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.