Monday, July 27, 2015

The more things change

When I started this blog, I predicted that my output would be light during the summertime.

Yes, I would like an audience, but no, I'm not going to turn my blog into a part-time job in order to have 100 loyal readers.

And not to my surprise, I haven't written much since I returned from Vegas in early May. I still intend to recap some of my adventures from that trip, and perhaps I will do so in August, as my regular summer routine will be disrupted thanks to surgery that I knew was coming at some point this year. I'd rather wait until winter, but I don't have a choice. Such is life.

While I will continue to write sporadically, my favorite daily resource for Vegas news, Vegas Chatter, will no longer be churning out content. The world learned of this earlier today.

Vegas Chatter shared information of interest to the tourist community, and plenty of it. Some of it came through sharing information reported by news sources, some of it came through press releases handed out to anyone willing to help promote a show, restaurant, resort or tourist trap. Some of it was little more than speculation based upon somebody's inside source. Some of it was simple firsthand experience, be it the recent chronicling of the final 24 hours of the Riviera or a review of a show or restaurant.

Vegas Chatter was a simple website. It provided information that was easy to access and search, and allowed for reader feedback on individual articles. There's a Facebook and Twitter account for the site, of course, and probably other social media resources I don't use. (I just looked at their page. They have a button for Foursquare. Foursquare! Who  uses that in 2015?) But the website remained simple. Sure, there were ads on each page, but they weren't intrusive. I rarely noticed them.

I don't know much about running a website, but history shows us that news and information sites are not an easy proposition.

Presumably Vegas Chatter was paying its content creators for their time. Whether that compensation was generous or paltry (likely the latter), there needs to be revenue to pay those people. Unless the website is being funded as a public service by a very wealthy benefactor, it has to be difficult to sell enough advertising on a website to support it. Many "web only" news sites have failed to generate enough revenue, through advertising or other vehicles, to support the operation.

I'm not sure what the business model was for Vegas Chatter, but it appeared that advertising was the only form of revenue for the website. I didn't read the website much until a year or two ago, so perhaps there were other revenue generators affiliated with Vegas Chatter once upon a time. All I know is that the site hasn't offered me any sort of premium access or VIP member benefits for an annual fee, sold merchandise of any kind or tried to entice me to use its site to book my next vacation.

And today we learned that Vegas Chatter and its sister websites, under the ownership of media heavyweight Condé Nast, are being shuttered at the end of this month. Given what I just detailed, this shouldn't come as a surprise. There appears to be a healthy amount of daily web traffic to the Vegas Chatter site, but traffic doesn't simply translate to dollars.

The forthcoming Vegas Chatter shuttering is nothing new. The Internet's history is littered with stories of websites that were built – sometimes as nothing more than a labor of love – into a successful entity, one that became too desirable for a well-funded corporation to ignore.

It's now being spun off as an independent company, but Paypal has long been part of the eBay portfolio. And why is that? Somebody was smart enough to figure out how to offer secure, instant online auction payments, which buyers and sellers appreciated. Seeing that success, eBay attempted to create its own rival platform, but Paypal was already entrenched in the eBay culture. So eBay bought Paypal and integrated it into its auction platform, eventually making it the mandatory platform for buyers and sellers of eBay's auctions.

I'm less familiar with the story of Cheapo Vegas, but from what I've understood, the website was started as a labor of love, providing useful information about what Vegas casinos and hotels did and didn't offer. And if you wanted to know where to find cheap eats, the site was good for that, too. It seemed to be a popular site that was well regarded in the online community.

With a loyal audience, Cheapo Vegas was purchased by an ownership that wanted to monetize it by encouraging you to book your Vegas vacation plans through the website. The name was the same, the mascot of the website remains in place, but the website's sensibility and charm has been lost. The site is still active today, but its Facebook and Twitter accounts have been inactive for about four months, and the website's blog has seen little activity in those past four months, giving what remaining fans the website has little reason to visit it. I wouldn't be surprised to see Cheapo Vegas disappear from the online landscape in the next two years.

Blogs are a classic example of labors of love. I have been a longtime reader of The Vegas Solo, a blog that has provided a wealth of information to Vegas visitors, solo or otherwise. It's clearly not a cash cow, there's barely a trace of advertising to be found on the site. Perhaps the financial benefit comes in the form of a tax write off for each trip to Vegas, during which content is gathered for the blog. Regardless, after years of providing weekly content, its creator scaled back her production, and I'm guessing that blogging about her love of Vegas became more labor than she cared for.

Ten years ago newspapers were struggling with the question of how to provide their content online while still reaping the benefits of the printed product. Newspapers don't make money off of subscriptions and single-copy sales, that money just reduces the costs of circulation, printing and delivery. The money is made via ad sales, and the ad sales for printed newspapers have spiraled down the toilet during the past 15 years or so. Newspapers continue to struggle with how to remain viable when so much of their ad revenue has been lost, forever, to the Internet. Charging for access to the content, as more newspapers are attempting to do, doesn't solve the problem.

Is it any surprise that information-heavy websites such as Vegas Chatter are not financially viable businesses for the Condé Nasts of the world? Not at all.

Today's Vegas Chatter announcement is another sad reminder of that.

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