Salon.Com’s Status — It’s All a Matter of Perspective

Yesterday I happened to run across this rather positive assessment of Salon.Com’s financial position by Dot.Com big spender David Talbot in which he pokes fun at the pundits who have been predicting Salon.Com’s impending doom,

In fact, our impending non-existence has been predicted in the press for so long, and with such conviction, that we considered adopting “Die another day” as a marketing slogan until the Bond franchise beat us to it.

More overeager obituaries are certain to follow. But perversely, Salon still has a pulse. We’re still going strong because our investors understand that Salon has established the fundamentals of a solid business — including over 3.4 million monthly readers and more than 500 advertisers — and that profitability will follow, just as it did with successful cable channels as that medium established itself. And we’re still in business because more and more Salon readers are signing up as subscribers, after coming to the realization that the independent press — on and off the Web — can thrive only if readers (not global media giants or the government) help pay the bills.

Just before we launched our subscription service last year, one of the prophets of Salon doom, something called eMarketer, informed its readers that this was a last-gasp strategy: “Some analysts view this as a last resort that won’t last long.” But Salon still stands, in large part because of the nearly 50,000 readers who now subscribe — over 44,000 for Salon Premium and over 5,000 for the Well and Table Talk. In fact, more readers signed up for subscriptions in October than in any other month since we launched the Premium service — and November is shaping up as another record month.

So I was impressed. After all, Salon.Com’s revenue is now at about $4 million/year. At that rate, it will only take it 20 years for new revenues to total the almost $80 million its lost over the past few years.

But it turns out that not only was the subscription offering a last gasp after all, it didn’t work. According to a Wall Street Journal report,

The Wednesday filing said that until Salon reaches break-even cash flow, it will continue to use its cash on hand of $266,000, as well as $200,000 from a promissory note.

That’s right — a company that has spent tens and tens of millions of dollars has less than $300,000 in cash on hand and had to rely on a loan from one of its directors in order to avoid ceasing operations in October.

In fact, in its 10-q report, Salon.Com issued a warning that if it can’t obtain new funding or financing it may have to cease operations.

I’m certain given how thoroughly Salon.Com has covered the lies of companies like Enron, WorldCom, etc. as well as circled like sharks around mistakes, exaggerations and lies from people in the Bush administration, that some good folks at Salon.Com will take Talbot to task for publicly exagerrating Salon.Com’s financial position.

Sure, and pigs might fly.

Source: Launches Ad Program Michael Liedtkeday, November 19, 2002, Associated Press.

Salon Media Repeats ‘Going Concern’ Doubt. Dow Jones Newswires, November 14, 2002.

Salon celebrates its seventh birthday. David Talbo, Salon.Com, November 13, 2002.

More 9/11 Nonsense Statements

First Presbyterian Rev. Gretchen Graf managed to create a predictable controversey with a speech she gave at a memorial for 9/11 in Grand Forks, North Dakota. At that event, Graf opened her speech by saying,

One year ago today, 19 young men on a mission profoundly changed our lives and the life of our nation. This was an act of faith and courage, a carefully planned statement against what they saw as the evils of a corrupt and oppressive nation. They were willing to give their lives so that the world would see their outrage.

I suppose she thinks nutball fanatics who torch abortion clinics are engaging in acts of faith and courage as well.

Anyway, Graf tries to convince a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald that this quote needs to be understood in the context of her entire speech, but her other comments suggest it stands alone pretty well.

From the final two paragraphs of the Grand Forks Herald Story,

She avoids referring to the terrorists and their actions as evil, Graf admits. “I will say what they did does not promote good. But I want to make it clear, in no way do I condone what they did. But I think we miss the opportunity if we don’t try to understand why they did it.

“We may disagree with what they believe their faith has led them to do, but for them, it was a faith-based action,” Graf said. “I’m not brave enough to hijack an airplane and fly it into a building, knowing that I would die. They gave their lives to make their point. It may be misplaced courage, but it wasn’t an act of weakness.”

That is the worst possible reaction, and I don’t see how non-brain dead adults can make such an argument.

Okay, a small group of men feel they’re not getting enough attention for their pet cause. So they blow up a building, and then Graf and those who agree with her suddenly do all they can to understand the pet cause.

What’s the message? Terrorism works. As Alan Dershowitz told Salon.Com recently, this is the one of the reasons that Palestinian terrorism has escalated so much over the past 30 years — because it worked at drawing the world’s attention (especially in Europe).

Sorry, but I don’t think Al Qaeda’s slaughter of civilians requires us to think deeply about their cause anymore than Timothy McVeigh’s slaughter of civilians requires us to think deeply about his cause.


REMEMBERING SEPT. 11: Pastor’s speech at 9/11 observance sparks woman’s outrage. Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald, September 12, 2002.

