In 1998 I sat across a desk from Jason Calacanis in his Manhattan office. At the time he was riding an upward curve (in fact his company was called Rising Tide Studios). His magazine, Silicon Alley Reporter – which had started out more like a fanzine – was bulging with ads and he’d just launched a sister title in Los Angeles. He was doing well. I was editing New Media Age. I’d dropped by to say how much I liked his magazine.
He flicked the copy of NMA I’d handed to him back to me. “You do this every week and you don’t even own it?” he said.
Calacanis was an interesting guy. He had the dotcom pre-requisites. Amazing drive. Sassy PR machine. Huge ego. Manhattan pad. Afterwards, I remember him being profiled in a tongue-in-cheek interview in Wired magazine. It pretty much summed him up. He liked to play the quintessential Silicon Alley guy.
Calacanis tried to make money out of SAR, but it died a death with 9/11 (myth has it that they planned to march it up Broadway in a mock funeral on that very day, but never did of course). He eventually turned it into a VC web site, VentureReporter.com. He might have made a bit of money.
A few years later, without much else to do, he started Weblogs Inc (WIN). It was not long after Nick Denton, formerly of Moreover, had come up with Gizmodo.com and Gawker.com. A great rivalry ensued, each playing off the PR of the other. Everyone wrote about them, from the WSJ to, well, little me.
Now, as Rafat Ali reports – exclusively (perhaps it’s because he used to work for Jason?) that Calacanis has now gone and sold his blogging company for an estimated $25m.
Not bad at all.
So here’s the Web 2.0 revolution. No “paid content”. No registration of users. No long, in depth articles (or not in the trad. journalism stylee). Just create as big a network of ‘brands’ as you can, chuck in loads of RSS, get your head down and go, go, go!
What Calacanis has here is a network. What Nick Denton has instead chosen to build is a smaller networks of premium blog brands, starting with Gawker.com.
If Weblogs Inc is IPC and Nuts magazine, Gawker Media is Conde Naste and Vogue.
However, this is largely a traffic and ad-inventory game. Do Denton’s premium blogs add up to the same amount of traffic as Weblogs Inc network of 85?
Interestingly, they do far better. WIN claims 30m monthly pageviews. The Gawker network did 37m last month. Denton is also expanding in a different way – signing syndication deals with the likes of VNUnet.com, such as with Gizmodo.
So the purchase price for WIN, which brings in only $2m a year, looks, well, generous. What did AOL buy, exactly?
It’s hard to say, but it might well dovetail with AOL’s gradual emergence out onto the Internet and its desire to push out into new areas. Realising belatedly that closed networks on the Net are like having a solar system that’s not part of the universe.
Nick seems to think that “the whole point about blogs is that they’re not part of big media. Consolidation defeats the purpose.”
I largely agree. Blogs are much more about Rock ‘n Roll. When you start getting your tour sponsored by Pepsi, you know it’s over and so do the fans.
That’s not to say the purchase won’t mean that Weblogs Inc won’t now have plenty of cash to hire some uber-bloggers and expand its network And AOL won’t have more free-access web space to sell inventory. But uber-bloggers tend to want to do their own thing. And these days there’s plenty of ways for them to do it.
Big media is going to get into blogs, there’s no doubt. Look at Murdoch and MySpace. The mistake they will make is forcing their staff to start linking to internal brands, pissing in the pool and potentially turning readers off. (Mind you, VentureReporter is now owned by Dow Jones).
The last bubble ended when AOL bought Time Warner. Sure, but that was $60bn. AOL executives normally produce more than $25m just going to the toilet. The bubble isn’t over.
However, I think it won’t go much farther. If you actually look at some of the blogs on Weblogs Inc, they are just ghost towns – filled with “Here’s the best of the WEN network” posts. AOL must know this, surely?
Besides, AOL was the wrong purchaser for this network. It should have been a business publisher. But then I doubt they would have paid so much.
And I don’t resent Calacanis making his millions. I knew that day back in the 90s that this was a man who was not likely to let a bubble pass him by.