The Web world is abuzz with the news that AOL, everyone's favorite start-around, has purchased
Arianna Huffington The Huffington Post. The acquisition price was $315 million in cash and stocks.
This acquisition by AOL (its largest since its separation from Time Warner) comes shortly after the company purchased TechCrunch for a much smaller price of $25 million (teensy weensy!).
All of this is in attempt to turn AOL into a massive content company. The Huffington Post, on its own, was drawing in 25 million visitors each month. The newly created Huffington Post Media Group will be run, under the AOL umbrella, by Arianna Huffington, who will serve as its president and editor in chief.
In theory, this appears to make sense for the little start-around that could: Buy up all the big content sites on the Web to become an even bigger content site. The Huffington Post has established itself as a known and influential entity on the Web. This multimillion-dollar buyout should surely make investors happy.
But, alas, and as usual, there are problems here.
Taking a look at the two latest acquisitions, it seems as if AOL is still after one thing: eyeballs.
TechCrunch and The Huffington Post have no shortage of those, attracting visitors in the millions each month. But when AOL's focus is supposed to be on editorial content -- credible content, at that -- acquisitions like these start to make less sense.
Like TechCrunch, The Huffington Post has been criticized for the type of content it runs: It's not always credible; often the site just repurposes videos and news from other sites for the sake of giving its own community something to talk about. That has worked for HuffPo on its own, but under AOL and under Tim Armstrong, the publication may be forced to produce something more reputable, less aggregated.
Sure, it's easy to say that acquired publications will keep their unique editorial voice or style of publishing, but under a corporate umbrella, those beautiful dreams tend to go by the wayside. Under AOL, how long can Arrington get away with publishing rumors and generally being Arrington? How long can The Huffington Post continue to repurpose other sites' content and still be considered a worthwhile investment?
And, if AOL does try to revamp these sites to make them more editorially sound, do they risk losing their essence and, in turn, their community?
Some comments following Ms. Huffington's blog on the subject would suggest that's a great possibility:
This move shows that perhaps the HP founders didnt quite understand the HP reader base as well as they thought: a key attraction of HP was that it wasn't part of a huge sprawling media empire.
I have been coming to HuffPo less and less for news simply because there is less and less news and more gossip/hollowood trivia. This merger does not look promising.
AOL is the walled garden for old people that don't know how to use the internet. Fail!
There goes the neighborhood.
Corporate takeovers of independent media will always spell the end of independent media. I'll give it some time, but I predict I will be cancelling my membership here within the next 6 months...
In any case, it should be interesting to watch all of this play out now that AOL has acquired two of the most hot-headed personalities in the Web content business. We might not be getting much in the way of decent news stories, but with Arrington and Huffington in power, at least we can most certainly look forward to an impending ego-driven cage match.
— Nicole Ferraro , Executive Editor, Internet Evolution