Ain’t It Cool’s Harry Knowles: The Cash-Strapped King of the Nerds Plots a Comeback
The founder of the once-renegade movie site, who earned the admiration of Peter Jackson and Steve Jobs, is struggling for money and relevance in the wild media landscape he helped to create.
This story first appeared in the April 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter  magazine.
It was July 2012, and Harry Knowles was working up a sweat. Eighteen months earlier, the creator-owner-figurehead of Ain’t It Cool News collapsed and had back surgery to treat the effects of spinal stenosis, a chronic condition stemming in part from a 1996 fall that left him intermittently reliant on a wheelchair. So now he was walking on a treadmill at a clinic near his Austin home as part of his physical therapy.
His phone rang. Still trudging, Knowles answered. It was Roland De Noie, his business manager.
“I really f—ed up,” said De Noie in a panic. “It’s all my fault.” He had discovered that Ain’t It Cool News — the website Knowles started in his Texas bedroom that grew to be the scourge of Hollywood, redefined the nature and pace of entertainment journalism and turned an overweight, ginger-haired self-diagnosed movie nerd into the face of a geek nation on the rise — owed about $300,000 in unpaid taxes. While Ain’t It Cool News had been making $700,000 a year in gross advertising revenue at its height in the early- to mid-2000s, that had dipped to the low-six figures by 2012. The business had no cash reserves and no way to pay the bills. Its bank account had been seized. “We’re not going to be able to get out of this one,” said De Noie.
Knowles tried to get his childhood friend to explain, but there was no simple answer. It was the advertising slowdown or bad business practices or horrible decisions or a combination of all three. But the fact remained that Ain’t It Cool News was bleeding out.