Glam Reinvents Blogging and Brand Advertising for a Fragmented Web

6/27/13Follow @wroush

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find the posts on these blogs, thanks to improvements in search technology and early forms of social discovery, such as blogrolls, trackbacks, and Digg.

“There was all this content, and it didn’t have to be on a portal or on a site anymore,” Arora says. Content feeds, in the form of RSS and Twitter and eventually Facebook, also helped small publications build audiences.

But with all this competition for readers’ attention, Arora realized, no single publication would be able to achieve massive reach. The only way to get really big as a new media company, he reasoned, would be to build a service that brings publishers and advertisers together.

“My belief is that consumers are going to continue to go to more diverse sources of content, and you have to have a model that accepts that, not fights that,” he says. “In the new model, which I call the platform model, companies recognize that you need to have an ecosystem in which great content can be created and great advertising can be brought in and consumers can be reached, but it’s going to happen across a large number of sites.”

So that’s what Glam has built—a large network of independently owned and operated sites. They all fit under the “lifestyle” rubric—no news, politics, or commentary—and most are tilted toward a female demographic. (That was more of a historical accident than a deliberate choice; Arora ascribes it to the fact that fashion bloggers were in the vanguard in the early days of the medium.) Today Glam blogs span seven lifestyle areas, including women’s style, men’s style, home, entertainment, wellness, food, and parenting.

Arora's whiteboard diagram of Glam Media's history and business model

Arora's whiteboard diagram of Glam Media's history and business model.

A couple of representative Glam blogs: Mizz Fit, which is all about women’s fashion for the gym, and Airows, a male-oriented “lifestyle inspiration” blog that aggregates photos of expensive cars, watches, houses, and furniture.

While Arora says he doesn’t want Glam to be in the content business, the company does operate a handful of destination sites—Bliss, Brash, Foodie, Glam, and Tend—where it promotes the best articles from member blogs. It’s in the process of augmenting these so-called “hub” sites with social networking features powered by technology from Ning, a Marc Andreessen startup that Glam bought in 2011.

The company’s real customers, of course, are brand advertisers, and its real specialty is finding the right match between ads, the content on each blog, and individual readers (a task for which it has built a custom ad placement engine, called Adapt; Glam doesn’t use Google’s Doubleclick or any other outside advertising network). Arora says Glam strives to place ads that will have the same “emotive” impact as print-magazine or television ads. Sometimes those come in the form of simple banner or tower ads, but they may also involve complex layouts like an interactive Nike ad where a site’s content is completely boxed in by giant graphics of running shoes.

So what’s the difference between Glam Media and a plain old advertising network? The way Arora explains it, most ad networks exist only to fill slots in a publication’s inventory that the publication hasn’t managed to sell on its own. By contrast, Glam has dibs on each member site’s “prime time” content—meaning the material that premium brands will most want to see juxtaposed with their ads. “We have the first right to decide what’s ‘prime time’ or we cannot work with you,” Arora says. “It’s like being NBC, versus being an affiliate station.”

Glam also insists on having the right to moderate comments on member sites, and to “curate” content at a high level. That doesn’t mean tinkering with article copy, but it does mean making sure that a blog’s overall tone and content fits with the expectations of advertisers.

“We have 4,900 blogs worldwide and we have only had to enforce this twice,” Arora says. “They know the standards. They’re just there to ensure that we don’t have any unmoderated, brand-unsafe content.”

Not meeting traffic goals is a far more common reason for getting kicked out of the Glam network, Arora says. While churn is generally low, there’s a waiting list of 2,000 bloggers who’d like to take the place of any departing publication.

Last year, three bloggers in the Glam network cleared $1 million in ad revenue. Says Arora, “There is only one person in the traditional editorial world who makes that kind of money, and that is Anna Wintour,” the renowned editor of Vogue.

The other 4,897 Glam blogs presumably brought in considerably less money—but in a way, this is the reality the whole Glam model was designed to accommodate. Most lifestyle blogs “are good small businesses, but they cannot go to scale,” Arora says.

Glam bloggers, he says, are “real journalists who have a point of view. The problem they are having is lack of size and scale. We have created a technology architecture that understands a distributed media model. So when I say that new media has a new business model, that is what I mean.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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