Elite Daily, a website that describes itself as "The Voice of Generation Y," has been purchased for $47 million by DMG Media, the "global media brand" that arose out of the Victorian-era tabloid Daily Mail.
Elite Daily and DailyMail.com, the online arm of DMG media, are both enormously successful websites, in terms of absolute traffic and in Facebook or other "social shares." According to the tracking site Newswhip, Elite Daily is the 7th largest publisher on Facebook; DailyMail.com is the 11th.
DailyMail.com is among the internet's most charming toilets—an enormous outlet for thrillingly irresponsible journalism. Its CEO is Jon Steinberg, until very recently the president of Buzzfeed (and a top-notch Twitter follow):
check out this duck pic.twitter.com/1uefINiM12
— Jon Steinberg (@jonsteinberg) January 17, 2015
Steinberg is destined to be one of the legends of the content boom, a true believer whose enthusiastic, tone-deaf tastelessness matches the Mail's to a T:
— Jon Steinberg (@jonsteinberg) January 23, 2015
Steinberg's departure from Buzzfeed was publicly very amicable, but it's long been understood that he was furious at Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti for turning turn down a billion-dollar purchase offer from Disney. Since landing at DailyMail.com he's mounted a campaign to poach Buzzfeed staffers—especially on the ad sales side. One problem with the campaign, though, is that while DailyMail.com is growing and profitable, it doesn't have much overlap with Steinberg's old audience at Buzzfeed: Millennials.
DailyMail.com is a bad, dishonest, and cynical outlet, but it's not without a certain kind of garish charm: Those doddering, rambling headlines! That hideous homepage! Elite Daily, on the other hand, is utterly charmless and completely unredeemable. It is bad in every way content can be bad in 2015.
If you are Facebook friends with a particularly dull millennial, there is a good chance an Elite Daily article has been served to you by your Facebook News Feed at some point. Among the articles currently featured on its homepage: "14 Ways Growing Up With Brothers Makes You A Stronger Woman," "17 Reasons Science Says It's Not Your Fault You're Addicted To Sushi," and "5 Revelations You Need To Have About Friendships Post-College."
Elite Daily was founded in 2012 by David Arabov, son of Jacob "the Jeweler" Arabo of rap star-accessorizing fame, and Jonathon Francis and Gerard Adam. In a note announcing his site's sale, Arabov wrote that he and his cofounders created Elite Daily "with the ambition of creating a publication that would disrupt traditional media and truly speak to the Millennial generation." The site's "about" page calls it "the premier online news platform for and by millennials, the leading source for breaking news and entertainment for the future leaders of our generation." Its "contribute" page describes "The Elite Daily Standard":
Elite Daily Is An Anomaly In The World Of Media Publications, Mainly Because Both Our In-House Writers & Our Ever-Growing, Carefully Selected 3,000+ Contributing Writers Are All Millennials. We Strive To Engage And Stimulate Our Audience Through Viral Content That Facilitates Discussion Amongst Generation-Y.
Elite Daily's articles resonate so well with youth because the headlines and content are a combination of Thought Catalog's realness and The Huffington Post's breadth. The majority of articles are short, funny, and informative. This combination keeps the site's target audience coming back for more.
Elite Daily's editor-in-chief is a woman named Kaitlyn Cawley. Here's how she described the site back in 2013:
"Elite Daily is for this generation's alpha," Cawley wrote, "the equal opportunity asshole, with an amoral sex life and desires to succeed in the traditional ways: retiring with off-shore bank accounts, to a yacht full of naked bitches (of either sex) on some distant Oceanic island."
A close reading of Elite Daily—entering its fourth year of existence this February—provides a nice capsule history of the social content boom: Brendan O'Connor's excellent article, which delves into Elite Daily's extremely shady editorial practices, records a "decline in quality" and shift in tone toward imbecilic misogynistic waste; since then, it has shifted away from the aggressively dumb misogyny and toward imbecilic uplifting and vaguely liberal lifestyle waste.
And now it's DailyMail.com's Buzzfeed. Maybe? One very terrifying thing about the new content internet is how hard to tell what publications have returning, sustainable audiences, and what publications are drafting off of Facebook's largesse—and whose audiences are just extensions of Facebook's large user base. This is why the Awl's John Herrman calls it a pump-and-dump—
— John Herrman (@jwherrman) January 30, 2015
—because the distinction between buying traffic outright and employing the kind of easy and cynical techniques that will earn it for you quickly is close to meaningless. And because it's very hard to figure out what buying Elite Daily actually gets you. If Facebook disappears tomorrow, what percent of Elite Daily's audience remains? Even if a significant portion of Elite Daily's audience follows it on Facebook, and recognizes the site's name—and even that is a generous assumption—that relationship isn't something Elite Daily, or now DailyMail.com, has control over. Whenever Facebook gets bored of helping publishers (or whenever it finally hits its limit and begins to die), there's no sense that readers will turn to Elite Daily (rather than Bustle or Thought Catalog or ViralNova or Stormfront) for their daily dose of content diarrhea.
Anyway, check out this duck.