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Fusion has hired stars and spent millions, but is anyone reading it?

Walmart, San Bruno, CAWalmart, San Bruno, CA
The network operations center, located inside Walmart’s global e-commerce headquarters in San Bruno, Calif., tracks order volume, site traffic, and social media activity in real time around the world.Courtesy of Walmart

There’s been a lot of turmoil in the online-media world over the past few months, what with Gigaom shutting down (and then apparently being re-born), Re/code being acquired by Vox and The Huffington Post and TechCrunch now owned by Verizon. Part of what led Re/code’s founders to seek shelter was an awareness of the increasing stakes in the publishing business, where even 6 million unique visitors a month — the number Gigaom had before it shut down — isn’t enough to guarantee success.

So where then does that leave Fusion, the ambitious joint effort from Disney/ABC and Univision? So far, the media company has spent tens of millions over the past year, in part on hiring a team of star writers, but appears to have very little to show for it.

According to a leaked screenshot of Fusion’s web traffic that was posted by Gawker, the site had less than 35 readers looking at its top story on a recent day. The screenshot comes from a widely-used analytical tool called Chartbeat, which shows how many readers are on the site at any given moment, and how many are reading each post.

Fusion traffic chart
Gawker Media

 

If the screenshot is accurate, then Fusion had less than 700 people on its website reading any of its stories, and the top story — about the dark side of amateur pornography — had just 32 people reading. Many of the top news sites would have 10 or 100 times as many readers for their main story on a given news day. Gawker posted its own Chartbeat graph in the comments below its post, and its Fusion story had more than 1,200 concurrent readers.

Late last year, Fusion seemed full of promise: the company was hiring a number of leading writers and editors, such as former Atlantic editor Alexis Madrigal and former Reuters writer Felix Salmon, and was spending fairly large sums of money in order to do so. It recently got another $30 million in funding from its backers, and now has 250 employees in five offices.

As a recent piece in the New York Times pointed out, however, the vision for what Fusion is supposed to be, or who it is supposed to appeal to, is murky. The original idea was to try and attract young Latino and Hispanic readers and viewers, but that has since broadened to include millennials as a whole — a market that everyone from Vice News to Snapchat claim to have a lock on. Salmon said when he joined that Fusion would be “post text.”

Starting a brand new website and publishing venture is not easy, obviously. And Fusion and its financial backers may feel that they are getting enough value out of their staff in other ways apart from just raw traffic to their website — and giving the company $30 million more suggests they have confidence in its vision. But in what has become an even more high-pressure marketplace for online media, numbers like the ones above are probably not going to help anyone sleep easily.

Update: After this piece was published, Fusion editor-in-chief Alexis Madrigal posted a screenshot of his own that he said showed the number of users the site got last month—a number over 5 million. A Fusion spokesman confirmed that the screenshot came from the site’s Google Analytics dashboard, and said that it has doubled its traffic since February.

Fusion tweet

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