Fate of “Free” Online Publishers: BuzzFeed’s Existential Crisis after its SPAC Merger

It burned through most of its $700 million of investor cash. So now what?

By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.

On the first day of trading after its merger with a SPAC, on December 6, 2021, shares of BuzzFeed [BZFD] jumped from the pre-merger price of $10 to $14.77 intraday, and then collapsed. On June 6, the lockup period expired, when certain insiders could sell, and the already beaten-down shares plunged another 40% in one day. Today the stock was trading as low as $1.02 and closed at $1.04, a new low, down 93% from the peak. If the stock drops further, the company may have to try to do a reverse stock split, maybe 1 to 25, such as Hippo, or whatever, to keep its shares from getting delisted.

Charts like this give me the willies about the free-money era, deeply infested with consensual hallucination, as I call it, that was already coming to an end when the SPAC merger was pushed out the window. But there is more to it, as we’ll see in a moment:

Revenues grew by 14% in the quarter, to $104 million, but that gain was driven by the $300-million acquisition of Complex Networks that closed in December last year. The net loss jumped to $27 million, while cash on hand dwindled to $57 million at the end of September.

How did a company that had raised nearly $700 million in funding since its founding in 2006, including from SoftBank, fall so far? Turns out, BuzzFeed is one of the lucky “free” online publishers. Many of the not so richly funded “free” online-only publishers are already gone.

The big promise in the early years of the internet was “free.” Publishers would put their stories, videos, and images online for free and would make money from eyeballs, as it was called during those crude days – from ads that these readers were looking at. As the ad technologies and metrics became more sophisticated, and as giants came into being whose tentacles started controlling all aspects of internet advertising, including the infrastructure to deliver the ads, and as “ad tech” was born to siphon out more and more of the funds that flow from advertisers in direction of the publishers, well, publishers got less and less of the revenue stream. But they have all the expenses of producing the content.

Many of the online-only publishers, including some well-known names, no longer made enough in revenues to pay for salaries and other expenses, ran out of cash, and shut down. Others were acquired by big companies. Most of the big publishers and many not so big ones began hiding some or all of their online content behind paywalls. But there are still some of us out there believing in “free,” and BuzzFeed is one of them, and it’s having one heck of a time.

BuzzFeed has raised nearly $700 million in total funding: $500 million in seven rounds of venture funding, including from Hearst Ventures, Softbank, Lerer Ventures, New Enterprise Associates, RRE Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, and others. The biggest chunk came from NBCUniversal. Then, in 2020, it borrowed $50 million.

In December 2021, BuzzFeed went public via merger with a SPAC, and got, well, only $16 million in equity funding, of the $277 million that the SPAC itself raised during its IPO, as 94% of the SPAC shareholders chose to redeem their shares and get their money back, rather than watch BuzzFeed burn through their money (I discussed yesterday how the SPAC scheme works and who makes money when). As part of the SPAC merger, it also raised $150 million in a convertible debt offering.

At the time of SPAC merger, BuzzFeed’s implied valuation was a ridiculous $1.5 billion. Today, the market capitalization is down to $146 million.

BuzzFeed tried to grow via some big acquisitions, including the money-losing HuffPost from Verizon in 2020, in what was described as a stock deal; and Complex Networks, a youth-oriented media and entertainment company, from Hearst and Verizon, just after the SPAC merger closed, for $200 million in cash and $100 million in equity.

The layoffs started in 2017, with 100 people being shown out the door. In 2019, 200 people were laid off. In 2020, BuzzFeed announced a pay cut, always very helpful for morale. In the spring of 2021, the HuffPost laid off about 70 people, a month after the acquisition closed. In the spring of 2022, BuzzFeed News trimmed its staff via voluntary buyouts, following an announcement by CEO Jonah Peretti to analysts that the company would shed between 25 and 50 employees via voluntary buyouts. As part of it, two editors announced their departure on Twitter.

And yesterday, BuzzFeed announced another round of layoffs, this time 12% of its remaining staff, which would amount to about 180 people.

In a message to employees, Peretti wrote that to “weather an economic downturn,” the company had to “readjust” its “cost structure.” He said that revenues were getting hit. He blamed two factors: “worsening macroeconomic conditions” and “the ongoing audience shift to vertical video, which is still developing from a monetization standpoint” or whatever.

In the SEC filing, the company added a third factor to blame, in addition to the other two: the “integration” of Complex Networks including “eliminating redundancies.”

But cost cutting is expensive: The company estimates that it will cost $8 million to $12 million, such as severance pay, to cut these costs, and that it will book those costs in Q4, which will add to its losses in Q4.

When it reported its earnings on November 14, the company said that it was “focused on preserving cash,” of which it didn’t have a lot anymore. At the end of September, it had $59 million. How long will that last?

Its restructuring costs will amount to about $8 to $12 million, mostly related to the layoffs. So that’s cash out the door.

In Q3, it had a net loss of $27 million (and for the nine months, $95 million). But about $15 million were non-cash expenses (depreciation, amortization, impairment, and stock-based compensation). The remaining loss in Q3 of $12 million amounted to cash outflow.

So about $10 million in cash outflow due to restructuring charges and additionally about $12 million per quarter? At this rate of cash-burn, the company has about three quarters left – through Q2 2023 – before it has to start selling off the computers, chairs, tables, and coffee cups left behind by its laid-off employees to stay afloat.

Unlike many of my other Imploded Stocks, such as Carvana, that are in an industry where they should make money but don’t due to their idiotic Silicon Valley business model (the bigger the losses, the better), BuzzFeed is in an industry that is getting gutted by Silicon Valley’s ad tech.

BuzzFeed is facing what many “free” online publishers face: Revenues from advertising, organizing events, affiliate relationships with Amazon, etc. are not enough to cover the salaries and other costs involved in producing the content – even in Good Times. The “free” internet was fun while it lasted, but ad tech made sure it won’t last.

