News publishers who move their products behind paywalls and only serve paying audiences don't serve democracy, argued BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti at the Wall Street Journal's WSJ.D Live conference in Laguna Beach, Calif., Wednesday. "If you are thinking about an electorate, the subscription model in media doesn’t support the broad public,” he said.Peretti admitted that subscription news content may be a good business model for newspapers like the Wall Street Journal. But he also outlined a dystopian view, painting a...
Peretti was first catapulted into the spotlight in 2001 while still a grad student at MIT Media Lab. An email exchange with Nike over the company’s refusal to fill his order for a custom pair of shoes with the word “sweatshop” printed on them went viral, leading to TV appearances, coverage by the New York Times and consulting work with major corporations.
But what really put him on the media map was The Huffington Post, the liberal-minded news aggregator and opinion site he co-founded with Arianna Huffington and former AOL exec Kenneth Lerer in 2005. Drawing on a network of celebrity contributors and unpaid writers, it built an audience of more than 100 million unique monthly users. It was sold to AOL for $315 in 2011.
Taking lessons learned from his stint as director of R&D at nonprofit art, tech and media studio Eyebeam in the early 2000s, Peretti co-founded BuzzFeed with Lerer and John S. Johnson III in 2006 as a lab tracking viral content. It soon became the leading purveyor of shareable highly-shareable articles, videos and lists, covering everything from breaking news and pop culture to comedy, monetized with native advertising. A real breakout for Buzzfeed has been Tasty, a series of short how-to cooking videos and recipes, which frequently pull in well over 1 billion views each month.
Peretti is considering going the IPO route, which could be a tough road given the bumps other digital media companies from Facebook to Snapchat hae experienced along that path. The company’s current valuation is $1.7 billion, set in late 2016 when NBCU pumped in $200 million, doubling down on the $200 million it plunked down the prior year.