A Small Empire Built on Cuddly and Fuzzy Branches Out From the Web
CALENDARS and coffee table books filled with pictures of cute, cuddly kitties and sad-eyed puppies have been around for decades. So what explains the success of Cute Overload, a new page-a-day desk calendar that recently shot to the top of its category on Amazon.com and, more remarkably, to the upper ranks of the site’s overall best-sellers list?
Stranger still, the birth of Cute Overload was almost purely accidental. Meg Frost, a 36-year-old design manager at Apple, started cuteoverload.com three years ago to test Web software. Within months, it became an online institution, drawing about 88,000 unique visitors a day — about the same as the political gossip blog Wonkette. BoingBoing linked to Cute Overload, saying that viewing the site “is like taking a happy pill.”
And in that warm feeling lies the reason for its popularity. Given all the nastiness on the Internet — blog trolls, flame wars, vicious gossip, pornography, snark and spam — what better antidote is there than looking at pictures of tiny ducklings waddling in a line or kittens splayed on their backs, paw pads in the air?
The most famous cute-animal Web sites are presented with a touch of self-mockery. The site I Can Has Cheezburger? (icanhascheezburger.com) features cat pictures with ungrammatical captions, Stuff on My Cat (stuffonmycat.com) displays photos of objects stacked on sleeping cats, and Kittenwars.com pits pairs of cat photos in a cuteness showdown.
Like those sites, Cute Overload is “cute, but not cutesy,” says Ms. Frost. “There’s definitely an edge.”Ms. Frost has not given up her day job at Apple. “I actually love doing both, though it’s pretty crazy,” she said. Viewers send her about 100 submissions a day, and in doing so, grant her full republishing rights, she said. Ms. Frost is free to reuse the photos as she pleases. The calendar’s success may be just the beginning. She hints at other projects, possibly including a video channel.