly high price for a relatively small website."
And then she noted the most important part of why these ludicrous values are being tossed around the Internet: because it suits everyone's purposes to think that an industry gossip blog is worth major bucks. As Waxman noted: "It is a crazy-stupid number, in my opinion, but I'm very happy about it — I'm all for people paying stupid money for websites."
Finke no doubt received a nice little pay-day in her deal with Penske, but I would be willing to bet $15 million that whatever check he wrote today wasn't for anything close to $15 million.