It has more Facebook fans than BuzzFeed, and more Twitter followers than Rupert Murdoch. Is the Lad Bible a new media force to be reckoned with?
The website, run by two friends from Stockport in the northwest of England, has surged in popularity, with blokeish commentary on sports (“Meet the world’s best backwards bowler!”) and light-hearted news.
If MailOnline considers itself “journalism crack”, this is a journalism jägerbomb. And it is cheap: most ingredients are sent in by readers.
“We’ve always been clear on what we want to do: a community-style website,” says Arian Kalantari, 23, who runs the site with his partner Alexander Solomou, 24. The two bought it from its founder when fans were in the hundreds of thousands. “For a year, it was just two of us at [Leeds] uni, and that’s what we focused on — community, community, community.”
At the Lad Bible’s office in Manchester, twenty-somethings trawl through reams of photos and videos. Readers, mostly men aged 16 to 30, send in about 1,000 submissions a day. The in-house editorial team selects the best, captions them, and publishes about one an hour.
“We know within a minute how well a post will do,” says Mr Kalantari. One Lad Bible photo — “The mother of all steak!” – has received over 160,000 likes and 30,000 comments on Facebook. The day the FT visits, a screen shows 12,000 users on the site at that moment. Unique monthly browsers are about 26m, excluding linked sites Student Bible and Sports Bible.
Crowdsourcing content is not new; take You’ve Been Framed!, the television show where viewers send in funny videos. But today people are not sending clips to broadcasters: “We’re getting all the content,” says Mr Solomou.
The business is now looking for the respectability of other viral content producers, such as BuzzFeed, Business Insider and Mashable, which together have raised nearly $100m in venture capital in the past six months.
So far the company behind the Lad Bible, 65twenty, has received no external investment, and says it is now cash-flow positive. “This has been bootstrapped from day one,” says Mr Solomou. Sir Robin Miller, former chief executive of magazine publisher Emap, and Hugh Chappell, founder of technology site TrustedReviews, serve on the board.
A few brands — such as Pot Noodle and Sky’s Now TV — have paid for sponsored content on the site. To attract more of them, it is downplaying its history of misogynistic content.
The site started in 2011 with a set of commandments. One of the more printable is: “Thou shall never drink cider, when reaching the British legal drinking age.” By 2012, it had added anecdotes from readers, mostly sexual, and pictures of women in underwear. By 2013, sport clips had joined the mix.
Most sexist content — including Cleavage Thursday — has been jettisoned. The best posts are now “fun, uplifting, time-relevant, engaging”, says Mr Kalantari. That reflects a change among young people, he says, who no longer want nastiness. One-quarter of the site’s fans are reportedly women. 65twenty has launched a new female-targeted site, Pretty 52. But reader comments on the Lad Bible are still unruly and occasionally offensive.
As it matures, 65twenty has started to pay for rights to some photos. More original content is planned. “Originally we were probably quite reactive, it’s moving to a more proactive behaviour,” says Mr Solomou. It is also cracking down on imitators who call themselves “Bible”.
But unlike BuzzFeed, 65twenty has no plans to invest in first-hand reporting and long-form journalism. Why would it? A week ago, the Lad Bible had 8.1m likes on Facebook. That number has since grown by more than 100,000.
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