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The Gruber Model

CJ Chilvers
CJ Chilvers
2 min read

Every time I see an article about the last gasps of newspaper journalism, I think about the Gruber model.

For those who don't follow tech blogs, John Gruber is the blogger behind Daring Fireball, arguably the most successful and trusted Apple-related blog ever. I agree with pretty much everything he has to say about Apple, and almost nothing he has to say about anything else. He's opinionated about a lot of things (the Yankees and politics comes to mind), which is great for creating rabid fans (and critics).

What I really respect about Gruber is the publishing model he created.

A decade ago, through trial and error, John discovered that instead of jamming as many ads and trackers as possible into every article, as newspapers do, he would have one tiny ad on the site and one RSS "native" ad per week. He focused on exclusivity and scarcity to drive up the ad price. It worked. He sold t-shirts and memberships to the site as well, for the truly devoted fans.

He proved that one man on a simple, all-text, reader-friendly blog with trusted content could create a very lucrative publication. Imagine if a newspaper, filled with talented writers, set those writers loose to to create their own Daring Fireballs based on their niches. I don't think we'd have the crisis we have now.

In 2014 John gave a talk at XOXO about how his blog started and how it became such a success. It's simple: respect the reader and build your publication on trust. Everyone knows, if you want to know what's really going on at Apple, you need to read Daring Fireball. That's trust.

There’s an obesity crisis at newspaper websites and it’s costing you money, time, and privacy. It’s all because they couldn’t figure out what John Gruber did more than a decade ago. They actively cultivate mistrust. They chose the typical ad model, which is a race to the bottom: more reader-hostile ads at cheaper prices. As we've all heard, "the problem with a race to the bottom is you might win."

In the years since that XOXO talk, Gruber has found podcasting to be equally (or more) lucrative than his blog. He experimented a bit with Youtube as well. These are routes regional and local newspapers should be looking at to add to their revenue. I'm not at all confident they can pull it off with their current philosophy, however. Every local newspaper in this country should be paying Gruber a consultant's fee and watching his talk on a loop until it sinks in.