After a nine-year run, the small but influential website The Awl is shutting down, along with its sister publication The Hairpin. The sites are the latest in a string of small publications to struggle amidst a changing digital-media landscape.
“It is with a mixture of disappointment and relief that we are announcing the cessation of editorial operations on The Awl at the end of this month,” co-founder Alex Balk wrote in a post. “For nearly a decade we followed a dream of building a better Internet, and though we did not manage to do that every day we tried very hard.”
The internet has changed significantly since the Awl was founded, and in ways that make business precarious for small publishers. Web advertising revenues have been declining, with an increasing share going to Facebook and Google, and far larger publications have struggled to stay afloat.
Winning Facebook’s algorithmic lottery can result in a surge of traffic, but the effort can leave sites exposed when the algorithm suddenly changes. (These were trends The Awl itself was quite prescient about.) In 2016, The Awl moved to Medium, but last January, Ev Williams declared that ad-driven media is a “broken system” and The Awl went back to WordPress. Medium has since instituted a system of “claps.”