What happened at Smashing Magazine?

Twitter was aflutter earlier about a sudden change at Smashing Magazine. They had redirected every page on their site to point to an ebook promo coupled with a plea for aid. “We need money,” they said, “and we’re turning to you, the community, for help.”

Smashing being what it is, supporters turned out in droves. They primarily write how-tos and helpful articles about web development and design, from which myself and probably hundreds of thousands of others have benefited. They post all of their content online for free, serving up advertisements and selling ebooks to keep everything humming, but this stunt was entirely new.

“We’re trying to prove a point,” the announcement said, but they didn’t list what point they were trying to make. As I was lying in bed, the pieces fell together for me.

One of the staffers at Smashing posted in the comments on the ebook promo page that they had recently moved into a new office and hired more staff. This happened to occur just before ad revenue went down, as everything else has in the last two years.

My guess is that Smashing Magazine went to their investors and said, “Hey, we’ve got a popular site visited by hundreds of thousands of people, and we normally have solid revenue through both advertisement and ebook sales. We’ve just moved into a larger office and hired additional staff so we can turn out even more great content, thereby leading to more ad and ebook revenue, but we need some time. We’d like you to invest in Smashing Magazine, and we guarantee you’ll see a good return on your investment.”

But the investors didn’t buy it. “You give all your content away for free?” they may have asked confusedly. “How do you make any money? How will my investment pay off? Advertisements alone can’t account for this much cash, and return would be too slow.

“Tell you what–prove it to us. Show us you can make this money. I don’t know, sell something, and if the response is good, we’ll see.”

So Smashing threw the dice. They redirected every page, asked their community for support, and they got it. Their store crashed, in fact, under a crushing wave of goodwill. Once they got the site back up, they updated the post to say they had removed the redirect because their point had been made.

The investors were satisfied.

That update has been removed, as have a few other edits to the original post (you can still find the comments in the associated blog post), but I’m reasonably confident in my hypothesis. Though the crisis appears to have passed, you can still pick up Smashing Magazine’s ebook for $9.90. I’m sure they’d appreciate it.

2 thoughts on “What happened at Smashing Magazine?

  1. I am sorry, but this is just a speculation and it is certainly not true. We do not have any investors, we are independent and the point we were trying to make was that we really need the help of the community. The reaction was huge and the community was very supportive, and so we didn’t see it necessary to keep the splash page any longer.

    I am truly sorry that so many people got the wrong idea about what we have done. We respect the design community and we are aware that we are just doing our job, but sometimes it’s just necessary to do what you have to do. Yesterday was one of those days.

    You see, if you think that we are rich people who drive big cars and just want to get richer, you are just wrong. We do not put the money in our pockets, instead we are developing Smashing Magazine further and permanently work on improving the quality of the magazine. You see, we have a strict editorial policy: we do not publish sponsored posts. We try to keeps ads to the minimum so that the bills still can be paid. All articles are revised many times. We have experts checking articles before they go live. We have high-profile designers and developers writing exclusively for us. We invest more and more time and resources in the content. I don’t know why so many readers have such a wrong idea about us. Actually, we are just doing our job.

    I am truly sorry that some members of the design community misunderstood our move. However, I can see where you guys are coming from now. Still, we appreciate all the support we get, you guys are remarkable. We will do our best to keep delivering high quality content in the future.

    1. Ah well, it was worth a guess 🙂

      And please don’t interpret any ill-will or negativity on my part. I’m a big fan of Smashing, and if my conjectured scenario was true, I would see that as completely legitimate and awesome. I’m a big believer in the business model of, “Give stuff away for free and sell stuff in addition to that to remain financially viable.”

      A big part of a company is making money. Enough for its employees to live comfortably, I should hope. There’s nothing wrong with that, and nothing to apologize for. You all do great work, and I’m glad that you shall be able to continue doing so.

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