Sometimes, you have to rob to keep your riches. If you're Bleacher Report, "sometimes" translates to approximately 10% of the time.
Tom Schreier, who opened up about his experiences with the company in a memoir/exposé released on Deadspin last week, certainly said as much:
Many young writers, unable to find a job with the newspapers or other media outlets, join B/R hoping to hone their voice and develop their writing while making enough money to keep the dream alive. Instead, they are strung along while their work subsidizes the salaries of better-known talent from established publications... and will just use all the money generated from [its] unpaid writers to land a guy from The New York Times or ESPN.
As has been B/R's modus operandi lately, the company stayed unapologetically silent on the matter for a couple of days.
On Thursday, however, Awful Announcing's Matt Yoder published an article titled Bleacher Report's Most Poignant Criticisms Are Now Coming From Within, covering the release and aftermath of Schreier's piece and nettling Bleacher Report brass just enough to finally garner a brief response. Via Yoder:
UPDATE: According to a Bleacher Report spokesperson, the site has more than 300 paid writers and over 90% of its article reads come from paid writers. B/R also has approximately 75-full-time employees and writers who started with the organization as interns or unpaid contributors.
Ignoring this spokesperson's intentional homogenization of "employees" and "writers," if we're to take Bleacher Report at their word - an increasingly difficult task - a few numbers have improved within the past 16 months.
In that time, Bleacher Report's traffic from paid writers, which would actually include someone like Tom Schreier since he received $200 for his services, is up from 85% to 90%. Their overall "paid writer" count, which this blog and Joe Eskenazi have documented as generally meaning anywhere from $500 - $1500 per month for each writer, has increased from 250 to 300-and-change.
Roughly 30% of all Bleacher Report writers are now paid, and I think it's utterly depressing that the company takes so much pride in that number that they would trot out their spokesperson (Kaufman?) to use it as a warped point of validation.
Because here's the thing about stats: They usually tell more than one story.
Let's say Bleacher Report makes $10 in ad revenue for every 1000 pageviews. Based upon previous conversations with insiders, that value is probably a conservative estimate, but we'll roll with it anyway.
The site has pulled in, approximately, 5.5 billion pageviews since July of last year. Taking B/R at their word means that over 550,000,000 of those pageviews were brought in from content that was produced free of charge. To put a figure like 550M into perspective, it's slightly more than Deadspin has managed through all of 2014 so far, and it's about 200 million more than Yardbarker's entire network of blogs generated in all of 2013.
Schreier's 500-something articles reigned in over 3M pageviews, equating to $30,000 in ad revenue for B/R. Him receiving less than 1% of the pie is a typical example of how the site can give an individual the shaft without so much as flinching, but on a larger scale, it exposes Bleacher Report's grander operation as being strikingly similar to a ponzi scheme.
And when the math is finished, we have a company generating $5,500,000 of annual ad revenue via content produced by writers who will not even see a dime of that. Instead, they will one day be graced by the automated response of King Kaufman:
I've discussed your note with all relevant editors, and I'm sorry to report that there are no paid opportunities for you at B/R in the foreseeable future.
But fret not, stupid, naïve sportswriters of tomorrow, for your work was not in vein! Thanks to your ethic, Jason Cole et al. get the kinds of fat salaries that no one else can offer them, and you are wholly responsible for that. They're really happy about this! So please, appreciate their tacit appreciation of you.
And of course, as King would personally remind any unpaid contributor:
We appreciate all you've done for Bleacher Report over the years, and we'd be happy to have you continue to contribute in an unpaid role if that's what you want to do.