There are now some massive lawsuits by some of the biggest publishers in the world and related regulatory actions to deal with this, but it’s unlikely anything real will come of it.

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  122 comments for “Fate of “Free” Online Publishers: BuzzFeed’s Existential Crisis after its SPAC Merger

  1. Depth Charge says:

    “Revenues from advertising, organizing events, affiliate relationships with Amazon, etc. are not enough to cover the salaries and other costs involved in producing the content – even in Good Times.”

    Sounds like some overpaid W F H jobs care of Powellbucks are about to go up in smoke. “Do you want fries with that?”

    • Wolf Richter says:

      These people are not overpaid by any means. Pay for reporters largely sucks.

      • Depth Charge says:

        I admit, it was a bit of a dig at this company and its employees. Not a fan of Huffpo and their ilk. I don’t like echo chambers of any political persuasion. I like the truth – something that has been lost as of late. I’m pretty anti-media these days.

        • Prairie Rider says:

          “In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

          “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.”

          -George Orwell

        • Pea Sea says:

          If you liked “the truth” as much as you say you do, perhaps you wouldn’t play so fast and loose with the facts about Buzzfeed’s employees and their compensation.

        • joedidee says:

          WOLF – Pay for reporters largely sucks.
          to bad most are just opinion writers

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Yes, there’s that. And now there’s another problem: they’re being replaced by AI. Bloomberg, MarketWatch, and others are now running AI-generated articles, some edited by humans, and some not. Years ago, a company contacted me to try out their software for free. It produces wooden articles written by machines for machines. I was like, are you effing kidding me?

        • Depth Charge says:

          “If you liked “the truth” as much as you say you do, perhaps you wouldn’t play so fast and loose with the facts about Buzzfeed’s employees and their compensation.”

          Their compensation is private information that neither you nor I will ever be privy to. Therefore, it’s all conjecture, and you have no way of proving what I said is NOT true. So, in essence, you are “playing fast and loose with the facts” yourself. How does it feel?

        • Pea Sea says:

          Nice try, Depth Charge, but next time just admit that you posted without thinking. We all do it from time to time.

        • LK says:

          Sometimes there are great comments on here. Other times…

          With the way people post, they themselves could be replaced by AI, I suspect. Let’s have fully-automated capitalism. AI articles with AI art reporting on AI politicians and AI billionaires, with AI talking heads and shitposters.

          This whole humanity experiment is overrated at this point. You don’t need to be rich to have identified and worm towards the elimination of labor costs in favor of dictatorship over the things you own serving you. After all, it’s not passe to own people as property anymore.

          I’m half-joking.

      • Ted says:

        I write for Seeking Alpha, one of the more respected investment sites, and even there very few people make a living from writing. I don’t, because it would require much more time and energy than I want to commit to generate enough content to build a big enough audience. Most writers are competing against a horde of people willing to write in large quantity for not much compensation. There are a lot of easier ways to make money.

        • The net has completely destroyed everything in print that doesn’t have utility. This is one reason people have gone anti-science. Science just supports the status quo. There’s no edge in owning common knowledge and certainly no profit in selling it. If you were Picasso, alive today, why would you sell any of your paintings? You would hang them in your living room and get the bank to give you a line of credit which is how Musk runs his finances. By making a few cars with electric motors people connect him to the (not so revolutionary) vision he promotes and its all bull. This is why we have the internet of things. It will take another generation of beatniks to deconstruct it all for us, so we can become grounded once more.

        • Nick Kelly says:

          ‘This is one reason people have gone anti-science. Science just supports the status quo.’

          The reason people have gone anti- science is they don’t any. Even basic tech. I am constantly being surprised how many guys don’t know how a car engine works, not all the crap, just what are the valves doing. As for AC vs DC…

          Re; the status quo. Dating myself here but in the sixties I was taking Geology 111, an easy one for Arts majors at the University of Calgary. Even we started to notice a strange excitement. The reason: the gospel, the status quo, was being swept away. The continents DID move around on the earth’s surface! ‘Plate tectonics’ was now a thing. But not all the old guard went quietly. They had tenure and many ridiculed the idea as being like something out of the Bible.

          Black holes, aka dark matter, was not always the status quo.
          Unlike religious belief, science is always open to challenge. But you have to know some to do that.

      • Erik says:

        This is true. I know a few that are on TV often and they don’t live lavish lifestyles

      • eric says:

        “That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been;”

        Web3 blockchain is supposed to help with this. An excess of carnies and hustlers is being bled. Can 3 deliver beginning now?

        “The Future, Mr. Gittes!”

      • Yancey Ward says:

        Oh, they are overpaid, even if they are paid a dollar/day.

      • Brooks says:

        Which is bad for democracy

    • JayRM says:

      Amazon pays pennies on the dollar now and their affiliate program is anti-affiliate now. It used to be possible to make decent money that way, but the pay is so low nowadays and the program policies are designed to make it difficult for affiliates to complete any sales. I run a small entertainment site and have noticed in the last few months that Google ad revenue has dropped significantly as well.

      I mean going from $30 a day sometimes to $3 a day. It is significant so I wouldn’t recommend depending solely on any ad revenue or affiliate revenue. Sometimes makes you question why you do it when you put in a few hours a day to make a few dollars. Make it a passion project I suppose. Agree with Wolf about having loyal visitors willing to support the platform hence why I started questioning launching a forum to build a community. Just a thought for my own stuff. Ad revenues aren’t what they were just a few months ago though so I’d keep an eye on that.

      Happy Holidays all!

    • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

      …ad there’s the conundrum – rare is the human who is truly convinced they are overpaid…(see ‘wheel of history’ and ‘doing what is necessary to carry on’)…our fellow citizens, of course, are often seen to be overcompensated (usually without performing an actual investigation with supporting data and analysis-or, the reasons why we find Wolf and his efforts so valuable…).

