There's a segment of the journalism and media-product-making world that believes that paying sources for their exclusive version of events is a great business technique. It's competitive, it's efficient and it's not usually terribly expensive. (Unless you are talking about pictures of Angelina Jolie's babies, in which case it's very pricey-in 2008, People and Hello! together paid $14 million, to charity, for pictures of the Jolie-Pitt twins.) Over the weekend, Gawker paid an acquaintance of the insane balloon boy's family-I'm not even going to use their names, if that's okay?-to tell his story. It was pretty interesting, and damning, if not entirely conclusive.
The going price, reported elsewhere, is that the guy wanted between $5000 and $8000 to talk about his experience with that family and his theories about what they were up to now. Gawker said up front that they paid him, but didn't disclose the amount. The story went up at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
For their money, they got about 300,000 pageviews to that specific story over 24 hours-not bad at all for a weekend. Presumably a lot of that traffic came from a prominent link on the Drudge Report. By Monday at noon, it was up to 400,000 pageviews.
Gawker actually might not have paid a set amount! What the site wanted to do, as of a year ago, is make sources "authors" and pay them a rate based on the incoming traffic. That is smart-why pay speculatively, like People? Gawker used to pay $7.50 CPM (that means "per thousand" essentially!) to its own writers for their traffic; that rate steadily decreased to $5 CPM. So the site's own effective CPM was at least $15 CPM-if not more like $30. (You wouldn't pay your content creators more than half of your income, obviously.)
Say this source wasn't paid his ask, but instead was offered a $5 CPM for the post. At 400,000 pageviews, that's a mere $2000. A bargain, sort of. At $10 CPM, that's, obviously, $4000. (And at least that much again, presumably, for the site, in ad income.)
What else does $4000 to $6000 get you at a blog? Well, it'll get you base pay for a blogger for a month. Take Hamilton Nolan, who produced 204 posts on Gawker in the month of September, and who garnered almost exactly 2 million pageviews that month (not including any traffic to the front page itself, which, according to their stats, drew 7.8 million pageviews).
For Hamilton, that's just a bit over 9 posts per weekday, which would be an average of almost 10,000 pageviews a post. (That last is not actually a good number-his total pageviews also include all his own posts from previous months. For instance, Jessica Coen earned 66,000 pageviews last month, and she hasn't worked there in years.)
Still. Gawker paid some thousands of dollars for 400,000 pageviews-and lots of those were drive-by pageviews from Drudge readers. (Drive-by readers aren't all bad! In their visit, those readers gain familiarity with the site. Maybe they come back. Maybe they'll tell a friend about the site.)
So what's a good investment?
Jezebel did much the same thing previously, with a good rationale and for a good cause-to bribe people who ran the risk of being fired to deliver before- and after-Photoshop women's magazine covers. Jezebel's winner in that contest drew 1.3 million pageviews. That's a lot of traffic, but still, it's a small number compared to that site's monthly traffic-five of the women there each pull in more than a million pageviews a month. It was, though, a great way to introduce the then-new site to readers.
Let's return to People and Hello!-the real spenders. "An important exclusive sells an extra 300,000 to 500,000 copies-providing less than $1 million in added earnings," wrote Richard Perez-Pena in the Times after that sale. But that's just the newsstand. People supposedly doubled its web uniques for the month with those pictures. Still, at whatever millions of dollars they paid, it still couldn't have been worth it, unless you're counting "prestige" or "attention" as a currency-which it really isn't.
And on the micro-scale, in this latest example of a few paltry thousand dollars, it doesn't quite add up either. It certainly sounds efficient-one post, by a one-time writer, can garner the traffic of a week's worth of work by a staff writer. Yet you still end up with far less bang for your buck than what you actually get from your boring old employees. And then, even if the goods are good-and in this case, it did move the story along, in some way-the Times won't even cite your exclusive, because you paid for it. Though they'll certainly host an AP story that does credit it… though they won't even toss in an actual link. Harsh.