Nerve.com Hires New CEO, Cites New Plans To Downplay Nudity

Posted by: Jon Fine on April 22, 2009

Nerve.com, the long-running erotica site that originally billed itself as a purveyor of “literate smut,” has a new CEO and a new notion to tame some of its wilder impulses and position itself as a broader lifestyle play.

Nerve “is going to be a smart [online] magazine that covers sex, dating, relationships, entertainment and all things of interest for a growing readership” of single adults, says new CEO Sean Mills, who was most recently President of the arch humor outpost The Onion.

The most significant change to Nerve, which launched in 1997, will be in how little nudity will be on the revamped site. Mills said that Nerve’s premium and members-only photo archives, which contain many photos that display substantial expanses of naked skin, will be spun off into a new, as-yet-untitled external subscription site.

The Nerve blogs that sometimes feature nudity will be similarly toned down, said Mills, who started at Nerve last week. The nudity that remains, Mills said, will be more like the nudity that appears in the New Yorker or New York magazine—that is, occasional and relatively incidental. The company’s popular paid personals will remain.

“You’re going to find an [online] environment that’s a lot better for more conservative companies,” Mills said. “You can have something that’s very hot and sexy and compelling without having to show nudity.”

Nerve founder and former Nerve Media CEO Rufus Griscom--who now focuses exclusively on the sibling company and parenting site Babble--identifies ad sales as Nerve’s “most exciting opportunity.” Ad sales are currently under 50% of the site’s few million dollars in annual revenues, says Griscom. Among Nerve’s investors are Lotus founder Mitch Kapor and former HBO head Michael Fuchs.

Nerve is an unusual Web content business in that it has four revenue streams. They are: personal ads, premium subscriptions, licensing (mostly books) and advertising. The personals, which Griscom says remains a growing business even after new ways to connect online with MySpace and Facebook arose, literally saved the business during the online ad drought earlier this decade.

The new Nerve will have no subscriber- and member-only areas—though the untitled new site for nerve’s photo archives will charge a subscription fee--which means it will tack somewhat against some current sentiment. Many newspapers, facing severe revenue droughts, are openly discussing a willingness to try new subscription models for online content.

The site will also move towards more daily updated content, including video—under Mills, The Onion started up the well-trafficked and well-executed online TV spoof Onion News Network--and away from another Nerve trademark, what Mills identifies as “personal essays—four, five pages long,” written by well-known writers about carnal matters.

“The [Nerve] tradition is really smart, really artistic, high quality, and slightly high-brow,” said Mills; he seeks a site that’s more accessible to a wider range of readers. More on this, presumably, will be made clear once Mills decides who will be the next editor-in-chief, a position that’s been vacant for a few months.

Previously, Griscom had discussed plans to launch a ecological site, Greenish.com, and an entertainment portal. These plans were scotched, Griscom said, last year, over concerns that there was insufficient ad demand to warrant the launch of Greenish and the realization that the online parenting market held more riches than previously thought.

Griscom raised $2 million for Babble last December, from private equity firm Village Ventures and has recently been in talks with potential investors concerning a second round of financing.

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Reader Comments

S

April 23, 2009 09:10 AM

Well what the hell will be the point of going to Nerve.com if he takes all that away? Stupid move in my opinion.

SL

April 23, 2009 12:07 PM

I've been a subscriber since 1998 and this sounds like neutering the Nerve I love. If it happens, I'm out and going someplace else.

MGC

April 23, 2009 02:44 PM

Ever since Nerve farmed out the administration of its trademark Personals a few years back, the bohemian character of the site and the content of its brand have suffered. The people who advertise themselves on the site have become less risque, more conventional and less worth meeting as a result. Every since, it looks and functions more and more like Match.com.

This development will be a further watering down that will certainly appeal to advertisers, likely benefit the owners, but appeal less to existing or original subscribers. When it is said that Mills want to tweak Nerve.com into a "site that’s more accessible to a wider range of readers," this is so obviously a euphemism for "we're going to f*ck the consumer some more."

