Working out in the open is one of the joys of working at Gawker. So — if just to head off those annoying "you'll do anything for the pageviews" comments — I thought I'd pass along this morning's memo from overlord Nick Denton to all of Gawker Media. In a nutshell, Nick's changing all of that for 2010 to a new bonus system that's going to be based on each site's monthly U.S. uniques instead of pageviews.
At Gawker writers and editors have long been paid a bonus on top of their monthly fees or salaries if they exceed their individual pageview targets. For the last six months, each site also has had a separate bonus pool that's pegged to how many pageview the entire site notches in a single month, which is then allocated at the discretion of each site's EIC, i.e. me. I think the site made bonus three of the last six months.
Under the new system, there will only be a site bonus pool. And if Gawker beats its target of about 2.4 million U.S. uniques, I have to decide how to allocate the pool to the writers. To be perfectly honest, this is my least favorite part of the new bonus scheme. My thinking is to spread the bonus evenly, but I will have to adjust if someone has a particularly great or bad month.
Anyway, there are, of course, a lot of good business reasons for this, which Nick goes over in his memo. And despite the suspicions of the crowd who always has suspicions about Nick's motives, I think this system is also good for editorial. When you're always keeping an eye on your pageview count, it's hard not to chase a commodity news bit that you know will bring in a few thousand pageviews. The only way to move the uniques number is to bring in new readers, and the best way to do that is with big, original stories that either break news or introduce fresh ideas.
TRAFFIC IN 2009
Since the very start of Gawker, we've been unapologetic about our
obsession with traffic. It's been a signature, cited by both
our critics and admirers. And that singular focus has been effective
— at least in generating pageviews.
We hit an astonishing 435m in December. Gizmodo's big pageview drive
paid off with 85% growth over the past year. Lifehacker and io9 both saw
big bumps in part because of increased cooperation between sites.
Originating sites republished by Gizmodo (or other sites) got credit
for the pageviews — and that has made them much more willing to
exchange material. And Gawker, Jezebel, Jalopnik and several other
sites made excellent use of slideshows, which are pageview magic.
CHANGING THE MEASURE TO UNIQUES
But raw traffic is a crude measure of success. We all know that some
pageviews are worth more than others. Think of an exclusive such as Gawker's
embassy hazing pics, Deadspin's expose of ESPN's horndoggery,
Gizmodo's first look of the new Microsoft tablet or io9's Avatar review.
An item which gets picked up and draws in new visitors is worth more
than a catnip slideshow that our existing readers can't help but click upon.
So we're shifting to a new number that more accurately reflects the
growth of our audience. This target will encourage original reporting and
original thought. The system will reward sites which recruit new
readers rather than pandering to a well-established clique. Our
editorial will be better as a result.
The target is called "US monthly uniques." It represents a measure of
each site's domestic audience. This is the figure that journalists
cite when judging a site's competitive position. It's also the metric
by which advertisers decide which sites they will shower with dollars. Finally,
a site with plenty of genuine uniques is one that has good growth
prospects. Each of those first-time visitors is a potential convert.
HOW BONUSES WILL WORK
The 2010 system is pretty similar to the one we have had. The individual
and site bonuses will be consolidated. Each site will be given a
target. The initial target is simply the average US uniques of the
last 12 months. You can see the chart for your site, here. Look
for the level at the end of each month of the lower, darker blue line.
The distribution of the bonus pool will be at the discretion of the
site's editor-in-chief, so some will receive more and some none at
all. The lead editor may also decide to "bet" part of this bonus pool.
For instance she or he might decide to offer a bounty for a spy photo
which would boost the site's uniques that month. Other rules can be
clarified with Scott Kidder, our new head of editorial operations.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
The tech team will be making more data available so you can see which
stories are spreading. In the first instance, we will introduce a
count that shows the number of mentions on Twitter. Tom and his colleagues
will also display external referrals for each item. Later in the year
you can expect those stories that strike a chord to get even greater
prominence on the front page — and to remain there much longer.
But it's mainly up to you — by which I mean you and your editorial
colleagues. What can you do to bring in new visitors? Well, first of all,
simply keep doing what you're doing right now! Most of the stories that
resonate are also stories with high pageviews — with the flames that
everyone so prizes.
Over time I'd hope writers will focus more of their energies on the
stories that have the potential to break out on Twitter, Facebook or
in TV coverage — which shouldn't be that big a challenge. It just
means you have to be even more original, even more provocative or even
more of a hustler than usual.
Happy New Year!