I had the pleasure of meeting blogging entrepreneur Seth Weintraub over coffee last week. My friend Adam Rothberg arranged an intro after informing me that the head of the “9to5” empire (including 9to5Mac, Google and Toys) lives in our town, Croton-on-Hudson, NY.
I was very excited to meet and speak with Seth. Sites like 9to5Mac have drawn huge audiences for years and driven Apple (and other blogs) crazy by being the first to sniff out and report on the latest developments. Also, I am impressed by anyone who can consistently make money blogging. This great Business Insider story from 2014 reports on Seth’s history, approach and success.
That was two years ago, and things move quickly in this field. I wanted to get Seth’s thoughts on the state of the tech news scoop, his work with PR, and trends in content consumption and distribution.
We met at the Black Cow coffee shop, a Croton institution. Seth told me how he got started in blogging back in 2007, when he noted a lack of good Apple blogs and saw an opportunity. Seth also spoke about his other properties, including the latest – Electrek – which covers electric cars (hah! that’s whose Tesla I’ve seen parked all over Croton).
These days they compete for stories not just with other blogs, but with major media like the WSJ and Fortune. Read on for the Q and A:
Did you ever meet Steve Jobs? He was famously prickly with media and PR
(He met Jobs briefly before starting 9to5Mac, while working at a creative agency in Soho, on a campaign involving Apple. Jobs poked his head into the office, and his only comment was to note and disparage the lone PC amidst all the Macs).
Have you ever been sued by Apple?
No, but they’ve asked me to squash stories and made threats. Apple PR subsequently
blacklisted me for doing what the bigger publications would love to do. I’m no longer invited to their events.
I wrote last week that the thrill is gone in Apple product news; do you agree?
Seth (nodding): 2/3 of Apple’s revenue comes from the iPhone, and the average guy on the street isn’t as excited about the possibilities of the iPhone any longer. More people want to know what’s next. Folks are still buying them, however perhaps not as often as they have in the past.
What about Google? They’re secretive too
They are less so, and they reveal projects before they are products. Here’s an example of
how the companies differ: We talked about how Apple blacklisted me for revealing their products. Contrast that with Google, where I broke the news of Google Glass. Instead of blacklisting, Sergey Brin invited me to a private showing of the Glass before launch.
Has Apple stayed secretive post-Jobs?
They are trying
Is traffic diminishing as a result of more people getting news and content from social media?
We are getting more and more traffic, but from a wider disparity of sources. People are finding us everywhere. E.g, more are coming to us via apps like FlipBoard.
What do you think about publishing on social platforms, as many media brands are doing now?
I think it is stupid to do so exclusively. E.g. Vox gets $.25M to publish content to Facebook exclusively. You lose control if you do this. Facebook owns every part of the connection between you and your audience, and the revenue is their discretion
You have an entirely ad-supported business model, correct?
Yes, we use a variety of ad formats including affiliate revenue.
What about native ads?
Native ads have been a boon; they get picked up on other sites too.
(He showed an example of a recent sponsored post, and all of the 50+ places where it ran).
We sell ads as is, without guarantees. All of our partners have done really well with them and are coming back for more.
Can you describe your readership?
We cater to the technology enthusiast sector – what marketers call influencers. I think this is what attracts partnerships with product companies. Our readers are the people who fix the computers at family gatherings, recommend technology purchases for friends and family, and make buying decisions at work.
How do you work with PR?
We honor embargoes and take briefings but we rarely do negative reviews. We’re not out to hurt the reputation, and frankly we are wasting our readers’ time if we are reviewing something we don’t like.
The biggest question is how does a blog ramp up to 1M readers? Are there that many people hanging onto every scoop?
Our ramp-up has taken almost a decade, and frankly there’s no secret. We just try to make every day a production of interesting and entertaining information for our audiences. All of the shortcuts (buying traffic, taking venture capital, syndicating content elsewhere) might give a short term bump but won’t help in the long run.
What is the state of the tech news scoop blog? Can the market continue to support so many?
There really aren’t that many out there. Most of the blogs out there only regurgitate content from top level sites. I don’t know what the future holds to be honest, but my focus is on keeping our readers informed and entertained. As long as I can do that, I’m not worried.