I remember back when I signed up for AOL yea those many years ago... The gay and lesbian section (no trans or bi back then!) was called PlanetOut. I rarely visited for more than the occasional chat room. The content sucked and it just wasn't interesting.
Then PlanetOut spun off as its own company and became their own site outside of AOL. Gay.com showed up and the company swallowed up the Advocate and Out magazines. A cruise line was added and somehow porn mags were involved. (Seriously though, in the days of the internet and free porn, does anyone still buy porn mags anymore?)
The tale of the AOL homo sequel's world takeover came to a screeching halt a few months ago though. (Do sinister entities ever win in the end? Did they tell a secret agent how they planned on ultimate world domination via cruise ships and queers?) They faced bankruptcy, got bailed out by Bill Gates & Co, had a reverse stock split and sold off the cruise line and porn mags. It wasn't enough apparently since they announced they were looking for a buyer and their stock tumbled.
Their biggest asset? The gay.com domain name. Without a doubt. How much would you pay to own it?
What does that tell us? What lessons can be learned from this whole situation?
PlanetOut - to me, at least - was never about real dialogue or learning. While they offered news stories from the wire services, the original reporting was minimal. Mostly the site carried fluff columns, personals and chat rooms.
Gay.com isn't much better honestly. I was surprised when a co-worker moved here from Ohio and was shocked the hookup site was gay.com over a few other sites. While I assume gay.com is still roaring in the chats, Manhunt, Craig's List and others have started dominating here too. Poor gay.com.
The Advocate is one of the oldest LGBT institutions. The magazine was my first link to a "gay community" while growing up in small town Indiana. It's been painful watching the downhill slide into obscurity the mag has been experiencing - like watching Old Yeller. Simply put, they're finding it hard to stay relevant as a news magazine in the days of instant-internet news. Given the choice of adding more fluff and publishing more often, the Advocate opted for fluff.
Don't get me started on Out, either. As a poor middle aged non-model from middle America it never had relevance for me. Or you probably - unless you're a rich white guy from Miami with a fondness for alligator skin shoes and suits only Anderson Cooper can afford. Maybe the magazine was written for him! Nah, they called it Out...
So you can see the business model they had to work with. Two websites bleeding viewers and two gay magazines gushing subscribers combined with a cruise company and some porno mags - all of them based on an outdated idea as they fought against Web2.0.
I understand that when times are bad you hunker down and do what's made you the most money, I do. We've laughed here at TBP and said we need to put up naked photoshopped models and funny cat videos to attract more viewers quickly. In the end, what would it add to our coverage? Would we really benefit? It would compromise our integrity - as it did PlanetOut's.
Does anyone actually read Playboy?
So now they're up for sale. Can I make an offer for gay.com and the Advocate? I have an idea for a way to get LGBT folks talking together, sharing news and opinion and still work in fluff and advertising while providing a quality product. It would be a better business model.