An M.D. Trades Medicine for Apple Rumors Blog
For eight years, Arnold Kim has been trading gossip, rumor and facts about Apple, the notoriously secretive computer company, on his Web site, MacRumors.com.
It had been a hobby — albeit a time-consuming one — while Dr. Kim earned his medical degree. He kept at it as he completed his medical training and began diagnosing patients’ kidney problems. Dr. Kim’s Web site now attracts more than 4.4 million people and 40 million page views a month, according to Quantcast, making it one of the most popular technology Web sites.
It is enough to make Dr. Kim hang up his stethoscope. This month he stopped practicing medicine and started blogging full time.
“In some ways I’ve neglected the site for so long,” he said in a telephone interview. “Now that I actually have a chance to work on it full time, there’s a good chance it can grow more.”
Dr. Kim epitomizes the home-grown publishers whose wealth has been enabled by the Internet. Although few of the millions of blogs ever make their creators rich, the ones that do provide all the incentive necessary to fuel the medium.
A question Dr. Kim often fields from friends and associates is, “How does that make money?” He answered the question in an entry on his personal blog last month. It can all be “boiled down to one simple accomplishment: building traffic,” he wrote. “That’s it. If you have a site that attracts a lot of visitors, you will be able to make money. On the Internet, traffic equals power, which subsequently equals money.”
When Dr. Kim, who lives just outside Richmond, Va., began blogging about Apple in 2000, the word blog had not entered the lexicon. Creating anything beyond a bare-bones Web site required programming skills and tech knowledge. Dr. Kim, a computer science major at Columbia University, had the know-how. He also knew that almost everyone enjoys an advance look at future products.
He envisioned MacRumors as an aggregator of all the rumors and hints that appeared on message boards and other Web sites. “The rumor reports have probably been more right than wrong over the years,“ he said.
Given Apple’s penchant for secrecy, the company inspires a lot of speculation in the technology industry. Apple enthusiasts dissect every product rumor the way political pundits do political sound bites.
As one of the original Web sites about Apple, MacRumors was well positioned to become a destination for users and a clearinghouse for gossip. MacRumors “knows more about Apple than Apple management does,” the blog 24/7 Wall St. declared last spring.
The site placed MacRumors No. 2 on a list of the “25 most valuable blogs,” right behind Gawker Media and ahead of The Huffington Post, PerezHilton.com, and TechCrunch. Two of the other tech-oriented blogs on its list, Ars Technica and PaidContent, were sold earlier this year, reportedly for sums in excess of $25 million.
Ars Technica reaches an estimated three million people a month, according to Quantcast. PaidContent and its three associated blogs reach about half a million people, but earn additional revenue through conferences and seminars. Since MacRumors attracts a far larger audience, those valuations would suggest Dr. Kim has created a very valuable piece of Web real estate.
Dr. Kim is not a millionaire blogger yet, and given the slumping online advertising market, he faces some hurdles as he expands the site. But he has reason to be optimistic.
Stepping away from medicine felt somewhat strange, he admits. Dr. Kim was bringing home a six-figure income as a doctor, but he recognized that blogging was becoming more lucrative. He says the site also yields a six-figure income for him.
About three years ago, through a combination of Google text advertising, banner ads and commissions on product sales, MacRumors started turning a substantial profit. While Apple is obviously not an advertiser, other technology-oriented companies are, including Verizon , the online audio-book store Audible.com and the information technology products company CDW.
Still, he hesitated to make it a full-time job because he enjoyed medicine — and he had invested almost $200,000 in his education. But he finally concluded that “on paper, it was an easy decision.” He also had a practical reason for wanting the ability to work from home. Her name is Penelope, and she is 14 months old.
When he told his father, also a doctor, about the decision, Dr. Kim was pleased that “he was very supportive of it, which was sort of surprising to me.”
For Dr. Kim, figuring out which rumors are real and which are mere dreams is the fun part.
“It is sort of a gut feeling,” he acknowledged, adding that most of the images of future Apple products that circulate on message boards are fakes. Sometimes he will post suspicious images with a caveat about their authenticity.
On one memorable occasion, he said, Apple accidentally raised the curtain on a new Mac on its Web site a week ahead of the official announcement, leading to a free-for-all on MacRumors’ message boards and some urgent phone calls from the company.
Dr. Kim has worked in relative anonymity. For many years, readers knew him only by his user name, “arn.” (“If I really wanted to hide, I could have done a better job,” he said. He eventually added his full name so he could receive media credentials for conferences.)
Dr. Kim is branching out beyond MacRumors. He helps run a spinoff Web site, Touch Arcade, that tracks the new games available for the iPhone and iPod Touch. But he is remaining coy about his other expansion plans. Apple, it seems, is not the only company trying to keep secrets.