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.
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.