HOLLYWOOD — Steven Brill has shuttered Contentville, his much ballyhooed e-commerce site, originally backed by such partners as CBS, NBC and Wall Street analyst James Cramer.
The Web portal, unveiled in February 2000, sold such material as magazines, articles, books, e-books, dissertations and screenplays. At the time of its launch, Brill likened it to “an old-time magazine stand, bookstore, or library.”
An ambitious venture, whose high-profile marketing campaign included ads on network TV, Contentville confronted several obstacles. The National Writers Union was called in to broker a deal between Brill and freelance writers who accused him of copyright infringement. As the dot- com economy flagged, insiders questioned the Contentville business model, and the company downsized in the months leading up to the merger of Brill Media Holdings and Powerful Media last spring — a merger that led to sizable layoffs both at Brill’s Content and at Inside.com.
Contentville’s 15 employees were pink-slipped Friday. In a memo to staff, Brill said “because … Contentville is a separate entity with separate partners and financing, these are the only people affected.” He added that the venture didn’t fail as a result of the downturn of the dot-com economy or the events of September 11. “My idea for Contentville just didn’t work,” he said.
Inside.com — whose stripped-down news site now serves as the home page for Primemedia’s Media Central trade titles, like Folio and Cableworld — may not be affected by the collapse of Contentville.
But the timing doesn’t augur well for Brill’s other business ventures.
Inside.com has recently increased its dependence on transaction fees — a system that may not prove sustainable in a rocky economy. In May, Brill’s Content, which used to appear 10 times a year, became a quarterly. And Primedia shares are in trouble, falling 5.6% Friday to $2.35, a steady downward trajectory from more than $17 a year ago.