Death is a part of life. Perhaps nowhere is that more true than in the publishing world.
While 2015 was a year where BuzzFeed, Vox, Vice and their ilk all got massive cash infusions from wide-eyed venture capitalists, it was also a year where the realities of media today took their toll on smaller, less buzzy sites and magazines. Here are some of the most high-profile deaths.
January: AOL brings a little misery to Joystiq
AOL rang in the new year with a major restructuring of its media properties. On the chopping block was 11-year-old video game blog Joystiq. Blame lagging performance. Joystiq’s traffic had declined 18 percent compared to the year before, and AOL said that it wanted to focus on its stronger properties. Doing so also likely sweetened the deal for Verizon, which scooped up AOL just four months later.
March: Gigaom pulled the plug (and someone else plugged it back in)
Gigaom may have been one of the most well-respected tech sites on the Web, but respect doesn’t keep the lights on. While its March shutdown came as a surprise to onlookers, it soon became clear that Gigaom’s death was the product of a handful of strategic blunders over the past few years, including a mountain of debt. But while the site shook off its original staff and editorial team, it lives on in spirit under new owner Knowingly Corp, which acquired Gigaom’s assets in May.
June: R.I.P. Circa
Mobile news app Circa, high on hype and funding, ended up being low on actual interest. While the app raised over $5.7 million in two years, it largely failed to convert that capital into substantial userbase. Circa had just 300,000 unique mobile users at its peak, scuttling its chance at future investments and forcing it to shut down. But that lack of traction has apparently not spooked the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which said it plans to relaunch Circa with a focus on original reporting.
July: Pitchfork Media sticks a fork in The Dissolve
The most crushing part about The Dissolve closing is the proof that a bunch of smart people writing about film isn’t sustainable.
— Bon Champion (@bonchampion) July 8, 2015
The Dissolve, Pitchfork’s Upscale movie news and review site, was built to tap into the “shared passion [and] curiosity” of filmgoers. But ultimately, not even a small but dedicated group of readers was enough to keep the site afloat. Pitchfork dissolved the site in July, citing “thee various challenges inherent in launching a freestanding website in a crowded publishing environment, financial and otherwise,” according to editorial director Keith Phipps.
November: Lucky Magazine’s luck runs out
Count Lucky as another print mag that met its end this year. The high-end women’s magazine turned heads over a decade ago thanks to is then-unconventional blurring of the lines between editorial and product advertising. But that model is less unique in the age of the Web, where there’s no shortage of sites willing to give recommendations on what to wear. Condé Nast sold the magazine to retail site Beachmint, which aimed to use Lucky to build a new content-commerce hybrid.
November: ESPN puts Grantland out to pasture
I loved everyone I worked with at G and loved what we built. Watching good/kind/talented people get treated so callously = simply appalling.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) October 30, 2015
When ESPN provocateur Bill Simmons decamped in May, attention immediately turned to Grantland, the esoteric pet project that Simmons founded in 2011. ESPN, which has been bogged down by concerns over the uncertain future of the cable bundle, didn’t seem to have much reason to keep Grantland around with Simmons gone. Those concerns were proven justified just a few months later when ESPN pulled the plug on Grantland, which was ultimately a tiny, unfocused site that interested few outside media circles.
November: Gawker kills Gawker
This was a humbling year for Gawker. It’s ongoing lawsuit with Hulk Hogan has been an expensive undertaking, costing Gawker hundreds of thousands of dollars a month in legal fees and threatening to bankrupt the company entirely. Likewise, Gawker’s July story that outed a Condé Nast exec was decried both internally and externally. The result: plenty of soul-searching, and a Gawker that claims it will focus more on politics than celebrity gossip. Alongside this new focus, Gawker also pulled the plug on its Morning After, Valleywag and Defamer sites, which focused on TV, technology and celebrity gossip.