The Bleacher Report worth more than the Washington Post? That’s one of many fascinating insights from the extensive New Yorker profile of Bleacher Report—and now Bustle.com—mogul Bryan Goldberg.
Where has the Post gone wrong? Maybe that isn’t the important question. Maybe this one is: Where has the Bleacher Report gone right?
In 2012, the Bleacher Report was sold to Turner Broadcasting for upwards of $200 million, and its value has only increased. Only a year ago it fetched for nearly as much as the reputable—and professional—Washington Post did, when Amazon.com pioneer Jeff Bezos purchased it back in August for $250 million. And the Bleacher Report might actually be worth more now.
The Bleacher Report, as the aforementioned profile notes, from its inception, has displayed a mastery of “the new economics of media,” which was simply this: establishing “a network of two thousand unpaid sports fans” to write.
What incentive do the fans have to write? A voice, a casual, bar-like environment, and even the prospect of compensation depending on results—the meritocracy. Forbes’s Jeff Bergovici poses a rhetorical question that Bleacher Report, too, must have asked: “What’s the point of paying people to create content when so many of them are willing to do it for free?”
And despite various criticisms of the site as a hub of “loser-generated content” and amateurism, with its extremely minimal overhead, the Bleacher Report has managed to attract “twenty-two million unique visitors each month, putting it behind only Yahoo U.S. Sports and ESPN.com among non-league sports Web sites.” It’s even replaced Sports Illustrated as a news source for CNN. Simply astounding.
The New Yorker profile aptly notes that the Bleacher Report’s success in the face of competitors, like the Washington Post, is due to the Internet age, when a “cost-effective business plan can overtake one built on a reputation for quality.”
Consequently, Goldberg has stated, “The answer (for how to achieve global sports coverage) is not to have a newsroom in Times Square in some fancy office building with thousands of writers in it. The answer is to go find some sports fans who live and breathe their teams and have them write the articles.” Regardless of whether certain talking heads, like ESPN’s Bill Simmons, think that the Bleacher Report “content sucked,” the success of the business model is undeniable.
And therein lies the rub.
The major tension of the modern writing landscape can be found in the valuation differences between the Bleacher Report and the Washington Post, between quantity and quality.
Because the metrics indicate that large quantities of writing like that of the Bleacher Report generate traffic—and at rock-bottom prices—they are actively lowering the value of quality, repute, and formality of the old stand-bys like the Washington Post. One may speculate that this model, or a hybrid of sorts, is not just the wave of the future, but the wave of the now.