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

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