Why John Gruber jumped ship and betrayed 5by5 studios (Updated with Final Comment)


!!!Important: Please read the final comment at the end of this post before deciding if you wish to continue reading the whole piece.

This incident has happened more than 3 weeks ago, and while it seems silly to write about it after most of the online hate towards gruber has died down, I simply can’t bring myself to write this piece when I was feeling so angry myself.

I have to admit, the only reason why I know about 5by5’s existence was because of The Talk Show (I have a previous post on 5by5), and that was probably why Gruber thought that he deserved a piece of 5by5 simply for being involved early, despite doing no part of the hard work that went into the creation of 5by5 Studios.

The Talk Show was definitely the first show that Dan ever did on 5by5, but it was most definitely not the best, as 5by5 listeners know. It was definitely the “original” 5by5 show, which was why almost everyone but the Gruber haters subscribed to the show, making it the most popular show on the network.

However, at least for me, The Talk Show was interesting because of these reasons, in order of importance;

1. The presence of Dan Benjamin.

Simply the main reason why I love 5by5. Dan is charming, witty, really interesting and has a great voice. He is a talented host, and is why I always enjoyed the 5by5 shows with him on as a host more than the shows without, like the incomparable.

2. It was on my list of subscribed podcasts on Instacast since a long long time ago.

3. Information on rumors about Apple from an “insider’s point of view”.

For John Gruber is Daring Fireball. However, with Amplified on 5by5 now Jim Dalrymple (of The Loop) is serving this purpose, to a greater extent since Jim is a much nicer host than Gruber is and will always make the effort to explain in detail, rather than Gruber who always seem disinterested in everything except his own food. One have to wonder if the presence of Amplified played any slight part on the decision of Gruber jumping ship, since he knows he’s marginalized on the network, with hardcore fans preferring every other 5by5 Apple-related show to his.

4. John Gruber being disinterested and making a lot of noises during the show.

You’ll have to agree that his antics are somewhat interesting.

With his new show on mule radio, one can only expect Apple info as the only thing he can bring to the table, that is if you managed to get through his rabbling and the total mess that is the new talk show.

How it went down

One thing that was very obvious was that Dan Benjamin was really the greatest victim here. As listeners of the very last episode would have suspected, Dan Benjamin knew nothing about Gruber’s plans, and that Gruber gave Dan the news only after the recording of episode 90. Throughout the show, Gruber sounded normal and was acting that the show will just continue next week, without even any subtle hint of the shit he was going to pull on Dan Benjamin. As evident from the comments on his new talk show, his fans are not going to forgive him for deceiving them.

As for Dan, it was obvious that he has no idea during the show, for who in the right mind will start selling The Talk Show t-shirts during the very last episode of The Talk Show? He would have much better sales than the 100 plus orders he got for The Talk Show t-shirt if he went with Hypercritical instead.

What is The Talk Show?

Gruber seemed to think that the property called “The Talk Show” totally belonged to him alone and that he did all the work. He claims (especially in Episode 2 of the new talk show) that there were in total 3 runs of The Talk Show, and that the current one that he is doing by himself is the third run.

In actual fact, The Talk Show was created solely by Dan Benjamin, the very first run was a format where he invited different guests to be on each show, many of whom happened to be Gruber. He then started a second run of The Talk Show with Gruber that ran periodically and spanned about 30 episodes. And finally, the 90-episode The Talk Show on 5by5 was actually the third run, and not the second run as Gruber claims. The truth seems to be that Gruber simply offered some comments as well as the artwork for the second season of The Talk Show (the 30-episode run before 5by5) and thus claimed ownership despite Dan being the one to do most of the marketing and the hard work that goes into the preparations of every single show, not to mention how he has been constantly giving in to anything Gruber demands on air.

Dan released a short statement on 5by5 Specials on Gruber’s taking of The Talk Show (a property in which Dan put in a lot of hard work to build up) and jumping ship. The guy actually bothered to wish Gruber luck after Gruber jumped ship without any advance warning or any chance for Dan to tie up any loose ends.

Why Gruber is being hated for his betrayal

John Gruber has no reason to keep doing a show with 5by5 if he is not happy, and everyone knows that. However, the problem with his betrayal is his taking of The Talk Show. Out of his current almost 400 1-star ratings (out of 600 in total) of the new talk show on iTunes, almost everyone took issue with the fact that he named the new show the talk show, and that new show simply isn’t “The Talk Show” because of its total lack of quality content. Even Gruber’s own friends and guests on the new talk show, including @lonelysandwich Adam Lisagor, repeatedly advised him to change the name of the show because they don’t agree with his use of the talk show name in his new show.

Yet Gruber, being the massively egoistic guy he is, stubbornly refused. “The Daring Fireball Podcast” would have made a much better name for his new podcast.

Why Gruber jumped ship, and why Mule Radio (MRS)?

This part can best be answered by a single post on Quora, by a “Anon User” who is assumed to be someone in the loop of stuff happening at 5by5, who remains anonymous for obvious reasons.