      Oneself reflecting in the panes of that glass house? hmmm.

      may we all find a better day.

  2. Rosarito Dave says:

    Thanks Wolf…for me this brings up the question, I’m wondering what is YOUR business structure for this site? I’ve always assumed you were (mainly) a very small office… maybe a couple of admin and research folks?

    I have NO idea what sort of manpower (personpower? :-) ) it takes to do what you do…. I’m just glad you’ve found a way….

    • Wolf Richter says:

      When I first started doing this over a decade ago, I thought I could hire people, and their work would eventually produce enough ad revenues to pay for them to where I would come out at least even. I never did. My site grew a lot, but ad revenues per 1,000 pageviews declined every year. So you go to more and more aggressive and intrusive ads, to somehow keep your nose above water, and in the end, you drive off your readers because they cannot deal with all the ads exploding into their face — or they switch to ad blockers, which kill the business model entirely.

      Dealing with the ad industry is just exasperating. It’s the slimiest industry I know. You have to count your fingers after you shake hands with them.

      So I switched a few years ago. I’m a one-man show. I WFH. I do all my own stuff, even taxes. I no longer pay for content. I reduced the ads by a lot — fewer and less intrusive ads — and I rely on my loyal and generous readers to support WOLF STREET with donations. It’s heartwarming and wonderful. And becoming less dependent on ads removed a huge headache and aggravation; as you can tell, I just hate that industry.

      • Oufti97 says:

        Well done Wolf! Glad you are here. Your contents are more informative than in many reputed financial news outlets, not to mention more fun to read.

      • SWE Josh says:

        Something I’ve wondered for years is why don’t the publishers get together and form their own ad tech company to avoid the middleman? One of the things the Facebook’s of the world may be able to do better than the publishers can do is ad targeting but if enough publishers got together you would think they would have good insight into the end users. Also I think you mentioned in the past that you also signed individual ad deals (e.g. I think you had a roofing ad for a while). There’s got to be a better to link the companies like that with the suppliers more directly. How would you change the system if you could get everyone together?

        • Halibut says:

          One stumbling block might be an inability to gain controlling shares of GOOGL and AMZN.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Direct ads are great – and I get some occasionally. But I’m a small global publisher. My readers are everywhere. So car dealers for example don’t want to advertise because they’re local. And for big advertisers I’m too small for direct campaigns. I tried to get the automakers to listen to me, but their ad agencies won’t even reply to my emails.

          I constantly work on this stiff. I had a direct advertiser for 8 months last year, the metal shingles guy. Worked great. I had a hedge fund earlier this year, some other stuff.

          There’s stuff that I could do but won’t do: online gambling, crypto, etc.

      • Orest says:

        Hi Wolf:

        I think your business model is the way to go. I think, but don’t know for a fact, that quite a few folks on Substack are generating at least subsistence revenue from subscriptions.

        I think there’s a large cohort of people who want good intelligence and information and value it enough to pay. You’re among those who provide it. Kudos.

        You hit this one on the head, by the way. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, someone once said, even on the Internet.

      • Michael says:

        You are correct. Some sites like infoworld.com and computerworld.com are unusable because of all the ads.

      • Joe Soja says:

        You are unquestionably one of the brightest financial minds out there.
        Brilliant financial analysis, all the time.
        I read everything you write Mr.Richter.

        I am 70 years old,
        and I have seen much financial turmoil in my lifetime

        The stock market crash of 1987, and the near financial
        meltdown of the entire US financial system in 2008 was
        the closest thing to ground zero that almost came to pass.

        Keep up the great work, and thank you for being there for us.

        • anon says:

          Joe Soja wrote as a boomer:

          “I am 70 years old, and I have seen much financial turmoil in my lifetime … “

          100% agree!

          I retired a while ago. As another boomer my tolerance for ‘financial turmoil’ has decreased.

          And, as such, I refuse to pay ‘gate fees’ to read content. I can get access to more stuf than I can possibly process from my local library for “free”. Yes, I realize a portion of my property taxes goes to the local library.

          Wolf’s commentary is actually understandable and he does a great job explaining things.

          If we didn’t already have too much stuff I’d get a coffee mug from him.

      • Cem says:

        You have THE best site when it comes to financial news.
        First paycheck at the new gig I’ll through a donation your way Wolf, please don’t stop in the next couple weeks.

      • George says:

        Apparently there an ‘AI’ company that enables landlords to Jack up prices by collusion (price fixing via proxy). I imagine same thing happened a long time ago with ad ‘markets’ now controlled by one big player. Names withheld on purpose to avoid more.. advertising :)

      • CPB says:

        Wild ran ads at Gawker from very early to 2012. We handled everything we possibly could in house never letting the tiniest crack for ad tech cockroaches to crawl through. You could layer in a high margin minority % rev but have to be hands on and client direct, no agencies even. Love your work. Thank you

    • Eferg says:

      Rosarito Dave,

      Thank you for asking the question. Great response from Wolf and I really enjoyed the subsequent dialogue. I have railed against ads in the past and feel somewhat of a personal connection to Wolf on the issue.

      The current structure of the site is great. My only regret is that I do not have more time to spend on it.

  3. Wisdom Seeker says:

    Theoretically these media outlets could still earn money by distributing content paid for (or otherwise subsidized) by others … Eyeballs have value not just to advertisers, but to propagandists.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Aggregators do that. Or they have someone in Bangladesh rewrite the articles that come out behind paywalls, just enough to get around copyright violations, for $5 an article, or whatever. And some publishers do that. Or you can just steal the articles. Google older headlines of my articles: you’ll see who all republished them without permission (only three sites are allowed to republish my articles, deals that I made years ago). But it’s hard to become a big media site with those copy-and-paste strategies.

