ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
As part of a series on how self-employed people make ends meet, we asked Curtis how he turned a passion for odd stories into a business. NPR's Frank Langfitt has our report.
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FRANK LANGFITT: Drew Curtis arrives around 9:00 a.m. at a local radio station, where he's a regular guest.
ZR: ZRock 103 (Unintelligible) the ZRock Morning Show. Ladies and gentlemen, straight out of Versailles, Kentucky. The man, the myth, the legend, the greatest news blog of all time, Fark. That's F-A-R-K.com. Please, welcome to the program. Drew Curtis from Fark.com. What's up, brother?
DREW CURTIS: Unidentified Man #1: Good. How are you doing, man?
CURTIS: I don't think there's enough coffee in the world to help me out this morning.
LANGFITT: Curtis is here to promote Fark, which gets about a million and a half page views a day. He flips open his laptop and combs the Web site for the offbeat stories he knows will make Twitch and his listeners laugh.
LANGFITT: A local man - it looks like Kansas City - wants police to pay for damage to a home he's restoring because officers used the residence because they thought it was vacant for a training exercise.
CURTIS: Unidentified Man #1: They kicked in the door. They busted up the door jam.
LANGFITT: Curtis began his workday at 7 o'clock at a coffee shop called Common Grounds.
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LANGFITT: He arrives in a red sweatshirt and a pair of jeans. With his receding hairline, he looks like Charlie Brown on the edge of middle age. Curtis rips through the news links that volunteers have sent him overnight.
CURTIS: Now, here's the one I started early that I thought it was, kind of, funny. The harsh glare of flashbulbs can bring a lot of things into focus, especially nipples - gallery of 97 transparent celebrities. Read them and weep.
LANGFITT: Now, who's posted this?
CURTIS: Last night when I was up playing soccer and drinking beer, there's two guys in Colorado and one in California that were doing it. And the last guy that went to bed was the guy in California, Steve(ph), who's a night owl, so he probably went to bed about a couple of hours ago.
LANGFITT: Curtis doesn't charge for Fark, a name, which he says has no special meaning. Instead, Curtis makes money through ads. He explains by walking me through the site. Curtis points to a banner ad and then.
CURTIS: This right here (Unintelligible) classified ads and that's probably like the best buy in advertising right there. And in this particular case, we charge like $40 a week.
LANGFITT: And how much will you make off of classifieds in a year?
CURTIS: If it's a straight up average each, maybe $40,000 or something like that probably.
LANGFITT: He also has a paid subscription service called Total Fark.
CURTIS: What we decided to do was charge people $5 a month. They can read everything that gets submitted to the site all day long. It's not a very compelling thing, as it turns out. Hardly anybody signed up for it. And then, later on, what happened was this little mini-community kind of formed behind it, which was really interesting.
LANGFITT: They began posting comments on all kinds of topics. Curtis says he's now got at least 2,000 of what he calls Total Farkers. That's another $120,000 a year. But most of his revenue comes from a few major advertisers like Kawasaki and Old Spice.
CURTIS: We're going after the big fish at this stage.
LANGFITT: The problem, most big fish have never heard of Fark. So Curtis has written a book based on the Web site. The subtitle? "How Mass Media Tries to Pass Off Crap as News." Of course, that's the same mass media on which he's built his livelihood. The book comes out at the end of this month. Curtis hopes it will catapult him onto national talk shows, where he can brand Fark.
CURTIS: Now I've got the license to, you know, contact, you know, Jay Leno or Fresh Air and raise the profile of the site, get advertisers to realize, hey, there's this Web site out there that we never heard of. And we should - we really need to advertise with this guy.
LANGFITT: If it sounds like Curtis is making a bundle, he insists his expenses are high. He pays several workers a total of up to $200,000 a year to handle his servers, do Web design and police the site. He says he spends at least another $150,000 on lawyers for advice on contracts and libel. And last year, Curtis says, Fark actually lost money. On the plus side, living outside Lexington, where he has had two other businesses, is a lot cheaper than Silicon Valley.
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LANGFITT: He lives in a two-bedroom, red brick house with his wife, Heather, and two kids. It's next to a horse farm. The mortgage is just 800 bucks a month. He pays himself $60,000 a year.
CURTIS: I keep it low because there is more money in the bank but I'm waiting to get sued. It is just a matter of time for somebody comes after us. The last thing I want to do is be sitting there at zero. Lesson learned from business number one: Don't expand out as far as you can. Actually, sit back. You know, get a little bit of a cushion built off and then, kind of, go from there.
LANGFITT: That cushion is now about $140,000. Fark allows Heather to stay home with their young sons, Chance and Storm, who at the moment is pulling a toy train across the kitchen floor. Heather is thrilled by the growth of Fark but knows it's fragile.
HEATHER CURTIS: I don't worry in a daily basis but if I start to think about it, I start getting worried because the entertainment industry is pretty fickle. You know, people could find another site they like better and just, kind of, slowly disappear.
LANGFITT: For the moment, though, Fark is still pretty popular. Fans throw parties around the country, like this one at a bar in Washington, D.C. When Curtis shows up, Farkers mobbed him.
STEVE HANLON: I've been told I look strikingly like you so...
CURTIS: So how does it look with the receding hairline?
HANLON: Exactly. So we need to get a picture.
CURTIS: Yeah, absolutely.
LANGFITT: Steven Hanlon, an IT worker, is among the dozens who turned out tonight. Hanlon likes Fark because it's a place where he can talk freely about the news of the day.
HANLON: I'm on there simply because the things you can't say at work, you can't have the conversations anymore. You can have it on the Internet. It's anonymous. You get to vent. You get to straighten out everything that's wrong with your day. And then you get to laugh at all the hysteria that everyone else is dealing what's wrong with their day.
LANGFITT: Frank Langfitt, NPR News.
SIEGEL: Strictly speaking, Drew Curtis will tell you that Fark is not really a blog. It's what's called a news aggregation site, where someone puts together lots of different stories of common interest. But the bloggersphere is still expanding - more than 12 million American adults keep a blog. That's according to a study last year by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. The vast majority see blogging as a hobby, not a business. Most people view their blogs as personal journals not places to find news - serious or weird. And more than half of all bloggers are under 30 or at least four years younger than Drew Curtis.
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