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Newspapers? Dying? Television? Might as well die too. New media? That's where future empires will be built.
At least that's what some have been claiming since blogging and 'new media' became a mainstream phenomenon. And to be sure, new media's future does look bright. But is it as bright as many had predicted? Perhaps not.
The latest evidence of that: TechCrunch's sale to AOL for a reported $25m to $60m. Most reports pin the price at or closer to the lower number, and while I'm sure TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington is quite happy with the outcome, the price is relatively low.
According to Inc. Magazine, TechCruch is generating $10m in revenue annually. At the low end, AOL's reported acquisition price doesn't seem to represent the type of multiple one might expect for a company that's about to take over the media world. Back in 2007, arguments were made that TechCrunch could be worth a lot more than AOL has reportedly paid, and Arrington himself seemed to have plans for an empire worth well into the nine-figure range:
Already, he's laying the groundwork for a whole stable of clued-in, hard-driving news blogs: MusicCrunch, SoftwareCrunch, TelecomCrunch. "The goal is to have 15 to 20 sites 18 months from now," he says . He plans to hire popular bloggers and create a homepage with the best news from each site to draw readers. From there, they could drill into each topic in more depth. His aim is to become the premier technology news site on the Internet, one that goes head-to-head with CNET and potentially with other technology news sites, including Wired.com. Arrington figures he can get by with just a few dozen employees. "With 25 to 30 paid writers against CNET's huge cost base, they won't be able to compete," he says.
This plan for empire, of course, never came to fruition. CNET, which was purchased by CBS in 2008 for $1.8bn, is still alive and kicking.
We'll likely never know why Arrington never executed on his ambitions, but what we do know: building the type of empire he envisioned looks to be tough work. Which may be why he sold one of the world's most popular tech blogs for an amount in the range paid for other popular blogs and blog networks over the years. paidContent, for instance, was acquired back in 2008 by the Guardian Media Group. Acquisition price: $30m. Which isn't much more than the $25m AOL paid for Weblogs Inc. three years earlier in 2005. Other notable blog acquisitions have typically been seven and low eight-figure affairs. Notice a pattern?
So what does this all mean? Is it possible that the bloggers who have sold out have sold too soon? Or were dreams of new media empires just that -- dreams? Pete Cashmore, the founder of TechCrunch competitor, Mashable, is betting on the former. His blog has been linked to AOL acquisition rumors, but he seems focused on an independent future. Following the announcement of the TechCrunch acquisition, he published a post on his personal blog entitled "Swinging for the Fences", in which he wrote:
That’s how I feel about the market, too. Lots of empty seats. Limitless untapped potential. We’re large by the standards of a blog. But by mainstream media standards? Tiny. It’s a gap we plan to close — and do so under our own steam.
Who’s left to swing for the fences? Who’s going to achieve the escape velocity required to reach beyond our insular technology community and build a truly mainstream publication?
We’re not tired in the slightest. We have the youthful naivety to believe we can go mainstream — and the stamina to achieve it.
Youthful naivety? Perhaps. Certainly the M&A activity in the blogosphere over the past five years hints that the next Rupert Murdoch won't earn his first fortune with a blog. But if we're going to ever learn whether or not new media has the stuff it takes to build empires, it needs a little youthful naivety.