Unloading on Salon.Com’s Scott Rosenberg

Salon.Com’s managing editor Scott Rosenberg made the mistake of castigating weblogger Damian Penny, who was the first to draw attention to Salon’s 9/11 feature that includes dozens of tasteless and crass thoughts about the terrorist attacks. In one letter, for example, an anonymous writer complains that he hates his dad and wishes he hadn’t survived the World Trade Center attack. Another letter simply says, “2001 was a great year for me; I hated the twin towers and I hated the Taliban and now they’re both gone!”

Rosenberg offers an extremely lame justification for running this feature on the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks, and the warbloggers are unloading on him in the comments section of his weblog.

Penny asked what Salon.Com could have been thinking running this, and Rosenberg responds that,

We were thinking precisely this: That an orthodoxy has coalesced around 9/11, and that one good role of journalism is to puncture orthodoxies. That the range of human response to 9/11 was a lot wider than that reflected in the media orgy of 9/11 retrospectives. And that it’s probably a lot healthier to air such responses than to pretend that they don’t exist.

The “one good role of journalism is to puncture orthodoxies” is a standard excuse used by journalists to justify bad decisions. I’m surprised that Rosenberg didn’t follow it up with the other standard excuse, that the American public has “a right to know” (you know, CBS had to show the Daniel Pearl videotape — the public had a right to know. Didn’t have anything to do with ratings, no sir).

Rosenberg then takes issue with Penny’s suggestion that it would be a good thing if Salon.Com went bankrupt.

But before you wish that Salon goes bankrupt, may I ask how you pay your bills, and how you’d feel if someone wished the same on the source of your livelihood? When did political disagreement turn into a license to wish that your opponents lose their jobs, or worse (cf. Ann Coulter’s comment, “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building”)? Good night.

See, this is where it’s obvious that the whole “puncturing orthodoxies” line is nonsense. When Salon.Com publishes dozens of tasteless letters about 9/11, it’s simply doing its job. But when someone directs a mildly offensive statement at Salon, all bets are off the table. How dare this mere weblogger try to puncture Salon.Com’s orthodoxies. That’s just uncalled for.

Where Would We Be Without Salon.Com?

Ah yes, the best way to remember and honor the victims of the 9/11 attacks. Speeches? Memorial Services? Candle light vigils?

Nah, those are too traditional for a cutting edge New Media outfit like Salon.Com. Instead, why not run letters from readers with tasteless comments about the disaster. A sample,

My husband and I were playing Jenga afterward. When the Jenga collapsed, I shouted “North Tower.” Then the second round of the game, we shouted, “South Tower.” Now we don’t call it Jenga anymore. We call it North Tower.

On the one hand, Salon.Com’s inevitable bankruptcy can’t come soon enough. On the other hand, I understand better why Eric Alterman fawns over this rag so much.

The Problem with Salon Blogs

So Dave Winer formally announced the Salon blogs deal. Essentially Salon is just acting as a host for Radio weblogs. Download Radio for free for the first 30 days, kick in $39.95 after 30 days if you want to continue.

It’s an interesting experiment, but one that I doubt will succeed for two reasons:

1. Salon isn’t going to be around for much longer. In fact while the deal makes sense from Winer’s point of view, what is Salon getting out of it? In the best case scenario, a lot of traffic for which they can’t sell advertisements (or just wait for all hell to break loose if they try to sell ads). I suppose this is not much worse than Salon’s other crackpot ideas, but I don’t see what the upside is for them, unless Winer’s footing the bandwidth costs and kicking back part of the $39.95 to buy Radio.

2. Radio isn’t a very good blogging tool. Before you pounce on me there, I paid my $39.95 to buy a license a copy of Radio and use it regularly — it is hands down the best product I know of to do RSS aggregation. I use it to track hundreds of RSS feeds and love it.

But the problem with using Radio to edit a blog is that the program ties you down to one machine. You can view your weblog anywhere you can find a computer with an Internet connection, but you’re pretty much stuck to updating the blog from a single machine. A few years ago I don’t think anyone would have cared. Today it feels like a real pain in the butt. Maybe I’m the only person who regularly uses three or four different machines.

Just by chance I ran across a weblog the other day where the author noted he was switching from Radio to Movable Type because of the inability to update anywhere.

It’s really a shame that all of the time and effort that was poured into Radio didn’t go into making Manila a kick-ass CMS. I wouldn’t have been interested in that either, but I bet Userland could have garnered a lot of of the folks who left Blogger for Movable Type (which is the other big switch I’ve noticed, with people finally getting fed up over Blogger and Blogger Pro’s limitations and downtime).

Userland and Salon? Now That’s Funny

Okay, you have to love the irony of Dave Winer getting all over George W. Bush, journalists and anyone else over the bursting of the stock market bubble. So who does he apparently choose to partner with? A poster child for corporate excess, Salon.Com. (Winer had a note about partnering with a major name publicaton but, par for the course, he deleted it).

How about this as a slogan: today, Salon, tomorrow the World(Com).

Adam Curry actually says,

Congrats to the UserLand krew! Looks like Salon is going to be saved from demise!

Yeah, Userland itself has been showing such big profits that it should have no problem helping to stop the bleeding at Salon.Com.

This I gotta see.