Shiny Media Lays Off Several Staff, Co-Founder Lee Off To Pastures New

Would-be UK blog publishing super-house Shiny Media is capping off what has been a turbulent year by laying off several staff, and saying goodbye to the second of three co-founders. After original founder Ashley Norris bailed out last year, now Katie Lee is taking redundancy, along with fewer than half the team of 17.

Remaining co-founder Chris Price told me Shiny, when it got $4.5 million VC funding from Brightstation in January 2007, had decided to employ writers on staff but, faced with the economic climate, it will now shift to more of a freelance arrangement over time. The company has 30 active blogs; none is scheduled for immediate closure…

Interestingly, the moves most affect two of Shiny’s three flagship blogs – TechDigest and ShinyShiny (the other, and most profitable, being Catwalk Queen) because of struggling advertising in the technology market. Cuts are coming “ostensibly in the technology area, where brand advertising is very tight”, Price said. They will now operate with “slightly reduced content levels”.

Elsewhere: “A couple of our games sites rely on freelance budget; it’s likely that they will if not shut then be put on hold.” Catwalk Queen and Bridalwave in the lifestyle category are unaffected. The redundancies include only two assistants from the editorial side and focus instead on production and management, Price said: “That (freelance arrangement) is the most profitable route for us right now, given the tough economic climate. It’s quite costly having so many people in-house in these difficult times.”

Shiny has carried the torch for the idea of professional blog publishing in the UK since it was formed by freelance tech journos Norris, Lee and Price in 2004, often compared with Nick Denton’s growing Gawker US blog empire; but Denton, too, has struggled to make a commercial impact of late, reviewing staff salaries and cutting or merging some titles. UK entrepreneurs are having a hard time replicating even Denton’s success. Messy Media packed up the chase in the summer; Mink Media also shut.

Price told me: “We’ve learned a lot of lessons from Gawker and, just as Gawker has made strategic cuts in the business, we’re looking to do the same. Arguably, we should have done it earlier.” But the mission remains the same: “We’re in a difficult period. We’ve got a great brand and a great personality. Those will come through in the long term – in the short term, it’s about hunkering down and trying to survive. We’ve reacted reasonably quickly – in the long term, we’ll be reasonably placed … the long term goal of building a global brand around Shiny … that will still be there.”

Price’s emailed memo/announcement follows…

“You don’t need me to tell you that that we are in the midst of some very tough times and sadly they affect new media networks like Shiny too. We have held on as long as we could without restructuring the business but we now have to make those changes to secure the long-term stability of Shiny.

It is with huge regret that we are having to part company with several members of our team. They are very talented and extremely likable individuals, however ultimately in the current climate we are faced with no choice but to let them go.

We also announce today the departure of our editorial director and co-founder Katie Lee from Shiny. Katie played a massive role in developing Shiny and in particular several of its hero blogs. She has now decided that the time is right to leave the business. She does however remain a significant shareholder in Shiny and we are very grateful for all she has done over the years.

Shiny is a British new media success story. We have built a stable of great media brands that between them attract over three million readers each month. Times maybe tough now, but we are confident that this move, though painful in the short term, will leave us well placed to thrive and prosper in the future.”