Autostraddle To Be Acquired By Queer Wellness Company For Them
1:42 PM EDT on August 21, 2023
After a chaotic several months in which the site lost a dozen contractors due to both budget cuts and staff frustration with the handling of those budget cuts, the long-running acclaimed queer blog site Autostraddle has found a way out of its financial predicament. In a press release dated for Aug. 22, obtained by Defector from a third party and confirmed by multiple sources close to Autostraddle, the two-year-old queer wellness company For Them will announce that it will be acquiring Autostraddle in an all-equity deal.
For Them's flagship product is a chic binder for transmascs, which did not make them an obvious candidate as an indie-blog savior. But the Autostraddle pick-up is part of its ambitions in the fields of podcasting, editorial, and app development. For Them's publicist did not respond to multiple direct emails from Defector requesting comment, but according to the release, Autostraddle's A+ premium membership will be folded into For Them's subscription product, called The Playground, upon the acquisition. There won't be a lot of redundancy when they combine. While A+ is a straightforward way to get bonus Autostraddle content, the For Them subscription, in addition to offering discounts and pre-sale access, also advertises "the first gender-tracking app for real time gender evolution using biometric data." The release also states For Them's intent to continue Autostraddle's current podcasts and develop new ones, including a podcast with its founder and CEO Kylo Freeman, to add to its fledgling network.
Last month, I reported on the details of Autostraddle's dire situation. While there's something miraculous in the fact that the influential site managed to survive independently for over 14 years—as so many of its peers died off—the company, particularly since COVID, had been under tremendous financial stress and suffered serious damage to its staff morale following opaque and unpopular leadership decisions. Riese Bernard—co-founder, CEO, and CFO—made the unexpected call to cut three critical contract editors in May, and that set off a chain reaction that led to many contracted writers leaving the site, with those who stayed demanding more accountability from the top. Bernard, who was pinpointed as the source of the workers' confusion and frustration, is staying on at For Them in a "strategic development and editorial role," according to the press release. Bernard did not respond to an email asking for clarification on those responsibilities.
Over the past few days, I've checked in with a handful of writers I had spoken to for last month's piece, and the reaction to the acquisition has been mixed. For those who stayed at Autostraddle, there's relief and optimism, even if it's tempered with the understanding that few media gigs are stable. It does feel as though Autostraddle swerved away from the worst-case scenario of a shutdown and, at the very least, the writers who still call it home will be able to keep doing so for the time being. A couple of those who left, however, pointed to Bernard's continued presence as a trouble spot and an obstacle to repairing the damage of the last few months. Their more melancholy and irked reaction to the news, to me, speaks to the frustrating fact that so many who poured their hearts and souls into their work at Autostraddle ultimately never got any kind of say about its future.
For Them, as a media company owner, is a total unknown. That they're actively trying to maintain work for queer writers and editors points to good intentions. But when the writing and editing isn't necessarily the company's main business, there's always the threat that, after a bad quarter, Freeman could look at the numbers and ask, simply, "Wait, why are we doing blogs?" I think everyone who still wanted to work at Autostraddle, though, would take that more distant threat over the day-to-day uncertainty they've been living with for months (a mindset all too familiar to modern-day media workers). For now at least, against the odds, Autostraddle's survival continues.
Update (8/23, 3:19 p.m. ET): After an outcry from many Autostraddle readers, For Them has removed the phrase "biometric data" from its gender-tracking app's ad copy. In an Instagram comment addressing the concerns, they characterized the app as more of a reflection journal and said "Biometric is likely the wrong word to be used here, and we will course correct to not raise false alarms."