      • SomethingStinks says:

        There’s a dude out of SoCal on YouTube that puts out a doom and gloom video every day. Quotes you and zerohedge in almost every video. He even titled his video after your Ford F250 crazy prices article on the day you posted it.

      • Hi Wolf,

        Hope you are doing well, most appreciate your site and in my Book on the Practical MBA for Economics, I referred to some of your charts with acknowledgement. Also, reading your articles helped me gain some excellent insights that helped me with my book and other things.

        Thanks for all you do.


        • HowNow says:

          Wolf, we’re probably over-due for a decent “Personal Finance” book. With your ability to connect to readers, integrity, and knowledge, you’d probably write a bestseller.

    • Wisdom Seeker says:

      I was thinking it’s a bit more subtle than copy-paste. And potentially much less honest.

      Suppose you own a media site, but due to the ad-tech squeeze you can’t afford to write much of your own content anymore. Suppose you don’t want to just fold up the business, and don’t want to just aggregate.

      If you’re sufficiently desperate, you might look for, shall we say, silent business partners with deep pockets who share your bias (and possibly hidden agendas). You can find people willing to write your articles more-or-less for free (letting you have the ad revenue), or even to pay you to write them somehow.

      Then you can keep up your rent payments by simply wrapping a fresh byline around whatever content you’re offered, tweaking a few words here or there, and publishing whatever “they” want you to say as “original” news (not aggregated).

      In short, these desperate media sites could, at least partially, become camouflaged mouthpieces for whoever has an agenda. An obvious example (although I think here the relationship and work are mostly honest and disclosed) is Nick Timiraos at the WSJ. Timiraos is widely recognized as a semi-official Fed mouthpiece, which is why his articles appear to move markets by 2% in a day.

      But there’s a long, steep, slippery slope from those respectable mouthpiece roles, through blatant biased coverage, to outright advocacy for particular well-funded agendas.

      And with a little digging, one learns that there are some significant media figures whose former employers, or whose spouse’s current employers, have a strong interest in certain types of stories. And then there’s a statistically amazing number of former “intelligence community” staff working for certain network news outlets. Guess whose side of the story gets told, and whose gets suppressed?

      But none of this is really new, it’s just that it wasn’t so common or so obvious before, at least not in the US. We are all Pravda now.

      • nevnej says:

        This has been happening all over, part of adjustment that decimated journalism in favor of public relations. “Drop-in articles” written by PR depts, free content to publishers, so no staff writers needed. Like for mundane trade press stuff …

  4. Happy1 says:

    The days of free online media are over. Everything good is behind a paywall now. The quality of regional newspapers is abysmal compared with 20 or 30 years ago, there are very few to newspaper towns left anymore. Even the quality of the national newspapers has taken a dip, WSJ isn’t what it was 20 years ago either.

    • Augustus Frost says:

      The only daily I ever thought worth reading was the WSJ. Consider every single local newspaper I ever read garbage. Same for USA Today.

      I never read the Christina Science Monitor which I think of as better. There are also specialty publications like the Atlanta Business Chronicle which might be better.

      • VintageVNvet says:

        The San Francisco Chronicle of the late 1960s-early 1970s was a TON of fun to read daily, with that Herb Caen guy being the first read and usually spiciest part. Surely it was more fun than the National Inquirer, etc…
        Sunday was the NY Times day, and that too well worth reading IN THOSE DAYS…
        Our local situation in the TPA bay metro area went to hell when the Tampa Tribune, a relatively honest publication for many decades was absorbed into the local propaganda rag that is now down to 2 days a week of delivering a much smaller sheet.

        • Heron says:

          Herb Caen, I remember him. Liked Mike Royko from Chicago too. Also a local guy that had great observations that taught philosophy at my high school. Good class.

          Nowadays it seems the writers should not have graduated high school given how they murder the language on a regular basis. $12/mo for that? Lol, I dont think so!

        • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

          VVNV – the Sacamenna Kid surely gave me my affection for (and abuse of) the ellipsis…

          may we all find a better day.

      • Sea Creature says:

        WSJ was an amazing paper back twenty years ago and worth every penny of its (expensive) subscription. I gladly paid it each year.

        It all went to heck after the Bancroft family sold it to Rupurt Murdoch though, and WSJ a flimsy shadow of what it once was. I don’t subscribe to it anymore as a result.

        I do make regular donations to Wolf Street though, as Wolf’s writings are at the level of what WSJ used to be back then.

        I am happy to pay for news and media provided it doesn’t have an alternative agenda paid for by the billionaires or foreign powers, is not ‘wokified’ (i.e. black -vs- Black..etc), and has balanced fact based writings.

        That is very very hard to find these days though, even if one is willing to pay a pretty penny for it, which I am.

        • Khowdung Flunghi says:

          This summarizes where I am, as well. Trying to separate the signal from the noise is increasingly difficult – damn near impossible most of the time. Truly appreciate Wolf’s efforts to help surface reality from the massive “spin”. Also appreciate the insightful comments helping advance understanding from differing viewpoints, without a lot of emotional bafflegab.

        • Flungdung Dooty says:

          “…emotional bafflegab” good words, although I’m guilty of writing such from time to time (including this time).

    • Escierto says:

      I used to subscribe to the San Antonio Express News but eventually I got tired of reading a paper with a conservative viewpoint that endorsed candidates I always voted against. So I dropped my subscription years ago and now I hope they go bankrupt and disappear.

      • Old school says:

        Maybe Powell is doing the correct thing. Get the price of money up to 5% and keep it there and let the poor business models run out of money.

      • King Nether says:

        I did the same thing with the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, for the same (but opposite) reason. The newspapers *should* learn not to antagonize half their readers as they are likely to lose a bunch of them.

    • Auld Kodjer says:

      “Everything good is behind a paywall now.”

      And now would be a good time to apologize to Wolf.

