Business of Art Fix #15: Where Did All The Social Traffic Go?

Today In Online Media…


“In recent weeks I’ve gotten a handful of notes from people letting me know that something or other is up with websites they work at or run,” writes John Herrman at The Awl. The thing that is “up” is that traffic is down. Specifically, he’s heard from writers at Conde Nast and Hearst, but we’ve noticed this too — when we compare our traffic to similar sites on Alexa, everybody seems to be suffering a collective decline, even sites with enormous buzz and reach. We’ve had to work much harder than usual to meet or exceed our daily traffic goals (100k views/day) for the past two months. Gawker has recently been very open about the plateauing of their traffic, and writers recently got a memo from John Cook urging them to write faster and better, to write posts that “add new information, research, reporting or ideas to the topics they address,” and to write earlier in the day and to show up to work on time. 

Herrman got Newswhip numbers that showed even Huffington Post and Buzzfeed getting fewer Facebook shares in August than they did in July  — and those are sites that have a paid reach, too! Nobody is sure why, exactly. Facebook Instant has had a rocky rollout, but that feature isn’t going to help publishers like ours who aren’t a part of it in the first place. Plus, Instant Articles are hosted on Facebook, so they wouldn’t be driving traffic to anybody besides themselves. Herrman asks a lot of questions none of us know how to answer but all of us should be thinking about. He talks about all the various platforms that are angling for their position in the content-hosting game and the takeaway is mainly none of us really know what is happening or why it’s happening or when it’ll get fixed or what it all means. But he does know this:

“From the margins of the platform, the transfer of attention from publications to platforms, and the platforms’ sudden desire to do something with this attention—out of a sense of responsibility? opportunity? not need, yet, but a prediction of need?—seems especially perverse.”

Reading that everybody’s noticed the change we noticed over the past few months is immensely comforting, as like with most things, we assumed we were just doing something wrong. Luckily, for a site like ours that pays its bills with reader support moreso than with ad revenue and which has always been aware of its finite traffic reach (international numbers are hard to nail down, but just looking at America — even if literally every American LGBTQ woman read Autostraddle every month, we’d still only get half the hits Jezebel does in this country), traffic ups-and-downs don’t impact our revenue quite as severely as they do for other sites, but it’s still frustrating that some posts that felt like slam dunks didn’t get the social media traction we expected and many potential readers aren’t even aware of the amazing stuff we’ve been putting out (like Witch Hunt!) ’cause it hasn’t gotten enough facebook likes/shares/comments (1k seems to be the magic number) to show up in their feeds.

Like Herrman wrote, it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out — not just whatever it is Facebook has done to impact everybody’s traffic in this way but also the future of Twitter Moments, Notify, and other platforms trying to woo publishers away from their own. It’s unsettling, though, every reminder that social media platforms have a stronger impact on our success than the quality of the work we produce.

In the meantime we’ll just be sitting here on WordPress writing about women who fight with their girlfriends over how much ice to put into a glass.

This Business of Online Media

+ Playboy is dropping the nudie judies and debuting a “cleaner, more modern style” ’cause now you can find naked girls on the internet everywhere all the time if you want to! Apparently getting rid of nudity on their website last year made it so the average age of their reader dropped from 47 to just over 30 (probably because their content became more accessible in general, too and wasn’t just another Maxim). But Quartz says the move is just a way of cleaning up their image in countries like China and India, where they get a bulk of their revenue, mostly through licensing.

+ Condé Nast has acquired Pitchfork Media and promises they will not change a thing about it because they are big big fans of Pitchfork. But nobody really wants to talk about that because the weirder thing that happened is that Condé Nast described Pitchfork as a publication for “millennial males.

+ ESPN had this idea that they’d create this place called The Undefeated and it would be like “The Black Grantland” but ESPN was just way too ESPN to make it actually work.

+ The New York Times has created an “Express Team” which they say will “tackle the types of stories that are going viral on the web.”

+ On the triumphant return of the e-mail newsletter! We’re working on one, too. Also, according to one human, “no one cares about traffic anymore. Everything is so divided up — you’ve got your blog, then Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest.”

+ When Google Accelerate Mobile debuts, will the race for a mobile web kill off small publishers?

+ Uhh, so the NFL doesn’t want news outlets using NFL footage to make gifs … which promote their NFL games? So they kicked Deadspin off twitter? Is the NFL poor? I feel like the NFL is doing okay and stupid gifs only enable them to do even better. Who is in charge over there, this is dumb.

This Business of Online Media Money

+ Top publishers talk about native advertising headaches and the struggles they describe are so real: namely, advertisers insisting on measuring impact through metrics that don’t really tell the whole story (like direct sales via outclicks).

+ Onion Labs, a Chicago ad agency offshoot of The Onion Inc devoted to creating ads for companies like Dove and MTV, is doing well, but not well enough.

+ A YouTube star makes some kickass paid content and the fans who are blocked from seeing it for financial or geographical reasons don’t illegally download it ’cause they understand why he’s gotta make paid content in the first place. That’s pretty cool.

+ Medium is partnering with publishers including The Awl and Fusion which means that “you’ll see them using [medium’s] new tools to drive discussion around exciting original and distributed content initiatives.” This will also include more native advertising opportunities! There is also a new logo, about which John Overholt says: “With the new logo, Medium seems to really be embracing its identity as WordPress for venture capitalists.”

