The specifics in this case involve the alleged Balloon Boy hoax, and a 25-year-old student who says he was involved, unwittingly, in the stunt. Last week, Robert Thomas announced, via Business Insider, that he’d sell his story to anyone willing to pay him $5,000 to $8,000. Denton’s company wrote a check for the tale, though it says it paid much less than Thomas’s ask.
This is becoming standard practice for Denton, who announced in July that he was willing to pay for juicy stories, tips and other stuff he could publish. In August, he shelled out for video of “Grey’s Anatomy” star Eric Dane, his wife Rebecca Gayheart and another woman in various states of undress.
Semi-naked semi-celebrities draw more eyeballs than stories about delusional reality show aspirants, apparently: The “McSteamy” clips have generated more than four million views this fall, while Denton predicts the Balloon Boy saga will ultimately do one million.
My question: Does paying for this stuff make sense? After announcing a year ago that advertising was going to fall off a cliff, Denton now says he’s been making good money, after all. So does this kind of checkbook blogging produce more profit? Denton’s answer, via email:
Hard to measure profitability. Short-term effect. Balloon boy story will probably go to 1m views. But you know one can’t easily sell advertising into a spike. And video hosting costs pretty significant–though not this time.
Why you think just two bought stories? We paid 10k for that Photoshop expose a couple years ago. Not really a new thing.
A story is a story. We’re not squeamish about the means. And the paroxysms of the j-school ethicists add to the satisfaction.
You were expecting a more straightforward answer? Hah!
If you want, you can check out Gawker’s rate card, make some assumptions, and conclude that Denton can’t afford to pay his story-sellers that much and still end up in the black, even at one million page views. And I’m reasonably confident that Denton is very interested in measuring profitability, and has worked out an equation that pays his story-sellers in proportion to traffic, but without breaking his bank.
But the last part of Denton’s missive–quivering ethicist strawmen aside–is what really rings true. He really does get a huge kick out of this stuff: Entertaining himself with his blog empire, tweaking enemies real and imagined, and shrugging about it publicly.
It’d be wrong to say you can’t put a price on that. But whatever that price is, Denton can afford it.