Bustle: Redefining Women’s Publishing Online?

Launched to a chorus of accusations, Bustle is the feminist general-interest site looking to redefine online publishing for a new generation of young women. 

Looking to Redefine Women’s Publishing Online

Although this could be called a generalisation, the number of high-revenue online publications aimed at women would seem to be much smaller than the number of equivalent publications aimed at men. TechCrunch, Business Insider, Mashable, TheVerge, Thrillist, and Gawker are just some of the men’s sites that come instantly to mind. But other than Jezebel, xoJane, and perhaps Mumsnet at a stretch, not many online publications aimed at women come so easily to mind.

Women’s publishing is instead dominated by old school glossies – Vogue, Glamour, Marie Claire –, and whilst all have online offerings they tend to be neglected in comparison to the print. Vogue counts fewer than 1 million unique visitors per month.

Looking to counter the trend, last summer Bryan Goldberg (founder of the Bleacher Report which sold $200 million) launched a women’s general-interest site Bustle. With the backing of $6.5 million in funding from Time Warner and Google Ventures, a year later the site has 11 million monthly unique visitors and has raised a further $5 million in funds.

Feminist Bustle

Bustle is a “feminist”, wide-ranging general-interest site: world news, politics, and books sit alongside entertainment, lifestyle, fashion and beauty. It seeks to connect popular culture and social commentary. It’s sleek. It’s tech. And it’s for women who out-graduate men and out-earn their male counterparts.

The content is all produced by women. The team is led by experienced editors Kate Ward (former executive editor), Margaret Wheeler Johnson (founding editor of the Huffington Post’s Women’s section), Meredith Turits (recruited from Glamour), Rachel Krantz (Daily Beast), and Alexandra Finkel (Condé Nast), and they guide a team of young freelance writers who are left to chase any stories they’re interested in.

The site doesn’t have an Editor-in-Chief, and so it doesn’t follow a voice driven model as, for example, Vogue certainly does. Instead it aims to offer something for everyone – targeting the woman who loves yoga and politics and the woman who loves beauty and books but not fashion. Ward says: “We always want to cover things smartly and responsibly, and we’re not afraid to have some fun,” she says. “We can be silly and talk about how much we love cheese while we’re also talking about world stories and things that are more important, like gun control and Hobby Lobby.”

But with such great intentions, launch did not go without a hitch as Goldberg published an introductory blog post that managed to be patronising and pretty offensive towards his female target demographic. Articles such as “How Not to Launch a Site for Women” went viral on the net. He was quick to publish an apology but his reputation has stuck.

Delivering a Key Demographic

The last year has seen Goldberg leave the site to grow alone, and it now attracts 11 million monthly unique visitors. Although, Goldberg’s tactic seems to rely on having hundreds of different freelance writers creating content that interests them in the hope they will represent the larger demographic: sheer volume of content will result in volume of readers. And volume is what he wants. Indeed, Goldberg’s real target is the revenue. Women account for 70% of household spending and the majority of time spent online, and advertisers want to reach these women.

The site’s ability to reliably deliver this sought after demographic is therefore the key to its success. He has huge ambitions to create the “biggest and the most powerful women’s publication in the world”. But it does rather seem this project is much more about Goldberg and his wallet than really working to appeal to a new generation of women.

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  1. Sarah Neovy

    Interesting, but very exaggerated. Business Insider, for example, is not a newspaper for men, it’s a business newspaper, published by women and men, journalists!

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