From where I sit, it smells like just another case of businessmen looting a uniquely branded, bohemian cultural phenomena in order to pad their wallets and pay for their trophy-wives.

Those of us metro-deviants who haven't yet moved on from Nerve will have to find a new home for high-brow smut in order to make way for this century's illiterate suburbanites. Have American Apparel, Suicide Girls or Vice Mag set up Personals pages yet? Get on it, boys and girls! This is your window. Let the exodus begin!

Vic

April 23, 2009 02:50 PM

Wow. And this makes Nerve interesting and relevant how? Yet another clueless CEO neutering and ultimately dismantling a once-trusted brand-name. This is retarded.

Syl

April 23, 2009 04:47 PM

Oh, great. Nerve.com goes "corporate mentality". I just wish these purveyors of mediocrity will stop pulling down everything unique and interesting.

Good bye, Nerve.com. I'm sure I won't be the only one leaving.

Alan

April 23, 2009 06:59 PM

I'm going against the grain here. I work in the media world and this guy has a great reputation. I doubt someone who ran The Onion for years is going to make Nerve any less intelligent or original and more corporate. I'm actually interested to see where it goes.

Gelfling

April 24, 2009 09:19 AM

O holy heck.

What will distinguish the "new" Nerve from all of the other boring and trite soft core sites out there?

Nerve's unique appeal, and the reason i'm wiling to fork out my hard earned dollars, is that it is a source of _excellent_ erotica and nudes with class, grace, and style.

By decoupling the literary content from the pay features, they have effectively decided that sensuality = porn, and removed their biggest revenue source at the same time.

They are the only site i've ever found to offer such cerebral and classy content. They are shooting themselves in the foot. Do we have an address to which to target a letter writing campaign?

Ethan

April 24, 2009 11:40 AM

Essentially what they're doing is taking the essence of Nerve - the idea that sexually charged material could be presented in a way that has more value then traditional "smut" - and completely negating it. Throw in the Jack Donaghy jargon about business models and revenue streams and you have the end of something really unique.

whiteofmidnight

April 24, 2009 11:40 AM

For the love of god, man. Don't turn Nerve into another Match.com. If we wanted to date corporate automotons, there are plenty of places that we could go.

It occurs to me that this is the equivalent of online gentrification.

ET

April 25, 2009 12:18 AM

Great. First they ruined the Nerve Personals by changing them. Now they're going to get rid of what few reasons are left to visit their site.

Sounds like the new CEO needs the same advice you would give someone in writing a personals ad: "Don't emphasize what makes you the same -- capitalize on what makes you *different*.

Danrimage

April 25, 2009 02:47 AM

The original Emily Farris Scanner blog that brought all of this to our attention in the first place has been deleted, along with the (60+ and counting) dissenting comments.
If THAT isn't a bad omen, I don't know what is.

Rufus Griscom

May 1, 2009 05:52 PM

Hey folks -- we just posted a letter on Nerve that provides a clearer picture of what we are up to over there. Thanks for your concerns, we appreciate the input, and look forward to surprising you with some pretty interesting expansions of the Nerve sites in the coming months. -- http://bitly.com/5jkTs

Adela

May 22, 2009 06:22 AM

Try this one on. You can no longer view a personals profile without paying for membership. It used to be that you could at least view them in order to decide whether you wanted to join for a month because there was an interesting crop of people to meet/email. Now all you see is small pics and nothing else. I'm so over this site. There are better ones out there.. and FREE-er.

M. M.

June 1, 2009 11:18 PM

AND NOW I'M READING YOU CUT OFF THE PHOTOGBLOGS? WHY AM (WAS) I GIVING YOU MONEY?

PLAIN STUPID MOVE!

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The media, entertainment and marketing worlds continue to shapeshift on a near-daily basis, as new forms arise and old assumptions erode. Where is it all going? No one really knows. But on this blog BusinessWeek’s media writers Tom Lowry and Ron Grover promise to provide ample helpings of scoop, provocation, and sharp analysis as they track and annotate this constantly changing terrain.

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