It’s nice to see blogs growing up, even if they are about babies. People .com has bought Celebrity Baby Blog, a fast-growing blog started four years ago by Danielle Friedland. She confirmed the deal earlier this week, after MediaWeek broke the story. The site has an editorial staff of 17 editors, contributors, writers, and reviewers (presumably, not all full time).
The blog is an obvious fit for People, which knows that stories about pregnant celebrities and their babies sell. (Doesn’t it seem like pregnant celebrities are on the cover of People more than anything else?). The price was not disclosed, but Friedland and staff will stay on to grow the site.
But People.com’s gain is Federated Media Publishing’s loss. With this acquisition, FM Publishing is losing yet another anchor blog from its advertising network. Last year, it lost Digg to Microsoft, and earlier this month it lost Ars Technica to Condé Nast. Now, Time Inc. (my former employer) has snapped up Celebrity Baby Blog.
Celebrity Baby is FM Publishing’s top parenting blog, and has recently started to pull in more pageviews (and thus advertising impressions) than FM stalwart BoingBoing. Since February its traffic has shot up—to 6.9 million pageviews and 720,000 unique visitors in April, according to comScore. That month, BoingBoing had more unique visitors (2 million), but fewer pageviews (3.7 million). See the chart below.
Deals like this point to the fundamental weakness of FM’s business model. When a blog in FM Publishing’s network gets big enough or gets bought, FM loses all or part of their advertising inventory. The more profitable a blog is for FM, the more likely it is to try to sell ads on its own or be taken away by a larger media company with its own ad sales force. (Disclosure: TechCrunch is also an FM partner site. They sell a portion of our ads, but we also sell our own).
That said, we hear that FM was actually very helpful in getting this deal done. It knows that its blogs can walk away at any moment (As publisher Chas Edwards told me when FM raised $50 million last month), and the only way to keep them is to deliver higher CPMs than they could otherwise get. FM also wants to be seen as the best partner for up-and-coming blogs. Generating goodwill is always a smart business practice, even if it means having to let go of a rising star.
Update: FM’s Chas Edwards got back to me. He confirms that FM helped Friedland assess the offer from Time Inc., although it did so as a favor. And although “it is not clear” what will happen to FM’s advertising relationship with Celebrity Baby Blog, he suspects that Time Inc. will take over once the current ad campaigns run out. But he says that the revenue impact of losing both Celebrity Baby Blog and the larger Ars Technica will be minimal:
We would love everybody to stay with us for life, but we realize that is not practical. In terms of a business impact, it is very minimal. No one site represents a substantial percentage of revenues.
And here are his thoughts on the importance of being a good partner, even at the end of a relationship:
I think it builds the rest of our partners’ comfort with us and the broader industry gets a better understanding that Federated Media is building almost a talent agency. We want our partners to go deep with us in a collaborative approach to building their business.
A lot of people still confuse Federated Media with an ad network. It is not just that we want to sell your ads, but we want to help you build your business and your brand. And maybe we’ll get the opportunity to participate in these exits in the future.
That’s certainly the right the attitude if he wants to keep or attract more traffic on his ad network (sorry) than will escape whenever a bigger blog graduates from FM.