Bil Browning

Planet Out of Business?

Filed By Bil Browning | January 17, 2008 6:36 AM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags:, LGBT community, Out, personal finances, PlanetOut, relevance, The Advocate, web 2.0

I remember back when I signed up for AOL yea those many years ago... The gay and lesbian section (no trans or bi back then!) was called PlanetOut. I rarely visited for more than the occasional chat room. The content sucked and it just wasn't interesting.

Then PlanetOut spun off as its own company and became their own site outside of AOL. showed up and the company swallowed up the Advocate and Out magazines. A cruise line was added and somehow porn mags were involved. (Seriously though, in the days of the internet and free porn, does anyone still buy porn mags anymore?)

The tale of the AOL homo sequel's world takeover came to a screeching halt a few months ago though. (Do sinister entities ever win in the end? Did they tell a secret agent how they planned on ultimate world domination via cruise ships and queers?) They faced bankruptcy, got bailed out by Bill Gates & Co, had a reverse stock split and sold off the cruise line and porn mags. It wasn't enough apparently since they announced they were looking for a buyer and their stock tumbled.

Their biggest asset? The domain name. Without a doubt. How much would you pay to own it?

What does that tell us? What lessons can be learned from this whole situation?

PlanetOut - to me, at least - was never about real dialogue or learning. While they offered news stories from the wire services, the original reporting was minimal. Mostly the site carried fluff columns, personals and chat rooms. isn't much better honestly. I was surprised when a co-worker moved here from Ohio and was shocked the hookup site was over a few other sites. While I assume is still roaring in the chats, Manhunt, Craig's List and others have started dominating here too. Poor

The Advocate is one of the oldest LGBT institutions. The magazine was my first link to a "gay community" while growing up in small town Indiana. It's been painful watching the downhill slide into obscurity the mag has been experiencing - like watching Old Yeller. Simply put, they're finding it hard to stay relevant as a news magazine in the days of instant-internet news. Given the choice of adding more fluff and publishing more often, the Advocate opted for fluff.

Don't get me started on Out, either. As a poor middle aged non-model from middle America it never had relevance for me. Or you probably - unless you're a rich white guy from Miami with a fondness for alligator skin shoes and suits only Anderson Cooper can afford. Maybe the magazine was written for him! Nah, they called it Out...

So you can see the business model they had to work with. Two websites bleeding viewers and two gay magazines gushing subscribers combined with a cruise company and some porno mags - all of them based on an outdated idea as they fought against Web2.0.

I understand that when times are bad you hunker down and do what's made you the most money, I do. We've laughed here at TBP and said we need to put up naked photoshopped models and funny cat videos to attract more viewers quickly. In the end, what would it add to our coverage? Would we really benefit? It would compromise our integrity - as it did PlanetOut's.

Does anyone actually read Playboy?

So now they're up for sale. Can I make an offer for and the Advocate? I have an idea for a way to get LGBT folks talking together, sharing news and opinion and still work in fluff and advertising while providing a quality product. It would be a better business model.

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The internet is pushing all the alternative media mags down the drain...

The paper i use to work for UPDATE was founded in 1978 it was the second oldest gay paper in California. An established provider of news for the gay and lesbian later to be a fully integrated GLBT paper had a 28 year life chronicling GLBT history in San Diego, it was the GLBT paper of record.

What did them in was the slow drying up of GLBT advertising dollars as advertisers discovered the mainstreaming of the GLBT communities. The Gay & Lesbian Times our competitor has been subidised by it's parent company for years now and over the last three years has shrunk from it's over 120 pages of ads and content down to less then fifty.
Soon they will go by the wayside as the GLBT continues to mainstream itself.

Take care

As the former publisher of one of this country's more successful LGBT publications in the late '80s and early '90s, I'm fascinated by the evolution of the LGBT press.

With regard to the comment about PLAYBOY, several million people, mostly men, still read PLAYBOY every month, because it has long had a relatively good reputation for it's content quality -- but most men buy it for the photos of naked women, and that number has dropped drastically since the mid '90s and the proliferation of Internet porn. Lower readership translates to lower ad revenue - the same thing that's happened in the LGBT community. As Sue points out, the old model of print continues to slide toward going by the wayside, especially in the LGBT community where mainstreaming has vastly changed the landscape.

If you look at today's successful LGBT publications, with the exception of a few fine newspapers around the country, most are full of fluff and advertisements -- with little or no current news. People can get all the news they desire about the LGBT community immediately, constantly and whenever they want, from the web. That's played havoc with LGBT pubs like the ADVOCATE It would be interesting to hear Bil's model.

It's interesting to read that you worked for UPDATE, Sue. The founder, Don Hauck, was a long time friend (as was the owner of the ADVOCATE in the '70s and '80s, David Goodstein). Don and I stated our businesses about the same time, and Don was actually one of our customers for many years. I had email from Tom a couple of years ago, in which he lamented the demise of UPDATE's ad sales -- especially the personals, which had always been a great source of revenue for 'local' LGBT pubs like his and mine. How fun to find someone who used to work at UPDATE. I'd love to talk to you sometime. Bil has my contact info if you'd like to chat.

Joe Miller

I thought i recognized your name Joe.
I have heard the same story from Tom's perspective.
I enjoyed working for tom it was an honor, an education, and an opportunity for growth for me.

I would love to talk to you...
You can contact me at...
[email protected]

Just an example, Joe. This page has 19 ads on it. One story. To get to this page, a reader had to click thru from the front page - where there's advertising - or from the RSS feed - where there's advertising as well. I've had at least 2 impressions (and all of them had ad views) on one story. That happens for almost every story. Combine that with the power of search and for older posts to remain popular and we have the power of advertising already here. Now it's just a matter of providing quality product which would improve traffic numbers which would improve advertising revenue.

Advocate and Out's problems were just that they required a physical product to be in the customer's hands (and hopefully be relevant). That product can't offer the same ad space/content ratio we offer without being overwhelmed like you say about today's LGBT papers. The future is online unless Advocate can do a quick turn to the Time model. isn't much better honestly. I was surprised when a co-worker moved here from Ohio and was shocked the hookup site was over a few other sites. While I assume is still roaring in the chats, Manhunt, Craig's List and others have started dominating here too. Poor

This is the part that worries me most. I mean-- there goes my sex life!

*teasing, sort of*

Yeah, I was gonna say, isn't doing too badly in Indiana, unless things have changed significantly since I left 3 months ago.

Lots of good points. The last time I picked up a copy of The Advocate I wondered why there were so many news stories that I had already read elsewhere a month or two beforehand. That was the last time I looked at that mag in print - about three years ago.

And not to mention the rise of Logo and it's news site It has the same AP wire stories, but better original journalism.

And yeah, I know it's owned by a straight company.

Just one thing to add.
any machine you get your news from is going to push the agenda of it's owners.

Straight owner, straight agenda even if it's not outright. Gay owner gay agenda and more service to the gay community.

I learned this when i was 12 years old listening to international short wave radio.

The cold war was good for many things including a sense of being able to sort the truth out from the crap.

Take care