    • Depth Charge says:

      I don’t really mind, to be honest. I can now see a day where I don’t even go online anymore. I only keep my smart phone for business. Once I don’t need it, it goes right into the trash. I plan on completely disconnecting when I retire.

      • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

        DC – one small caveat from my (admittedly) limited experiences-in spite of one’s best efforts to decouple from the world, it’s deucedly good at finding you. Best of fortune, there…

        may we all find a better day.

  5. Happy1 says:

    Two newspaper towns…

  6. Nathan says:

    Just an FYI, I get your articles regularly appearing in my Google News feed…usually after I have read them the day you post them through my email messages. After reading that article I am heading straight to Wolf’s “PayPal” to drop a bit in the holiday bucket! Thanks for all you do and Happy Holidays–may they be free of (or should it be full of???) “concensual hallucinations”!

    • Oufti97 says:

      That’s why I don’t like these gmail and other free accounts. I pay a little for a private provider that does not index and use my messages, photos and other attachments to sell my info and train its AI. Freedom comes at a price, it feels great to ditch all these parasitic “services”.

  7. M says:

    Buzz feed was cotton candy for the mildly interested. It never offered anything.

  8. bulfinch says:

    Some good stuff on Substack that I gladly pay for. I wish writers were better-valued in this country. Soot on a brick can be an engaging subject if it’s written about objectively and garnished with a sprig or two of imagination.

  9. J-Pow!!! says:

    Thanks for all you do, Wolf. My bad for overly J-Powing the comments sometimes. I’m J-Pow!!! I print money, vacuum it up, and am sometimes a little over-the-top. Hope you keep going with this gig. Where else will all of us bears go? We would have to start invading campsites again…

    • All Good Here Mate says:

      “ I’m J-Pow!!! I print money, vacuum it up, and am sometimes a little over-the-top.”

      Epic. Not sure what I enjoy more: Wolf’s articles or your perfectly-timed J-Pow bombs in the comments.

  10. Halibut says:

    A long time ago, Irvin Shrewsbury Cobb was the highest paid writer in America.

    He was basically a humorist, but he wrote for the Saturday Evening Post and he wrote books and screenplays and everything thing else.

    That was long before the cutthroat days of “.com”.

    Here ya go, Depth Charge…
    (Imagining you speaking of Jerome)

    “I’ve just learned of his illness. Let’s hope it’s nothing trivial”
    —- Irvin S. Cobb

  11. RickV says:

    Maybe congress will pass the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act to stop the theft of news content.

    • Depth Charge says:

      Expecting, or even hoping for, CONgress to do anything which actually benefits the American people is delusional. Both sides of this cesspool are bought-and-paid-for by corporate special interests, and they do all of their bidding. The talking points are carefully crafted so as to give the illusion that the policies benefit the people, which in reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

      • RickV says:

        I can’t agree with your cynical viewpoint. This is the argument autocratic enemies of the western democracies use to establish a false equivalency between the competing systems. They say “See you are corrupt too so our dictatorial one man rule is just as good as your democracy.” Not true by a long shot.

        • HowNow says:

          Thanks, RickV. Needed a course correction this early in the morning. Yep, “false equivalency”, one of the most popular fallacies.
          Here’s one from a guy who should know better: “Science gets things wrong. They thought that Pluto was a planet. So, this ‘global warming thing’… just another ‘science’ mistake.”

    • Augustus Frost says:

      Passing a law doesn’t stop anything.

      There are already copyright laws. Just as with patents and trademarks, it’s only as good as the owner’s ability to defend it in court at their own expense. 99%+ don’t have the resources to do that (mostly or only mega corps) and it’s never going to be done at taxpayer expense.

      • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

        AF – ‘Muricans LOVE passing laws – equitable enforcement and periodic review/revision or sunset of them, not so much…

        may we all find a better day.

  12. Michael Engel says:

    I don’t care !

    • All Good Here Mate says:

      Gotta be honest here… I believe this is actually the first of your comments over these many months I have actually understood.

      • Seba says:

        I used to work as a translator years ago, it’s pretty difficult to understand different people with different manners of expressing themselves in either language and then trying to communicate the meaning to the other party in their language. Despite all of my experience I’ve also had a hell of a time understanding Michael Engel posts

        • phleep says:

          I have thoroughly enjoyed ME’s posts. No problem with comprehension. They go in very interesting skewed, elliptical directions around current events.

        • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

          …recalling a paraphrase of Churchill’s quip: “…the United Kingdom and the United States-two great nations divided by a common language…”.

          may we all find a better day.

  13. Mike T. says:

    Wolf I want to donate to you using a credit card through PayPal but the link always has “Create Account & Donate Now” and I don’t want to create a PayPal account.

    Any suggestions to get around this?

    • Wolf Richter says:

      It seems you’re clicking on the wrong button. You need to click the lower subtle-looking WHITE button, and NOT on the upper aggressive-looking yellow button. PayPal set up the page purposefully to mislead you.

      • Whatsthepoint says:

        Can I do it with a UK card in ££?

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Yes, but please insert the amount in USD. Your credit card will convert it into GBP for your account, while PayPal will send me the USD amount.

      • VintageVNvet says:

        Thanks for that clarity Wolf:
        Was trying to do so similarly to comment above,,, and gave up and have been sending USPS money orders since giving up on pay pal…
        Just wanted to say ”THANKS AGAIN” for your work to make it clear what is actually happening, instead of the constant propaganda other where on web these days…
        Will try again on pay pal,,, but most likely just to continue with the money orders, as they are so simple and easy…
        And, btw, the reason they are $98.xx is that is the balance after the cost of the MO,, and having two of the ”original” mugs, we don’t need any more,,, yet…LOL

  14. The internet, or Google is an online encyclopedia like the ones your parents had in high school. There is the answer to (just about) everything in there, just not the real in depth knowledge, which typically is just a piling on of facts, without any processing. Raw data isn’t information. It doesn’t matter if the information you’re putting out isn’t particularily good, like the Feds interest rate policy. If that policy throws off some wild hairs, you have policies to deal with that, and everyone follows them, you are the force majeure. Empirical reality hasn’t a chance. Google scrubs!

