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Gawker Media says its advertising future is affiliate links and commerce journalism

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There’s rarely any mystery about what Gawker Media founder Nick Denton has in mind for his mini media empire, if only because his internal memos are so widely leaked that his plans eventually become public anyway. In his latest missive, Denton makes it clear that he wants to see a major push into ecommerce as a method of monetizing Gawker’s traffic — and specifically, posts that are designed primarily as vehicles for affiliate links. According to Denton, this business is expected to produce 10 percent of revenues this year, just part of the 40-percent revenue growth the network is projecting.

According to the memo, which Advertising Age has published in full, the former head of Gawker’s sponsored content business — which includes the sponsored conversations that Denton launched last year as part of the network’s new Kinja discussion platform — has left Gawker to run his own digital marketing firm, and former Conde Nast ad sales manager Andrew Gorenstein is taking over:

“We’re reaching for 40 percent revenue growth this year, an acceleration from 26 percent in 2012. We had six clients spend over $1M with us last year. Andrew’s new threshold is $5M. In recognition of Andrew’s success, he is being promoted to Chief Revenue Officer, responsible for traditional advertising, our content work for clients and the exploding e-commerce business.”

Denton said last year that ecommerce would be a focus for the company — noting that it was one of the original business models for Gawker but “we didn’t have the scale then to make it work” — but his latest memo makes it clear that the network is going full steam ahead in that direction. Gawker has posted a number of job listings for what it calls “commerce specialists” for sites like Kotaku (devoted to video games) and the female-focused site Jezebel.

Gawker is looking to hire “commerce specialists”


The job listings describe the position as “a new type of service journalism” that includes “everything from posts about the cheapest deal on something our readers need to introducing them to new things they’ve never seen,” and notes that Gawker will be deriving revenue from those posts (if you’re interested in alternative methods of monetization for media, we’re going to be discussing that on a number of panels at our paidContent Live conference in New York on April 17). As the listing describes it:

“Your beat is helping readers buy things. You’ll be delivering content about products that Kotaku readers know, love, or should own. You’ll have both a daily writing assignment and the freedom to pursue your own content ideas. If you’re interested in things like deal forums, coupon codes, giving your friends product advice, and, you’ll use all of those as inspiration to create your own new commerce content product.”

Gawker’s move towards what might be called “commerce journalism” (a term Denton says he doesn’t like using) is just part of the broader trend within a number of digital-media entities of trying to expand their monetization methods away from the declining banner ad business. Sites like BuzzFeed and Gawker are promoting their sponsored content offerings as the solution — although some see that approach as an ethical minefield and point to examples of poor judgment like The Atlantic‘s recent widely criticized Scientology feature.

In a sense, Gawker’s move is just another variation on “native advertising,” which tries to make ad-related content look as much like a site’s traditional fare as possible. Whether the network runs into Atlantic-style problems with this new type of service journalism or advertorial remains to be seen.

This post was updated on February 15 to clarify that the term “commerce journalism” is not one that Nick Denton uses to describe what Gawker is doing with its affiliate link posts.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Shutterstock / Gl0ck

5 Responses to “Gawker Media says its advertising future is affiliate links and commerce journalism”

  1. Daniel P. Ray

    If there’s no division between the revenue side and the editorial side, I can’t call it journalism. “Commerce journalism” is an oxymoron. I agree with Alex – it’s just marketing copy. It’s sometimes useful and sometimes interesting, but it’s just ad copy.

    Some journalistic principles from the predigital age deserve to survive, and the concept that journalism is different from ad copy is one. This isn’t “a new type of service journalism.” It’s an old type of puffery served up on a digital platform.

    If one of Gawker’s writers has the temerity to write a sentence that doesn’t help move product or – *gasp* – question mindless consumerism, will it see the light of day?

  2. James Del

    Remains to be seen? May I remind you of our Bloodcopy fiasco of 2009?

    We’ve been in the “native ads” game since before native ads were a thing, and as such we’ve made plenty of mistakes. Jezebel readers have been offended by ads promoting skinnier bodies, Gizmodo readers have scoffed when advertisers refer to them as geeks, and Kotaku readers have torched us when we didn’t have our platform history in order.

    But since writing the first sponsored post nearly five years ago, we’ve learned a whole lot about what DOES work. Talking to readers like equals, offering factual information, and creating content that makes people smile or think…that’s what “native advertising” is all about. Other publishers are just getting their toes wet, and they can take it from us…it takes a lot of missteps to get content advertising right for your audience. But for every misstep we’ve had, we’ve had hundreds of quality pieces that our users recognize as advertising, but appreciate all the same.

    And, by the way…affiliate marketing is great in the content game, but what’s better is using the platform to tell great stories about great brands. Plenty more of that to come!

    -James Del