I've written before about viral content hoarding website ViralNova.com, which rose in the place of Upworthy, which crashed basically when Facebook closed a loophole in what content gets promoted on its news feed. ViralNova, which has been called one of the worst sites on the internet, gets attention with headlines so shameless ("This Old Couple Tragically Died in a Car Accident. But What Rescuers Found Inside Was Beautiful" is a typical one) it makes one wonder who in the world would even click on this clickiest of click-bait.
A lot of people, as it turns out, and it's become very lucrative. According to Business Insider's Alyson Shontell, ViralNova has been purchased by Zealot Networks in a cash and stock deal for upwards of $100 million. If you wanted an insight into the utter surreality of our digital media landscape, consider the fact that, according to Shontell, ViralNova built much of its own success through the efforts of creator Scott DeLong and just two freelance writers. And, mind you, this was Buzzfeed-level major-player success, with the site garnering 100 million readers a month and making millions in revenue a year.
Shontell's coverage of the whole story of ViralNova and Scott DeLong is very interesting and worth the read, but what fascinates me the most about it is the fact that we now live a world where a $100 million company can be created and developed by so few people. Please understand that I'm not begrudging anyone their success or complaining about how the digital media world works. My curmudgeon-ness is only a mild case. I'm just flabbergasted by the efficiency of it.
In the pre-digital media world, a company worth as much as ViralNova would have infrastructure and employees. They would provide a tangible service or create an actual good to be sold. The company would have an internal bureaucracy and organization. It would have a history that went back many years, if not decades. There would be fits and starts as it slowly trudged its way toward real success. But now, I learn the fact that ViralNova was started in 2013, and I realized that things are much different.
(It's also important to note that while much of ViralNova's success came when they had only a small number of employees, the company currently has 22 people working for it, a proper corporate structure, and an actual physical office space.)
ViralNova's content succeeds because it's headlines have the annoying insistence of a friend tugging at your sleeve and saying "Dude! Dude! You won't believe who I ran into this morning!" Of course you're going to ask, nay, demand your friend tell you. I'm no better. I find ViralNova and its ilk completely shameless and I clicked on five or six of their headlines just in the writing of this post.
But it's that sort of twitchy, tell-me-more behavior that can allow three people to create a highly-valued company out of nothing, that sells nothing, and creates nothing. I think that encapsulates our digital media landscape perfectly.