A brand new website just for women recently started up, called Bustle.com. And, to put it lightly, it’s not going so well.
The site was created by Brian Goldberg, also the founder of sports site Bleacher Report. In the official announcement about the website Mr. Goldberg states that he has raised $6.5 million to create Bustle on the premise that it is the first big website for women, and will include everything from beauty editorials to political stories.
Almost immediately the backlash started. Claiming to be in the midst of creating the first ever big website for women not only sounded bizarre, it just wasn’t correct. Mr. Goldberg claimed that there is no competition in women’s sites, unlike when he launched Bleacher Report and had to deal with ESPN.com, SportesIllustrated.com and FoxSports.com. As Amanda Hess writes for the XXfactor (curiously enough, an already existing female focused blog on Slate that covers both pop culture and hard hitting news):
“Indeed: Besides Cafemom.com, People.com, UsMagazine.com, BabyCenter.com, WomensForum.com, HollywoodLife.com, StyleBistro.com, EW.com, FanPop.com, Jezebel.com, RealSimple.com, Beauty.com, Oprah.com, YourTango.com, MarthaStewart.com, Celebuzz.com, Prevention.com, and PopSugar.com, no website targeting a primarily female audience pulls more monthly traffic than FoxSports.com.”
She also lists the many websites already in existence that function as women centered offshoots or versions of general websites, including Jezebel (part of Gawker) espnW, the Hairpin (part if The Awl), satirical news site Reductress and her own XXfactor.
Elizabeth Spiers, one of the founding editors of Gawker, also criticized the website and announcement, wondering how anyone could come to the conclusion that women can’t just visit any other site for the information they need. Gawker itself was named as one of the sites meant for men, which Ms. Spiers said was news to her.
Basically, Bustle.com and the announcement about it made two major mistakes in regards to selling itself to women:
1. There is no understanding of what women already have and do, and
2. It is condescending to the very women it claims it wants so badly to attract
In regards to the lack of understanding about the websites women already have and use, Ms. Spiers goes on to say that websites that generate the kind of massive traffic Bustle seems to be after (websites like Huffington Post and Yahoo) are already split pretty much down the middle of the gender line. They have stories about news and human-interest stories and attract all kinds of different readers on a daily basis.
In addition, naming a website “for women” gets into some dangerous territory because it suggests that other websites are not for women. Women have presumably found their way to the websites of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and NPR. Was this somehow a mistake? Were women not supposed to be on those sites, even though they offer the kind of news reporting women are after along with well written human interest, pop culture and fashion and beauty stories? There doesn’t seem to be anything about Bustle that makes it any different than any other large online site, and even if it manages to offer a women’s prospective on the world, there are already lots of sites (with very loyal readerships) that do that well.
The other glaring problem is the sense of superiority surrounding Bustle, and the mocking tone it gives its subjects.
To claim that there is no other website out there giving women the content they want is an insult not only to the women (and men) who work everyday producing this content, it is an insult to the women who have found it, read it, and enjoy it.
Take women like Elizabeth Holmes, who has covered everything at the Wall Street Journalfrom political campaigns to fashion trends. Certainly she epitomizes the type of reporter and publication already fulfilling many of the reading desires of women. Or how about women like Abby Gardner, Digital Director at Cosmopolitan, who has driven up web traffic and helped turn the site into one that gives biting, women-centered commentary on everything from sex tips to political movements.
Finally, women like Joanna Coles and Nancy Berger Cardone, who as (former) Editor in Chief and Publisher, respectively, of Marie Claire magazine, helped the publication win Ad Age’s Magazine of the Year award in 2012 (not women’s magazine of the year, mind you, just magazine of the year); partially because of the digital elements they were incorporating and because of the mix of stories they offered women. It is worth noting that Ms. Cardone also won publisher of the year.
It’s also hard to miss the disrespect seemingly given to women readers in the Bustle announcement.
Mr. Goldberg claims that the smart women he hires will write about all kind of topics, and no topic will have to be a guilty pleasure anymore. That must come as a relief to the thousands of otherwise intelligent women who have been hiding under their desks with laptops, trying to find out the best ways to pluck their eyebrows or what Ryan Gosling looks like without a shirt on. Suggesting that Bustle frees women from the shame they had been feeling reading other publications is not a good way to start reader relationships.
In touting the women writers Bustle will utilize, Mr. Goldberg states, “Knowing the difference between mascara, concealer, and eye-liner is not my job.” That’s a concerning statement, as it shows that not only is the website’s founder unable to tell the difference between basic consumer products, he doesn’t think his readers can either.
As of August 15, 2013, an apology by Mr. Goldberg was released. He acknowledges the problems people have pointed out, and that his announcement did not come off the way it was intended. While the apology and the intended sentiment may very well be genuine, it opens our eyes to the wider problems that exist in selling stuff to women. And that is that still, after all this time, there are just so many people who don’t get it.
If you have no understanding of what women are doing right now, and you think they need a special place (or product or service) explained just for them, then you have no business selling to them.