Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Nonprofit news outlets aren’t relying as heavily on foundations — but journalism philanthropy continues to grow
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Jan. 28, 2019, 2:59 p.m.

BuzzFeed laid off its Director of Quizzes because lots of people are willing to make quizzes for free

“This post has not been vetted or endorsed by BuzzFeed’s editorial staff. BuzzFeed Community is a place where anyone create a post. Learn more or post your buzz!”

The impact of the deeper-than-expected multi-day cuts to BuzzFeed continue, with more layoffs being announced via tweet, with more of today’s seeming to come from the buzz side of the operation rather than the news side (which was hit hard on Friday).

There was one departure today that gave us a little bit of insight into part of BuzzFeed’s publishing model. Matthew Perpetua, a music writer and editor who became BuzzFeed’s director of quizzes, wrote about his position ending on his site Fluxblog (emphasis mine):

You might be wondering — wait, why would they lay you off? You were doing the quizzes, and that brings in a lot of money! Well, that is true. But another thing that is true is that a LOT of the site’s overall traffic comes from quizzes and a VERY large portion of that traffic comes from a constant flow of amateur quizzes made by community users. In the recent past, the second highest traffic driver worldwide has been a community user in Michigan who is a teenager in college who, for some reason, makes dozens of quizzes every week. It’s kinda amazing how much revenue-generating traffic the site gets from unpaid community volunteers. So, in a ruthless capitalist way, it makes sense for the company to pivot to having community users create almost all of the quizzes going forward. I understand math. I get it.

I of course knew that BuzzFeed had a robust “community content” operation (we wrote about it back in 2013), but I didn’t quite appreciate the scale of it. And indeed, of the top 15 “Trending Quizzes” on BuzzFeed right now, 12 were written by “Community Contributors” rather than BuzzFeed staffers.

Those include I Bet We Can Correctly Guess Your Soulmate’s Name Based On These 9 Questions, Describe Your Perfect Night And We’ll Tell You The Initials Of Your Soulmate, Build A Bubble Tea And We’ll Tell You Which Netflix Original TV Show Is Based Off Your Life, Can We Guess Your Age And Bra Size Based On The Colors You Choose?, We Know Which Character From “The Office” You Truly Are Based On What You Eat At Chipotle, Make Your Ideal Sandwich And We’ll Tell You Which Cardi B Lyric Is Your Motto, and Which “Friends” Character Are You Most Like Based On The Furniture You Buy At UO?

Not exactly alert-the-Pulitzer-committee stuff, but people click on it!

Two of those quizzes were published by a contributor who’d published 80 of them in the past year. Another contributor has written nearly 200 quizzes and notes on her LinkedIn that she’s had over 150 posts promoted on the BuzzFeed homepage, with the most popular one drawing 1.2 million views. (She also mourned the layoff of the BuzzFeed community manager she says made her fall “in love with making content.”) This contributor has posted 100 quizzes in just the past three months; at the top of the page sits her user tagline, “hire me @ buzzfeed.”

Now, I haven’t read enough Marx to know exactly where making quizzes in your dorm room fits into his theory of alienation and whether it’s more of a question of Gattungswesen or just plain Entfremdung. Perhaps the answer is different for “If You Were To Have A Threesome With Two ‘The Good Place’ Characters, Who Would They Be?” than it would be for “Scroll Through Pinterest And We’ll Guess Which Riverdale Characters You’ll Have A Threesome With.”

Or, if you want to look at it through a more strictly capitalist lens, BuzzFeed has usually been considered a Christensenian “low-end disruptor” in the news business because it offered cheap-to-produce content (listicles, quizzes) that competed with more-expensive-to-produce content like journalism. But a low-end disruptor can itself face low-end disruption — and it’s hard to get cheaper than free.

(Actually, you could get cheaper — BuzzFeed could ask volunteer quiz authors to pay them to promote their freely produced quizzes on the homepage or social. But let’s not give anyone any ideas.)

In all seriousness, it’s unclear to me what the paid market for freelance BuzzFeed-style quizzes is, or even if such a market exists outside the most open conception of the commons. I mean, I produce content for Twitter for free all the time; my ROI comes in a form other than cash. But that’s easy for me to say — I have a full-time job. A week ago, so did a lot of BuzzFeed employees, too.

There’s one thing that is clear: the delicious irony of the very tool of labor disruption — BuzzFeed’s open quiz-making platform — being used to critique the system for which it stands. Which is how today, the quiz generating the most BUZZ and LOLs on Twitter is this seize-the-means-of-production job, Do You Still Have A Job At BuzzFeed?

This is the final question of the quiz, raising an issue that seems even more timely than usual:

As it says just below the headline: “This post has not been vetted or endorsed by BuzzFeed’s editorial staff. BuzzFeed Community is a place where anyone create a post. Learn more or post your buzz!”

Illustration based on drawing of Karl Marx by Pirmin Rengers used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Jan. 28, 2019, 2:59 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 50,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Nonprofit news outlets aren’t relying as heavily on foundations — but journalism philanthropy continues to grow
“Nonprofit news organizations have much in common even if their scope or mission differs. Their journalistic missions are shaped largely by the gaps they are trying to fill — investigative at the state, national and global level; more general news at the local level.”
After a $2.6M crowdfunding campaign, The Correspondent will have just one full-time journalist in the U.S.
The Correspondent is hiring a total of five full-time journalists.
Vox’s new podcast goes where news podcasts haven’t gone before: Sundays
Plus: NPR expects Podcast $$ to surpass Broadcast $$ by next year.