In his own words;

John Gruber left 5by5 for Mule Radio because of money, and/or potential money. And by potential money, I mean a stake in MRS.

Here’s how I think it went down. Many months ago Dan started to talk about releasing an iPhone app for 5by5. At first he talked about it being free, then Marco Arment said he should charge $1 to avoid getting negative feedback. Dan started to come around to this idea. He enlisted Black Pixel to make the app, then realized that since there’s a lot of competition (instacast), he should do something that no one can do. And what no one could do was a live streaming app for 5by5. My guess is that Black Pixel wasn’t actually hired by Dan to do the app. They were doing it on their own. Sort of an app that could be rebranded by any podcast network. This is why when Dan decided on the new style app with streaming, he couldn’t go to BP anymore, and he had to find a new developer. The BP app was then released by Mule Radio and is free. Presumably BP still owns the rights to that app, and will rebrand it for anyone willing to pony up the cash. So as I was saying, Dan enlisted a new developer and decided to charge $3 for the app because this app was costing him a bunch of cash to develop. This might be where Gruber started to get annoyed. Then around the same time Dan released The Talk Show t-shirts so they could be out in time for wwdc. Clearly trying to play on Gruber’s popularity. I believe this is where Gruber decided to approach Dan about compensation. I think Dan offered Gruber some compensation, but Gruber was not happy with that amount. It’s very possible that Gruber said that since he played a major role in the current success of 5by5, that he should be compensated more than any of the other hosts. I also believe Gruber asked for a percentage stake in 5by5 and Dan refused. Gruber was angry and decided to stick it to Dan very publicly by taking the talk show and moving it to Mule Radio. Which incidentally is owned by Mike Monteiro, someone who has already stuck it Dan. Mike originally had a show on 5by5 before he moved that show to his own network. Mike actually paid Dan to have that show on 5by5. I believe the figure was $1000 a month. It was advertising for Mike. He paid Dan and got tons of earballs. Then when the show got some traction, he left 5by5 and started Mule. Very slick move. Devious, but slick. So anyhow, Gruber approached Mike and said give me a stake in Mule, and I’ll do for you, what I did for 5by5. Mike agreed, and boom, The Talk Show on MRS.

Top 10 tactical moves, facts, opinions, etc, that prove this is about money.

10. Gruber makes money from 5by5, but not enough that he couldn’t risk it for a stake in a new network.

9. While we’ve heard many times from people who sell t-shirts that they don’t make any money at all, I know for a fact they do. The T-shirts were $24 each. They were 1 color ink and Dan used a fulfillment company for shipping. Fulfillment companies usually charge shipping plus 20%. Maybe 30%. So on a $24 shirt that’s 4.80-$7.20. Call it $5-$7 bucks. A 1 color t-shirt costs 8 bucks to make. And that’s a high number. Especially if the fulfillment company is the one making the shirt. So as far as I can tell Dan would be making around 10 dollars a shirt. Gruber knows this cause he does his own shirts and sells them for $29. Which funnily enough, he just started selling today http://daringfireball.net/linked…

8. The T-shirts are The Talk Show branded. And seeing as how Gruber now has The Talk Show on Mule, he has the rights to that name. Therefore, Gruber should be receiving compensation for the use of his name on the shirt. Which he might have (Ryu: Dan posted on twitter stating that each host, including gruber, will receive 50% of the profits of the t-shirts). But maybe not enough.

7. Gruber posts a list of the talk show sponsors on Daring Fireball each week. This is worth almost as much as the daring fireball sponsorship which he currently sells for $7500 a week. I bet this played a major part in the negotiations.

6. The app has been doing extremely well. And unlike t-shirts, it’s always up for sale. If Gruber believes he had a hand in the current success of 5by5, then he believes he should have a cut of that money. I don’t believe any hosts are receiving a cut of that money.

5. Is Gruber going to make himself look like a complete dick for a few grand extra a year? No. He’s going to risk looking like a dick for potentially a lot more.

4. Gruber can’t make a lot more money as a host by going with Mule over 5by5. Mule has no reach right now.

3. If we believe that both 5 and 4 are true, then one can only assume that Mike gave Gruber a percentage in the network.

2. Gruber is currently the only host on 5by5 whose popularity could rival the popularity of the entire 5by5 network. And if that’s true, then it’s going to be extremely difficult for Gruber to make a lot more money on 5by5 by just being a host. It would make sense for him to move to Mule, take a stake in the network, and try and build it to a size that rivals 5by5.

1. Gruber’s head is massive.


I’d also like to say that I’m a huge 5by5 supporter and I’m glad Gruber left. He’s just too arrogant to be on there. Every host is kind to listeners except him. What’s interesting is I don’t like Mike either. He’s even more arrogant than Gruber. I think they make a really great team.

Long live Hypercritical.


