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For the first two years that I edited personal essays, I received at least a hundred first-person pitches and pieces each week.But an ad-based publishing model built around maximizing page views quickly and cheaply creates uncomfortable incentives for writers, editors, and readers alike.

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Sarah Hepola, who worked as Salon’s personal-essay editor, described the situation to me in an e-mail.

“The boom in personal essays—at Salon, at least, but I suspect other places—was in part a response to an online climate where more content was needed at the exact moment budgets were being slashed.” When I worked as an editor at the Hairpin and Jezebel, from 2013 to 2016, I saw up close how friendly editors and ready audiences could implicitly encourage writers to submit these pieces in droves.

One could “take a safari” through various personal-essay habitats—Gawker, Jezebel, xo Jane, Salon, Buzz Feed Ideas—and conclude that they were more or less the same, she argued.

While she granted that not all first-person writing on the Internet was undignified, there were far too many “solo acts of sensational disclosure” that read like “reverse-engineered headlines.”The market, in Bennett’s view, had overinflated.

These essays began to proliferate several years ago—precisely when is hard to say, but we can, I think, date the beginning of the boom to 2008, the year that Emily Gould wrote a first-person cover story, called “Exposed,” for the , which was about, as the tagline put it, what she gained and lost from writing about her intimate life on the Web.

Blowback followed, and so did an endless supply of imitations.She was right: a year and a half later, it barely exists.Buzz Feed Ideas shut down at the end of 2015, Gawker and xo Jane in 2016; Salon no longer has a personal-essays editor.As Silvia Killingsworth, who was previously the managing editor of and took over the Awl and the Hairpin last year, put it to me, “People love to talk about themselves, and they were given a platform and no rules.” Then the invisible hand of the page-view economy gave them a push: Web sites generated ad revenue in direct proportion to how many “eyeballs” could be attracted to their offerings, and editorial budgets had contracted in the wake of the recession.The forms that became increasingly common—flashy personal essays, op-eds, and news aggregation—were those that could attract viral audiences on the cheap.Personal essays have evidently been deemed not worth the trouble.Even those of us who like the genre aren’t generally mourning its sudden disappearance from the mainstream of the Internet.Attention flows naturally to the outrageous, the harrowing, the intimate, and the recognizable, and the online personal essay began to harden into a form defined by identity and adversity—not in spite of how tricky it is to negotiate those matters in front of a crowd but precisely because of that fact.The commodification of personal experience was also women’s territory: the small budgets of popular women-focussed Web sites, and the rapidly changing conventions and constrictions surrounding women’s lives, insured it.When I began writing on the Internet, I wrote personal essays for free.For some writers, these essays led to better-paying work.

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