Ad Market Woes Push About.com into E-commerce Waters

By Ryan Naraine

With advertising revenues drying up and parent company Primedia, Inc. having money troubles of its own, niche-topic portal About.com has shaved its workforce again and is planning a big jump into the e-commerce space, according to a document obtained by atNewYork.

News of About.com’s plans to roll out an e-commerce strategy comes as the company parts ways with 300 of its 750 “human guides” who created topic-specific content across the portal.

About.com spokeswoman Tabatha Sturm confirmed that the contracts for the 300 guides, who served as independent contractors, were not renewed and their sites were pulled offline. Content from the shuttered sites has been integrated into related areas and traffic is being redirected.

“We were just too specific is one way of explaining it. Our users were going all over the place to find information and this consolidation is aimed at making it easier for people to find information. Plus, traffic was slimmer in certain areas and certain sites. Makes sense to consolidate,” Sturm explained.

The new e-commerce foray, dubbed About 3.0, is the first major challenge for Bill Day, the 37-year-old Wharton grad who replaced Scott Kurnit as About.com CEO last week.

A document co-signed by Day and Kurnit said the e-commerce push would be two-fold with the creation of a Holiday Gift Guide in the fourth quarter to list top products and reviews based on the recommendations and opinions on About.com site guides.

“We are in the process of finalizing a deal with a major price-comparison engine. Links from (our) content will drive users into this service to allow them to shop for the recommended products,” it said.

“The current plan is to share the revenue generated from the price comparison engine – when users click through from the referral page to the vendor, we make money. We expect to finalize the deal in the next few weeks.”

While About.com is pushing hard to get on the ball for the coming Christmas shopping season, the company is also pursuing a storefront strategy to provide targeted marketing within niche sites.

“We are targeting Q2 of next year to roll out subscription-based storefronts targeted to GuideSites. There continues to be a significant opportunity in providing targeted merchandising and marketing opportunities… We’re in discussions right now and are committed to making this happen. The current thinking is to charge merchants a monthly subscription fee, plus a percentage of transactions,” according to Day and Kurnit.

The company also plans to offer its merchant partners other merchandising avenues on individual sites, including its Sprinks subsidiary, which works like a pay-for-performance search engine.

“It is our intention to create a mix of revenue streams that include traditional advertising; e-commerce subscription and transaction fees; referral revenue; Sprinks; and fee-based content or fee-based access to Guide interaction. We believe the sum of all of these parts will make every GuideSite successful,” the two About.com co-founders said.

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