AOL Music lasted fifteen years before it was destroyed late last month without warning or much of a funeral. After talking with a survivor (of sorts) from the wreckage, you have to wonder how anyone could last longer than fifteen minutes.
This isn’t to suggest that anyone will miss AOL Music, because few will—its traffic was piddling, its readership scattered. This isn’t to suggest AOL necessarily should have saved its music channel, because AOL is very much a company still struggling to justify its own existence, decades after it stopped being a superpower. It has to cut costs. Like Yahoo, it’ll purge if it wants to live. But according to our source, who spoke anonymously for fear of legal repercussion, the lumbering tech mastodon can’t even bleed itself properly: “we had no idea this was coming.” It’s hard for the staff of anything at any company to attempt a comeback when it doesn’t even know the guillotine is being raised. It didn’t stand a chance. It was a dusty editorial property alongside swaggering obelisks like HuffPo and Engadget—which pull in monstrous amounts of traffic—so to even be noticed was a struggle. “I think we were generally at the bottom of the food chain,” our source said. “We were waiting for a year to be integrated into HuffPost, then we got spun out with a bunch of other sites that Arianna [Huffington] didn't care about.”
If Arianna doesn’t care about you, it’s a hard lot: “Our traffic, like many other AOL sites, had a lot to do with how much we got placed on AOL.com.” Favorable placement might mean a traffic influx—and with enough of those, a website might get enough juice to last another quarter. But getting that crucial placement might as well have gone along with staring at tea leaves and frenzied chanting. No one at AOL helped its constituent parts. No one helped AOL Music rise out of the muck: “I never met a lot of the people in charge of our ad sales, marketing and PR. We drifted along without a boss for a bit, waiting for site redesigns and some more employees to replace ones that had either left for greener pastures or been downsized.” The redesigns didn’t come, and neither did the manpower. Just a hiring freeze. Then a sudden meeting scheduled. They were done—all of them, liquidated. The team had only a few hours to pack up their things, drink a little booze donated by editorial sympathizers, collect severance packages, and turn in their laptops. The question of whether outstanding payments would be doled out to freelance writers who were owed checks had to be battled.
“I really loved working there,” our source says, still. He’ll miss “free sodas, juice and red bull every day in the office, and free beer every Thursday”—perks usually reserved for closers or the startup foolish—and his team. But he won’t miss this:
We were also moved into a training room where they couldn't control the heat for a few months, so we'd be working in fingerless gloves and snuggies provided by the former AOL TV editors. At least we could make our own noise in there.
To the unlucky bunch in that room right now: you might not have to suffer much further. Our source told us "there are more layoffs coming." That's sad, but far more sad that it's an AOL truism, one more slice after many and before many more to come.