By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com
Huff Po Sale: Arianna $300 Million, Writers 0
David has his own detailed take on the HuffPo sale to AOL, and it’s a good write-up with some interesting comments which you should read if you’re interested in that sort of thing.
For me, here’s what the HuffPo sale really means:
Ariana Huffington managed to take a model of paying people little (in some cases) to nothing (in most cases) for the privilege of having work “published” on HuffPo. “Citizen journalists” my ass. Using a spin on the “unpaid intern” huckster sell, she convinced many, many smart people to give her their hard work for free, so that she could build up a site over a few years and then sell it for $300 million.
It’s the scam of the century, really. HuffPo fleeces writers at a time when people with journalism degrees are fighting over scraps, and she makes a $300 million sale off (as David pointed out) stealing chunks of some content and selling enough people the crazy Kool-Aid that writing for HuffPo for free was better than not writing at all. To me, HuffPo was always insanely stupid in its inception, and I’ve been amazed at times when people whose writing I otherwise respect turned up from time to time over there. But hey, $300 million. Holy crap. That’s a big chunk of AOL change.
To put the sale in a slightly different perspective: I was working for Cinematical back when it was still owned by Weblogs, Inc, which owned a buttload of quality blog properties including Engadget, TUAW, Blogging Baby and TV Squad — all, at that time, traffic leaders for their niches. AOL bought Weblogs, Inc in October 2005 for about $25 million, and there was much celebrating by the bloggers who worked their asses off for the various sites when we converged in November 2005 in New York City to meet our new AOL colleagues, get schooled in the AOL way of doing things (man, do they have a LOT of lawyers, and a LOT more rules for how you have to deal with linking to other peoples’ content, so good luck navigating that shit, HuffPo.)
But back to the writers: With our hard work, we’d helped build the Weblogs properties into something worth selling for $25 million! Wasn’t that awesome? We drank much sake and other beverages that weekend, congratulating ourselves on our general awesomeness.
Surely AOL would be promptly rewarding the people who did the daily grind for those blogs with full time jobs, or, at least, better pay than the “if we build it, they will buy eventually” $10/blog post, $50/feature rate we’d been getting. To be perfectly fair, I’m pretty sure the guys at Engadget, which at that time at least was a HUGE money property for Weblogs and carried a lot of the weight of the other 80-something blogs, got some payoff. And I’m pretty sure they made more than the standard going per-post rate to begin with.
Also to be fair, Weblogs, Inc boss-man Jason Calacanis figured out very early in the blog-for-profit game that you could pay bloggers per post and motivate them to be hungry and therefore write more frequently to hit the perceived “sweet spot” of X posts per day — that point at which number of posts and the highest increase in traffic, merged. I have no issue with Jason Calacanis at all — he’s a very smart guy, I learned a lot working for him, he paid people fairly for the market at the time, and he wasn’t — and isn’t — afraid to take chances. It takes balls to grow a business, and the ability to delegate to a team of smart people, and Jason knows how to do both.
He also, from my experience, believes passionately in whatever he’s doing at the moment, and I like to think that, if he had it to do over again, he wouldn’t have sold to AOL. Because they took what Weblogs, Inc had built and spent the next few years gutting and gutting and gutting the properties they bought, including Cinematical — and bless the Cinematical team who have somehow managed to hold it together through AOL’s numerous attempts to dilute the brand and merge it completely under Moviefone. Cinematical has a dedicated editorial staff, and some good writers, and they have much more patience for dealing with AOL than I did.
So now, here we are six years later and the same company that bought Weblogs, Inc — which owned sites that actually did generate a great deal of original content for which writers were actually paid — for $25 million, is now buying HuffPo, which generates limited original content for which writers are actually paid, for more than 10 times what they paid for Weblogs. Yowza.
Clearly, my writer friends and I are all (still) working on the wrong side of this equation.