Back in November, Nick Denton put Gawker Media’s Fleshbot up for sale. The official announcement, here, is NSFW due to the ads surrounding it — which pretty much explains why Fleshbot was being sold: its customers — porn sites — are very, very different from the brand advertisers who supply the money to all the other Gawker Media properties.
In the end, Fleshbot LLC was sold, or “sold”, on February 1, to Fleshbot’s editor, Lux Alptraum; if money changed hands I’m sure there wasn’t much of it. Jolie O’Dell, writing about the news of Fleshbot going up for sale, said that “the day a porn site can’t make money on the Internet is the day we all pack up and go home” — but in fact turning a profit on a porn blog is not easy at all. There’s a virtually infinite amount of competition, and the cost of porn online has basically gone to zero at this point, which means there’s even less money than there used to be for ad campaigns on sites like Fleshbot.
Fleshbot is certainly not the iconoclastic site that Denton aspired to creating when it was launched in 2003 — rather than taking a fresh look at where porn and eroticism might be found in life and on the internet, it increasingly became a mouthpiece for, and captured by, the porn industry. To the point that when Gawker Media started looking at porn-industry scandals, that ended up happening on Gawker, rather than on Fleshbot.
Interestingly, the kind of site that Denton originally envisaged is nowadays very common on Tumblr, which has a thriving porn-reblogging community, based around as many different niches as there are porn specialities. (Which is to say, a lot.) Fleshbot tried to be all things to all porn consumers, both gay and straight, and that’s not how porn works: people tend to gravitate towards their own personal kinks, rather than going for the anything-and-everything approach.
So what’s going to happen now that Fleshbot is an independent entity? For one thing, it has already moved to the ubiquitous WordPress platform from Gawker’s custom publishing software, which makes serving up the porn industry’s advertisements significantly easier. “For a variety of reasons, Gawker was looking to completely separate itself from Fleshbot,” says Alptraum; “on our end, the restrictive nature of the Gawker CMS/layout wasn’t really conducive to our work. On our own, we’re more capable of focusing our layout/ad sales/tech strategies in ways that are optimized for an adult site, rather than trying to shoehorn Fleshbot into models designed for a broader, more mainstream stable of properties.”
Alptraum’s job is not an easy one. The guy who used to sell Fleshbot ads for Gawker Media is now the CFO of Fleshbot LLC; there’s a lot of work to do, and I don’t think the site has ever made money. And now, of course, they need to worry about things like health insurance and payroll and all the other burdens of being an independent company, which were previously picked up by Gawker Media’s operations crew.
Alptraum is optimistic: Fleshbot is “an incredibly valuable property that hasn’t been optimized,” she says, “and I’m excited about the possibilities for expansion.” That might mean more live events like the Fleshbot awards; it probably means even further alignment with the porn industry. “At its core, it’s a project about destigmatizing and celebrating sexuality,” says Alptraum. “I also think it’s played a powerful role in helping to mainstream the adult industry.”
Meanwhile, Gawker Media now runs on a single advertising platform, rather than having to make Fleshbot the exception to many rules. Nick Denton wanted to shake things up, with Fleshbot; in the end, he just created a headache for himself. He kept the blog much longer than most entrepreneurs would have done, and Alptraum only has good things to say about him. But the parting has been inevitable for a long time now, and both sides are surely happier now that it’s happened.