Politically Charged Publisher Splinter Returns. Ad Monetizing Is Another Question

The politics publisher has been dormant since 2019

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Political news publisher Splinter relaunched Tuesday morning, three months after it was acquired by Paste Magazine in a package deal, alongside feminist publisher Jezebel, from G/O Media for an undisclosed sum.

Splinter has been dormant since November 2019, and it plans to produce the aggressively left-leaning political coverage that once made it an editorial lightning rod under its former owner, Gawker Media Group.

“The goal here is not to reinvent the wheel,” said Paste Magazine founder Josh Jackson. “We have always loved Splinter and plan to stay true to what has always been great about it.”

But the politically charged nature of its content comes with ad revenue monetization challenges. It hopes to mitigate that through reader revenue.

The revival of Splinter reflects a larger trend in the media industry, which has seen editorial titles with strong brand equity find second, third and even fourth acts under new owners. 

“Splinter’s best hope is to ride interest in this year’s election news cycles into a place where its audience gets into the habit of visiting, and a community coalesces around it,” said Insider Intelligence senior media analyst Max Willens. “It will need a robust stream of consumer revenue if it’s going to thrive.”

Jezebel revenue dipped below $50 per day

Splinter has only two full-time staff—editor in chief Jacob Weindling and deputy editor Dave Levitan—and a rotating cast of freelancers. All Paste Magazine employees work remotely, further reducing overhead.

The site will be funded primarily by digital advertising. Like Jezebel, Splinter’s reporting will likely trigger buyers’ brand-safety filters and blocklists.

According to Jackson, shortly after Paste Magazine acquired Jezebel, Google demonetized the site for three weeks, and ad revenue dipped below $50 per day when the publisher had to turn off ads on several hundred Jezebel articles. It has since fixed the problem.

For Splinter, Paste Magazine discovered that it was still being blacklisted by one of its potential header-bidding providers because of content the site produced years ago. 

Relying on search and social side doors 

As with Jezebel, Splinter will sell ads directly, filling its supply at a substantial CPM (cost per thousand impressions). Jezebel recently secured its first direct buy, from the University of California Press.

Splinter, like Jezebel, will also offer an annual $80 (or $8 monthly) membership for readers, providing exclusive content, an exclusive weekly newsletter, merchandise and other perks.

Paste Magazine is exploring options to bundle the membership products for Jezebel and Splinter. The media company also plans to allocate 25% of all membership revenue to be split annually as a revenue share among staff and key contributors, said Jackson. 

The publisher will inherit all of Splinter’s existing social media accounts and email listserv, so it won’t have to fully rebuild its audience. It plans to reach readers primarily through search, X (formerly Twitter) and its daily newsletter, although its YouTube channel has been deactivated and will need to be regrown from scratch. 

However, “The third-party distribution systems that publishers have relied on for the past decade—namely, search and social media—have gotten much less hospitable,” Willens said.

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