This Business of Journalism

+ Stephanie Foo of This American Life with advice on finding, hiring, retaining, promoting and fostering people of color if your workplace is way too white. And, for creatives: how to tell stories that POC want to listen to (and the danger of telling a single story).

+ A legal primer for journalists from the Columbia Journalism Review.

+ The New York Times hosts a conversation on how the news media should be covering mass shooters.

+ A San Francisco Chronicle reporter cut-and-pasted a press release into an article and then published it and then got fired. Mostly I’m amazed that a reporter had time to read a press release.

+ Counting how many people are killed by police each year is really hard to do, but if everybody does it, can we get closer to the truth?

+ The Columbia Journalism review is switching its print edition from bimonthly to two special issues a year.

+ Philadelphia City Paper is closing down.

+ The New York Times is doubling down on subscriptions and hoping to double its digital revenue.

+ The Village Voice was sold to Peter D. Barbey, “a scion of one of America’s wealthiest families with a long history in newspaper publishing.”

This Business of Tech

+ Snapchat, an application I still do not fully understand, has shut down the original content channel it apparently created.

12 Female CTOs to watch in 2016

+ Hey so I’m not sure if you’ve heard about this, but it turns out that tech is ruining San Francisco. And no other cool city wants to be the next San Francisco.

+ Twitter fired 300 people (which came as quite a shock for one of its remote employees) and is hoping for a major comeback. Here are five things Quartz thinks it needs to focus on first.

Businesswoman’s Special: Advice on How To Work Better

Tips on Adjusting Your Career Arc to Fit Your Family Life 

What your small business can learn from Disneyland

+ Tips from an introvert for networking at conferences

+ 8 Warning Signs That Probably Mean You Should Fire an Employee

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Riese is the 39-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2962 articles for us.


  1. I had kindof an out of touch moment the other day at work when I was stocking some crackers and noticed Rits has a pinterest logo on the box with the rest of the social media plugs. I never got into it cause I took umbrage at them trying to make me make an account to eve look at general content. When did that become a thing??

  2. A team devoted to rewriting viral web stories just makes me go “ugh”. C’mon NYT, you can do better than clickbait. (And yet, they also want to increase their subscriptions? These strategies seem incompatible to me…)

  3. I can’t even talk about what’s happened to San Francisco. It kind of kills me.

    Also, could website traffic be down because people in college and grad school are…in school? And like hella busy? Maybe that’s oversimplifying it, but I know that’s why I’m not on the non-EBSCO Host internet as much.

  4. I wonder if a slowdown in traffic has anything to do with the presidential campaigning. I know I’ve avoided facebook like the plague due to not wanting to hate every parent aged person/that one guy from high school that you never get around to unfriending because of all the dumb uninformed stuff that gets posted.

    • I have never been happier to have quit Facebook.

      And I wondered the same thing. Maybe everyone is just collectively tired of all the world’s bullshit and we’re all lust closing our eyes and saying LALALALA instead?

    • no, i mean this is a situation directly tied to social media traffic happening broadly across all websites on the internet. it’s too large of an issue to be related to things like american election season. i promise it’s nothing to do with timing or the national mood as others have suggested! the entire internet isn’t mentally aligned enough to cause that. and sites like huffpo get huge boosts during election season.

      also facebook has said that there has been a change that they are “working on.” they’re aware that this is happening and it’s because of them, they just won’t tell us why.

        • right? i mean, it’s really scary! especially when facebook can circumvent ad-blockers in a way that normal publishers can’t. it’s giving them a lot of power. i think ideally what they’d want in the world would be for facebook to be the equivalent of television and for publications to be the equivalent of television channels. a previous awl article dug into that idea a little bit, that’s where i got the idea from and it was a scary one.

    • also like there are a lot of other things happening with how a social post picks up speed when it does go viral and other stuff that is too complicated to explain here if it was something tied to a concrete event or timing, the best minds in the business (which doesn’t include me, but does involve other sites on that list) would know?

  5. I feel like these links all combine to make a vignette of my year so far. This would read something like:

    Tips for an introvert networking at way-too-white conferences, who should really be reading warning signs and firing everyone (but not in a mass shootings way) while just about juggling her career arc and family life (aka wife-banging) while having no fucking clue about Snapchat.

    In other positive business news, I have worn a different lesbian blazer to work every day so far this week, and will make it 5/5 tomorrow, and this is making SERIOUS BUSINESS happen.

    If you ever wanted to add a gallery of hot businesswomen wearing blazers to this column for inspirational purposes (and it’s already off the inspiration scale), I can think of zero people in the world who would not want this to happen.

  6. I’m really really enjoying this column, thanks for putting in the time to write it. I feel like there is maybe a bit of comraderie in trying to work out the business-world, or excel in it.

    Really enjoyed the introvert networking tips, very helpful. I always have trouble, and find it hard to ‘work a room’, and any time I try and find resources on how to improve, it basically comes down to “hey, walk up to people you don’t know and talk to them” which is the problem — I can’t!

  7. I work in paid advertising. The change in facebook traffic is likely due to fb changing it’s algorithm to prioritize video content in users’ feeds.

    They’re trying to take on YouTube, it’s a numbers race for which playforms delivers the most views per month.

    Upload short 10 second video clips with article links and reach should increase. I’ve done a fuckload of A/B testing on this in recent times cause this is my job.

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