PEEK AT PUSSY FOR THE RIGHT PRICE

Do I look fat in these pants?

Attention all you who like cats, stuff and stuff on cats: the Web site StuffOnMyCat is up for sale. Mario Garza, the Web site’s creator, was 20 years old when he started the site. Four years and 20,000 JPEGS of felines later, he’s decided that enough is enough. Garza wants to go to school. He wants not to have thousands of unopened cat-photo e-mails in his mailbox, awaiting his attention. He wants to pass the Web site on to someone who is truly, madly, deeply in love with cats.

And with the putting of stuff — hair curlers, or spaghetti, or bras, or beer cans or plastic alligators — on top of them.

“I’m not exactly sure what we want for it yet,” he says via phone from his home in Portland, Oregon. “We haven’t thrown out any figures so far. I’ve never had to sell a site before. I’ve talked to a few Web site brokers who can appraise it.” The problem is that Web site brokers can’t account for StuffOnMyCat’s other considerable assets: the rights to the 5,000 unpublished photos jamming his Inbox, the StuffOnMyCat books, the notepads, calendars, shirts, stationery, journals, stickers — the whole kit and caboodle that encompasses the brand.

At its 2006 peak, StuffOnMyCat.com was getting hundreds of thousands of hits a day. For a while, it was one of the top 100 blogs in the world. Depending on which Web site broker you plug the domain name into, the price tag for the site alone varies from $20,000 to $400,000.

“I was worried that people would revolt. I was terrified,” he says of his decision to sell. “But the fans were cool. They’re such a nice crowd.”

Garza has received offers from companies affiliated with cats, from retired folks looking for a second career. From the very young to the very old. From scientists and businessmen to cat fanatics plain and simple.

You’d think you couldn’t pay someone enough to stare at hundreds of cat photos all day, every day. But you can. Funny cat pictures have become a lucrative business. The two StuffOnMyCat books published by Chronicle Books netted Garza $85,000 and $100,000 advances, respectively.

Though he is “really, really unsure” of how the sale process works, Garza imagines that one could mathematically break down the total price and see how much money went into making the books, how many books sold, how many photos were in each book and arrive at an actual cost per cat photo.

Any number of metrics could be applied in determining the site’s overall value. The hardcore, however, will always believe the photos are priceless. Pictures of cats doing funny things (known in Internet vernacular as “lolcats” or “LOLcats”) are like catnip to a certain segment of the Web-browsing populace. The biggest lolcats sites popped up shortly after StuffOnMyCat, including the ICanHasCheezburger juggernaut, long acknowledged as the genre’s definitive site. “Oh, their site is huge, with employees and all kinds of stuff going on,” Garza says. “They were doing way more traffic.”

And like catnip, their hypnotic effect eventually wears off. Yet somehow, you keep on coming back.

“I don’t know what’s worse,” an anonymous online commenter writes, “the fact that this site exists in the first place, the fact that there’s someone out there somewhere who’s dying to buy it, or the fact that I’ve just willingly spent the past 15 minutes looking at pictures of cats with stuff on them.”

Of the handful of friends and family who help him to run the site, he is the only one who actually owns a feline friend. “People assume I’m a supercat guy, but I’m not. There are people who are way more into it than me.”

Garza’s site began humbly and bizarrely. “I put some stuff on my cat. I put it on a Web site, and it took off.”

His cat was getting old. She was lazy. She would just lie around. He would put stuff on her to see how long she would stay. He made a game of it. Then Garza saw other people who put stuff on their cat and thought, “Well, there’s proof.”

His current cat, Carl, named after the character Carl Winslow in Family Matters, has been featured on the site several times. Garza hasn’t put too much stuff on Carl. “I tried it once. I kinda felt like I had to. I’ve put a pencil or my phone on him, whatever was in my pocket.”

Otherwise, he has an inexplicable fondness for photos of cats with food on top of them — spaghetti wigs, melon wigs, broccoli toupees, pancake hats. Eggs on their backs, or carrots on their paws.

Over the years, as the lolcat craze grew, categories on the site spawned subcategories: My Cat on Stuff, Naughty Stuff on My Cat, Nature on My Cat, Creatures on My Cat, Tech on My Cat, Kitties in Space, Wet Cats. Not as many as you’d imagine, considering. There is still room for growth. “It’s tapered off what it used to be,” Garza admits. “Whoever buys it can definitely monetize it. They can get it back into shape.”

If regular devotees have noticed a certain slackening of the reins recently, it’s because for the past year, Garza has been in need of a change. “I can’t imagine someone who’s seen more cat photos than me. It’s been wild.”

He grew up going to punk and metal shows, and people are baffled when he tells them he operates a cat site.

“It was such an integral part of my life. It was there for three years. I went back and forth about selling it. At times I thought, No, I’ll always keep StuffOnMyCat around,” Garza says.

“There have just been some days” — and you can imagine him grimacing here, straight though the phone line — “this is the last thing I want to do, downloading another cat photo into Photoshop, cropping it and sticking a logo on it.” He puts the wretched business off until just before bedtime.

In his noncat future, he’ll be developing an iPhone gaming site. He plans to study film — though Garza worries the feline photos have spoiled him. “Once something like this happens, your ability to gauge .” his voice trails off. “You get a false sense of accomplishment. It’s a freakish thing.” He sighs.

By the end of next week Garza will start talking with potential buyers. But he is nowhere near picking an heir. There is no one advising him as to what the correct price should be. “Our last-ditch effort would be to put it up on eBay. You know, start at zero. I’d be comfortable with that. I’m always happiest doing things my way.”

The search will continue through the summer.


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