New York Times Co buys About.com

Feb 20th

NYT Company buys About.com for $410 million

Problems with About.com's Ugly Ads:
Last year at NYC SES (which is coming up again in a week) I remember hearing Jennifer Laycock (then Web Search Guide for About.com) express disappointment about the layout of the About.com pages, but she could do nothing to change it. She now is an editor at SearchEngineGuide.

I do not know the current Web Search guide much, but I do know I read that site less than I did a year ago.

Leveraging a Market Position:
Some of the blog & guide networks gain significant distribution and credibility by being part of a large cross linked and heavily referenced network, but that also has limits.

Is About.com Overpriced?
The NYT Company paid about $410 million, which is a value of around a million dollars per channel, which seems a bit expensive to me. Here is why:

  • With the decreasing cost of publishing one wonders how many people will start their own niche sites instead of being glued to a company that can change its advertising and publishing policies any day.

  • As search gets more sophisticated it is likely that being part of those large networks will not provide as much of a benefit as it does today.
  • RSS readers are still rather primative. As they get more advanced people will be better able to subscribe to ideas instead of just subscribing to channels.
  • Sites like Topix and Google News make it easy for me to collect a variety of views about a story without commiting to any particular site.
  • Contextual advertising programs such as Google AdWords make it easy for any person interested in a topic to write and sell ad space, even if they had no idea what their ad space is worth.
  • Cheap / niche topics may be prohibitively expensive to cover using the About.com business model. As an individual I can create a few different channels about various niches I am interested in.
  • As ideas become hot market competition increases and strongest brands and most original or useful sites seem to rise to the top.
  • Large networks present a limited personal branding opportunity. Creating your own site allows you to create a much stronger personal brand than conglomerates do. With that brand and market position you can sell many other products or services which would not fly if you were stuck purely in an editor position at some conglomerate site.
  • Editorial guidelines may prevent people from displaying how human they are. It is much harder to subscribe to the ideas of a robot than a person.

Personal Experience:
In the past I signed up to be a guide at other similar networks, but I was too lazy to write it.

It seems to me that so long as you are interested in a topic it is not that hard to start a blog of your own, and so I did ;)

Even if your blog sucks off the start (which I am sure mine did and many will argue that it still does) you can gain a wide readership just by participating in the community you write about.

Mitch Ratcliffe has a good article about what is to come with the convergence of large media and personal publishing technology.

[added: I just noticed Andrew Goodman has a wish list for About.com]

Published: February 20, 2005

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