  15. Don says:


    “Direct ads are great – and I get some occasionally. But I’m a small global publisher. My readers are everywhere. So car dealers for example don’t want to advertise because they’re local.”

    I would think that you would be able to target ads based on IP addresses. It’s been years since I’ve done this sort of stuff, but I suspect that a simple JavaScript program embedded into your HTML would be able to do the trick.

    • Wolf Richter says:


      It’s funny how we have all these experts giving free advice here. It’s like free marital advice in the comments. I mean, this is why I love the comments. You get all this free advice on everything.

      I have been doing this 16 hours a day for 10 years, and I never think about anything LOL

      OK do the math. For example, maybe only 1% of my global readership lives in Denver. So if want to advertise for a car dealer in Denver, those ads will run on 1% of my traffic. That may be 15,000 pageviews in a month in Denver — assuming no one in Denver uses ad blockers LOL. That’s $100 for a whole month if no one uses ad blockers. It takes many hours to negotiate and implement an ad contract, do the invoice, collect, etc. A $100 ad contract is just not worth it for anyone. Those are the economics of being a small publisher. I cannot economically target small parts of my global market. It just doesn’t make economic sense.

      However, I do target by IP address: the US as a whole. I run lots of ads that are only delivered to US IP addresses (my ad agency ads). The US is about 70% of my traffic. If you live in Canada or overseas, you never see those ads. You only see Google ads that I use for backfill.

      • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

        …cue the late John Prine’s ‘Dear Abby’…

        may we all find a better day.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          You just sent me listening to it, LOL

        • HowNow says:

          So, back to my point about writing a Personal Finance book: you could use this post of yours, about the economics of web ads, as a case study, one of many, for each chapter. And lots of comments and responses would bring a modern cast to the same-old same-old in p.f. books. None of them (I’m guessing) deal with some of the really profound problems & dangers of online behavior – of gullible consumers or malicious, manipulative purveyors/scammers.

  16. Gabby Cat says:

    BuzzFeed was a unique venture into free thought content. However, it really only served the psychological society with free analysis on the newer generations thought process. Later it turned out to be more hive minded rhetoric of other MSM point of view. They lost most of their base when they become unbalanced and the content quit being unique. As for paid writing, as a Technical Writer myself, I am often frustrated by the lack of grammarians. I read a headline article on Fox Business recently that was missing commas and had misspelled words. Yikes!

    • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

      …”…the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue…”

      (Prof. Henry Higgins in Rogers&Hammerstein’s ‘My Fair Lady’ – language and generations being what they are, no doubt a surprisingly common sentiment amongst extant literate generations since the time of the Bard and before…).

      may we all find a better day.

      • HowNow says:

        “My Fair Lady” should be required viewing for all English 1A courses, nationwide (worldwide?).
        Thus spake HowNow.

        • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

          How – in this increasingly-visual/spoken-sung-word age, it would probably be an easier sell in 1a than by assigning Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’…(and just where do plays land in the pantheon of literature?).

          Best to you, and-

          may we all find a better day.

  17. Cobalt Programmer says:

    1. When did you ever cared?
    2. If wolf is a good economist, why NYT did not invited him to speak?
    3. 100K pick up truck is not costly for a blue collar worker. His contractor is passing the costs to you. You are paying the truck.
    4. If buzzfeed is free media, then are you implying other main stream media (MSM) are paid by ads and may be some puppet masters?
    5. If the MSM is paid for by puppet masters, then are you again implying, that they do not tell me the truth?
    6. Then, the finance blogs and newsletters are paid by the wallstreet?
    7. If the monthly payment for a truck is worth $1728, then it includes insurance and gas right? Then its worth it
    8. How many pension funds are investors in the SPAC?
    9. I am collecting funny names of crypto. Like Klepto, Cra*to, $hitcoin, Bitcon. Feel free to add yours
    10. If a news media is free, then you are their product
    11. Are you going to tell me, all the MSM exists to control my thoughts and opinions on the world and not to provide an unbiased view of the world?

  18. nevnej says:

    The internet caused the decimation of ad and subscription funded journalism generally, as I print newspapers and journals. This is visible in the BLS occupational data over the last twenty years, with journalists’ decline mirrored by PR staff increase. Even mundane stuff like trade press increasingly using “drop-in articles” supplied by PR depts, benefits both. “News” becoming more reporting the PR releases rather than what’s really going on …

  19. R2D2 says:

    According to the AllSides Media Bias Chart, BuzzFeed is quite a far-Left news outlet. Is this a classic case study of the old mantra “go woke, go broke”?

    • Pea Sea says:

      No. RTGDFA. The kinds of people who participate in those idiotic “anti-woke” boycotts never consumed Buzzfeed’s content in the first place, so they couldn’t impact Buzzfeed’s bottom line even if they tried. And Buzzfeed’s “far left” (i.e., mildly center-left) content is quite popular among those who share their worldview–they’re one of the better known non-legacy media outlets.

      But–as you would understand if you had read the article–being a popular, well-known online media outlet that doesn’t paywall its content isn’t a very good way to turn a profit in 2022.

    • Wolf Richter says:


      That’s your fantasy. The internet is affecting all “free” sites across the spectrum the same way, including right-winger sites. Everyone wants to read something different. And there is something for everyone. BuzzFeed and BuzzFeed News combined had close to 110 million “visits” in October, 10x as many as Trump’s Truth Social which had less than 11 million “visits” (Similarweb).

      • tom20 says:

        Apparently I have to expand my horizons.
        Read your site daily…..have never heard of BuzzFeed.