UPDATE 5-21-12:

Dan Benjamin released a short, but very telling statement in a special today. You can listen to it here http://5by5.tv/specials/6

Some things that we can all take from this statement:
1. It was very classy the way he did it. But he definitely got in a few good digs, that I believe are completely warranted.
2. It’s obvious that Gruber was not fired, let go, or asked to leave 5by5 because of his show attendance track record. Gruber actually posted something on DF that I believe was him trying to insinuate that he was fired, and that he’s not at fault. He didn’t come out and say it, because it’s not true, but he insinuated it. That post is here http://daringfireball.net/linked…

3. Some people have stated that Dan could have had issues with sponsors if the talk show didn’t air, but it doesn’t seem like that was a problem now. Or if it was, it wasn’t the reason for the break-up.
4. Dan said that if “the arrangement wasn’t working” that they’d talk about it. Which I take to mean that the dollars weren’t working or the format/Dan wasn’t working, he could have said something. I’d also like to point out that this is the only thing Dan mentioned as a possible issue Gruber had for leaving. Therefore, I assume Dan knows it was one of these things.
5. Dan said he was upset that they couldn’t give the talk show a proper send off, which means that Gruber just said he’s done and would like to move on. And since we know 4 is true, then we know that Gruber gave no explanation why he left. This means that Gruber was pissed about something.
6. We know the format changed when Gruber moved to MRS, but this can’t be the reason for moving because Dan stated that Gruber didn’t approach him about leaving. Everyone knows that if Gruber said to him that he wanted to discontinue the talk show and start a new show with him having guests and doing interviews, Dan would have said yes without hesitation. Gruber knows this. This means Gruber left for another reason. Money.
Conclusion – I believe I was right about the reason Gruber left, but unless Dan is not telling us something, which is totally possible, there wasn’t a long talk about that reason. This makes sense cause Gruber does seem like the guy that would just grab his toys and go home if he was pissed.
One last thought before I end this. I’ve always thought that Gruber being an asshole on the talk show was a bit of an act. He’d talk over Dan all the time. Never laugh at anything he says, which in a show like this, even if the joke was’t incredibly funny, you laugh anyway cause it brings the audience in. You ever laugh at a friend cause he said something, and is laughing at what he said, but you have no idea what he meant? It’s cause you feel like you want to be involved in the moment. This is why you laugh at the co-host’s joke, even it’s not that funny. Dan is a funny guy though, but that’s beside the point. So as I was saying, I always thought the asshole Gruber was an act. But in seeing how this all went down, I’m starting to think that the asshole Gruber is not an act and Gruber is really just an asshole.

I suspect the details in his post are almost 99% accurate. Gruber himself sort of confirmed the accusations in his second episode when he revealed that he was unhappy with Dan for a long time for “business reasons”, probably because Dan refused to give Gruber a piece of 5by5.

So what now?

Gruber is probably going to continue his new show without changing the name despite the universal hate in the form of iTunes ratings. He’s just that. Besides Mike Monteiro and Mule Radio is giving Gruber a lot of money, including sponsoring his wife’s expenses to WWDC it seems, as Gruber’s twitter has revealed recently.

Eventually people will forget and move on, and Gruber’s new talk show will probably do okay simply because of the Daring Fireball brand, and all he will probably lose is some fans and some t-shirt sales, which won’t really matter to him.

I was a long-time John Gruber fan, and have personally bought Daring Fireball t-shirts, but I have to say that this incident pissed me off a whole lot. Gruber was always a prick, but had always been a lovable prick rather than an arsehole. Now he’s just a prick. I’ve downgraded from being a “fan” to merely a “reader”.

Just like what some of his fans have emailed him,


P.S. Gruber published yet another post about the new talk show, which does show that he knows that his new show is getting really bad response and it’s not going to be profitable in the long run if things go on. He even revealed that ad slots for the next two shows are only half-filled, which is poor for a show of this repute. His PR rescue attempt (by thanking Dan) with no doubt bring some of his die hard fans back to the new talk show, but if he was really sincere, he did not have to wait this long to do it.

It was totally obvious that the amount of bad response was too much for him.

P.P.S Maybe I was too harsh on John. Can’t be bothered about this issue anymore. Old news. This is the last time I’ll update this post (probably).

Final Comment (May 2015): It has been years since this piece was released, based upon the original comment on Quora, and bits of information have emerged since then to paint a quite different picture from the Quora post, that personally I am no longer convinced that the original piece is that believable after all. I will not say it is completely wrong, but as with all things there are accuracies and inaccuracies. Dan Benjamin may not have been that much of a “victim”, and John Grubber definitely is not the bad guy here. His taking of The Talk Show completely off podcast networks a year after jumping from 5by5 was definitely the best thing for the podcast.

Besides, much have happened since then, and 5by5 is no longer the choice of network for podcasts for many of us Mac people, with the Apple mainstay now being Amplified, which Dan Benjamin has largely ignored possibly due to the lack of listenership compared to some of his other podcasts. While it seems more appropriate to take down this article, I do not have the practice of doing so (erasing posts that I have deemed inaccurate after posting), so I will leave it here with this final comment, which I will no longer update.

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