Sarah Palin’s Publisher Suing Gawker: Are the Pageviews Worth the Price? (UPDATED)


HarperCollins is suing Gawker Media for publishing excerpts of Sarah Palin’s new autobiography, America by Heart, before its release date. On Thursday, Palin tweeted: “The publishing world is LEAKING out-of-context excerpts of my book w/out my permission? Isn’t that illegal?” Gawker’s response was expectantly flippant, but Palin’s publisher, an arm of the News Corp. media giant, agreed and filed a complaint on Friday alleging copyright infringement. Gawker Media keeps getting sued; is it worth it?

HarperCollins has said they “believe that the reprinting of pages from Governor Palin’s book without permission constitutes a blatant infringement of copyright” and indicated that their cease and desist letter was ignored. Still, the process of printing early book excerpts is common, mostly because book stores get their shipments early and end up selling them. In fact, “The Associated Press bought a copy of the book ahead of its Nov. 23 release date.”

Of course, Gawker keeps an in-house lawyer for situations like these, but for a post of this scale, its worth must be questioned. Peter Kafka of MediaMemo lays it out:

[T]he Palin book has attracted very little attention, at least by the published metrics that Gawker displays next to each post: As of Saturday morning, the excerpts had attracted a mere 52,000 views.

That’s pretty small beans by Gawker standards. A piece published Friday, for instance, which purports to detail John Travolta’s “secret sex life”, has nearly double the traffic, at 90,000 views.

The difference here is that while Travolta’s sex life stinks of a post Gawker paid for (as they’re known to do), the Palin stuff could have come from Barnes & Noble for under $20.

Still, it’s worth thinking about Gawker’s penchant for bending rules and how it affects their purse. When the company is sued, it always makes news; less discussed are the outcomes.

For instance, the sex tape of a Grey’s Anatomy star, as Kafka notes, picked up nearly 4 million pageviews, but Gawker Media eventually settled a lawsuit and was forced to remove the video and pay undisclosed damages which might have included “whatever profits Gawker earned as a result of the video.” Reporting after the fact about the specifics was all but nonexistant. When Nick Denton’s site settled with gallery owner Keya Morgan over the summer, terms were again kept quiet, but Morgan said, “I have a smile on my face.” And that was that.

Denton has been open in saying that when paying for information, he’s willing to spend “$10 per thousand new visitors.” When it comes to the courtroom — and secretive settlements — the math might be a tad tougher. In other words, we may never know the answer to the question “Was it worth it?” at least in dollars and cents, but we are buzzing. And while keeping Gawker on our tongues isn’t invaluable, it’s up there.

Update: Gawker pulled the excerpts after a federal court order.