        Then again, that would require more screen time.
        Though I could eliminate far side & the babylon bee.
        Nope, I’ll stay “winger” free.

  20. Anthony says:

    Free has always been expensive

  21. Felix_47 says:

    Here in Germany they have a mandated tax to support TV and radio programming so the major channels are government funded. It is called Rundfunk Steuer and it is taken directly out of the bank account. It is about 100 dollars per year per person. And the often American controlled private networks are doing their damndest to get people to vote against the Steuer so they can make more money and dominatte the media. A lot of my American friends are paying 150 per month for cable and sports TV so it is obvious that most Americans can afford it. Add cell phone and you are looking at 250 per month. In Germany far better cell phone is 15 per month. The cheapest internet cable deals are about 70 per month for the poorest households in the US. Despite the increasing American propaganda the public German TV channels are miles ahead of US media. So it is not a money problem. It is a money distribution problem in the US. I have often thought that perhaps one could make a system where people could pay a fixed amount per month, like 100 or 150 per month, and the revenues could be allocated to authors by clicks. Get a lot of clicks automatically get money. Or, perhaps better, just provide a guaranteed basic income to everyone so writers do not have to struggle and make it by taxing the public and the big digital monopolies. Of course, most Americans share SBF’s view of reading. But ultimately it comes down to tax policy which reflects the priorities of a society. Chinese and Soviet and East German society placed a premium on classical music, for example. The results speak for themselves. Many Germans see the current Americanization of the nation as a disaster. In many ways East Germany was better for the average person. The US leadership class is represented by people like Joe Biden, Jim Clyburn, the Clintons, the Buttigiegs, the Gaetz’s, and in Germany by Scholz, Baerbock and Von der Leyen all birds of a feather. We get what we vote for. Thank you Wolf for your efforts.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Don’t know about your stuff about Germany, but much of your stuff about the US is just uninformed nonsense, including what you said about US cellphone connectivity and broadband. Do you think this is still the 1990s in the US?

      When I use my cellphone to connect my network to the internet (it’s my backup broadband connection for my network), I get close to 20 Mbts. That’s fast enough to stream high-definition movies and watch them on the big screen. This is 4G.

      In addition, I can now get 5G, which is a lot faster, but I don’t need it or want it.

      You said: “The cheapest internet cable deals are about 70 per month for the poorest households in the US.”

      Such ignorant BS. Stop talking about the US and stick to your neighborhood in Germany.

      Our broadband is “fiber to the house,” with symmetrical up and down speeds of 1 Gbts, which is far faster than anything I ever need. It would be fast enough to run the server of this website at home (though I don’t, it’s at a server farm, with all kinds of backup and security features). Our fiber deal includes a regular telephone connection (via fiber), in case you still want a telephone line (we don’t). The whole package is $59 a month, unlimited data. We’re in a very expensive city (San Francisco) and don’t exactly qualify for what you call “the poorest households in the US.”

      Don’t abuse my site to spread BS about the US. Stick to spreading stuff about Germany.

      • Sean Shasta says:

        Nothing personal but there is some level of truth in what Felix_47 has written.

        I live in a middle-class neighborhood in a suburb of Houston. Our cellphone coverage is not only spotty from all the 3 major carriers, it has actually been degrading over the last couple of years. Our only Internet Broadband provider, Comcast, has been raking it in with around $60/month for fairly low-speed Internet because there is no competition for them in this market. There is no fiber offering and the DSL service is provided by a no-name company.

        I write about this only because I would like things to improve for every American citizen in every American neighborhood. Right now, it seems like these are available only for those living in major tech centers.

        I also agree with Felix_47 that our ratings-driven broadcast and cable news are biased one way or another and have fairly poor journalistic standards.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Sounds like you need to get a G4-capable phone, at least. Or better, get a G5-capable phone. Sounds like you have an older G3 phone, and you’re in trouble; G3 is being degraded. I got kicked off my G2 phone in 2015 because ATT was degrading the service to where I couldn’t use it anymore. Smartphones last a long time, but the transmission technology improves (from G3 to G4 to G5), and the old services get degraded. You need to stay up-to-date with your hardware. Yup, I know, it’s a racket. But that’s how it is.

          And thank you for confirming that Felix_47 was spouting off a bunch of effing BS when he said that “The cheapest internet cable deals are about 70 per month for the poorest households in the US.” You’re paying $60, which is less than $70. And you’re not among “the poorest households in the US” either. That was a double-barreled lie our dear Felix told us.

          Also you need to call Comcast and tell them to upgrade to a higher speed; they can, and they do, do that with the click of a mouse while you’re talking to them, without charge. I did that years ago. That was before I switched to fiber.

  22. Kevin W says:

    I’ve been a heavy user of the internet since the Netscape/AOL/Webcrawler days when it took over a minute for a page to even load. And I have never seen an advertisement or a banner ad that I clicked on and paid money. Of all the millions of impressions that were sold based on my eyeballs, it’s 0% ROI. I have to believe my experience is the same as almost everyone’s.

    Probably a thousand times I’ve been in the road and seen a billboard for a restaurant or motel up ahead, though, and pulled over. I’ve bought from flyers in the mail, yellow pages, the sandwich board guys, and from direct search of course.

    Every other advertising medium is better.

    • El Katz says:

      I’ve close-to-never clicked on a ad/banner on purpose. Usually it’s a result of sloppy track pad habits.

    • billytrip says:

      That is exactly my experience. I don’t see how these internet ads actually make money, for certain no one has made a dime off of me.

      And the vast majority of “targeted” ads I view (in contexts where my ad blocker is ineffective for whatever reason) are for products I have already purchased or decided not to, i.e. they are too slow to hit any target.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      What you don’t know is how those ads that you saw get stored in the back of your memory banks, and when it’s time to buy something or go somewhere, the back of your memory banks becomes active and helps form your preferences. That’s a huge part of how advertising works. It’s subliminal. You don’t even know it’s taking place in the back of your mind. And there’s no need to click on anything. And that’s how advertising works on TV and in the paper-paper and on radio and on podcasts etc. where you cannot click on anything. Advertising has always worked that way — and still works that way. The click-thing is a new addition that came along about 30 years ago.

      • Augustus Frost says:

        I bought something from a YouTube ad earlier this week (on Amazon), at a cost of $10. It will be useful, if it actually works as advertised.

        With very rare exceptions like this, attempted subliminal messages are irrelevant to me. I don’t buy things on impulse I do not need.

        Yes, I obviously buy things I have seen advertised, but it’s because I need it.

      • El Katz says:

        The ads only work subliminally if you register their presence. Since I hardly remember what I had for lunch, those impressions are mostly wasted on someone as ADD as me.

      • 91B20 1stCav (AUS) says:

        …time to reprise Vance Packard’s ‘The Hidden Persuaders’, first published well before the advent of the pc or interwebs…

        may we all find a better day.

  23. Island Teal says:

    Today saw the launch of a new SPAC that is sure to generate lots of guffaws as it winds through it’s quick Life Span. For everyone’s amusement I present BANZAI. They identify as a “Tech Marketing Tool”🔥🔥💸💸💸

  24. CreditGB says:

    Being older than dirt, I had to look up “vertical video” to see what the heck that was.

    Apparently it is that horribly annoying narrow format produced by cell phone videos. I like to watch videos, but generally will exit and move on if the format is “vertical video”. Seems like yet again, selling “junk” as something valuable worthwhile.

  25. libdis says:

    I don’t know, for me the move away from media was occurring even before the internet take over. The local paper, now the Tampabay Times (formerly the St Pete Times and Tampa Tribune) was dying long before. The internet simply accelerated it by crucifixion. They started killing themselves when they became completely and overtly biased.

    A subscription was something like 189 a year for daily delivery, but you could always finagle them into giving you the teaser 48.00 rate, including Sunday. If they refused I would just cancel. In a few weeks they would be calling and I’d get my cheap rate.

    My wife loved to play with the coupons. That was the only reason we kept it so many years.

    I think Tampabay Times maybe publishes twice a week now, and it’s about as thick as a napkin.

    The internet destroys the advertising model and the bias these MSM tropes have cuts the user base in half, either side of the aisle. It appears even CNN is now recognizing this. They seem to be at least trying to be less bias with the new guy in charge, but it’s too late.

    Is there a market for true middle of the road news reporting online in a paid format? I don’t know. We will likely never find out because news is propaganda, always has been, always will, just used to be more stealth.

    And now the darn thing doesn’t even have the coupons…..

    • My Opinion Only says:

      The city newspapers’ monopolistic practices certainly contributed to their downfall. In the early 1979s, my local newspaper began to limit the type of classified ads they would publish. No ads for church schedules, gun sales, cars requiring leaded fuel, pro-life pregnancy centers, or anything else that offended lefties. Before long, these speech limitations opened the market for new competitors, e.g., weekly shoppers and national classified magazines. Then websites such as CL came along and ended this lucrative business for local newspapers.

  26. an idea that’s been knocking around in my head for years is that the content producers should automatically get a penny or whatever every time their content gets clicked. this could be drawn from the cash people pay for access to the internet.
    of course, it’s too “simplistic” a solution to work but wouldn’t it be nice if the content producers actually saw some revenue from their work?

    • Augustus Frost says:

      Why would any ISP pay any writer a single cent?

      The writer isn’t doing them favors or generating any revenue for them.

      You can make this claim about Google (or any similar source) but there is no reason for Google to pay everyone who produces internet content either, because most of it is garbage and produces no economic return.

      The concentration of market share in a small number of firms is a legitimate (potential) problem, but not the one you identify.

      Going back to legacy media, there is a reason online media replacing print isn’t a growing market and increasingly economically unviable. The market has rendered its verdict that it’s increasingly not worth paying for.

      This isn’t a politically motivated statement. It’s a statement of fact. If enough people found it valuable, they would pay something for it, enough to maintain it. The fact that the overwhelming majority won’t proves they don’t.

      • respectfully, i do not think you comprehend what it is i am suggesting. you pay a monthly fee for connectivity, and why are you doing this if most the internet content is garbage?
        you are paying for connectivity because you are getting something you think is worth paying the fee for presumably or you wouldn’t pay for it at all.
        if instead of all of the fee going to the isp, the internet service provider allocated a portion of that fee to the website’s actioned by the user, the quality of the content would likely improve, and there would be more competition for each website’s use.
        when you go to the theatre, the producers of the movie make a profit. likewise the cable and satellite networks. why should it be any different for internet content producers?
        internet service providers are reaping profits off all of those who are uploading material. by starving these producers, quality is lower as should be expected. the market is in fact reacting to this imbalance by donating to producers of quality content. why shouldn’t this be automatic?

  27. our local pet-sop here in the yukon publishes “news” which contains so little in the category of facts that you might as well watch the sky for smoke signals.
    there is a true vacuum of facts in nearly all of the stories. “name withheld for family privacy” no photo of the convicted pedophile sex offender available at this time. “rcmp withholding information due to the nature of the investigation” and the like.
    perhaps an interesting business model would be to fill this fact- vacuum with some actual investigative journalism on these gutted news stories?

  28. JA Martinez says:

    @motive unclear –I like the pet shop anecdote
    The whole objective of the mass media and anything else it has under its control is to flood your brain 24/7 and turn it to mush with useless or outright fabricated “information”.
    I haven’t turned on the TV or read any mainstream news source, paper or online, for more than 15 years but do not regard myself as uninformed. There is also plenty of credible analysis available on the web on faked events.

Comments are closed.