Blogs’ Mainstream Moment

The Weblog world looks different today than it did at week’s beginning. More mainstream. More big media. More big money.

Through deals with the two most prominent blog networks, America Online and VNU have made it clear they want a piece of the audience — and ad revenue — that’s beginning to pour into the blog space. High-profile start-up Glam Media also launched a fashion blog network that allows the company to tap into existing communities (and additional ad inventory).

The blog news making the biggest stir is AOL’s agreement to acquire Jason Calacanis’ Weblogs Inc. Network (WIN) for a rumored $20 to $30 million. The deal will bring the portal a diverse passel of sites and authors, including the Peter Rojas-edited tech blog Engadget.

Many media bloggers, including BuzzMachine’s Jeff Jarvis and Jupitermedia CEO Alan Meckler, portrayed the deal as a case of a publishing entrepreneur finally cashing in, having once been burned. But the WIN publisher brushed aside the issue of his newfound wealth, saying his motivations had more to do with a desire to scale up the business.

“We didn’t have the traffic we needed to service the advertisers,” he told ClickZ News. “They wanted to spend a half million or a million with us, and we didn’t have the inventory. Our growth is incredible, but it’s going to be unpredictable. We either had to raise money or become a part of something bigger.”

Speaking on AOL’s plans for WIN, he said, “There’s going to be a lot of integration, a lot of work… This is the first time citizens are going to be on the top level with mainstream media, and that’s why this is a mainstream moment [for blogs].”

Calacanis rival Denton, publisher of Gawker Media, criticized the deal. “The whole point about blogs is that they’re not part of big media,” he posted to his own blog. But that’s more than a bit disingenuous. Denton did his own deal with big media this week, in the form of a licensing arrangement with Adweek and Billboard publisher VNU. VNU is translating and distributing Gawker Media’s Gizmodo gadget blog in several European markets.

5ive consulting group’s Susan Mernit, a popular media blogger and advisor to publishers, sees in both deals a recognition that blogs can be managed just like any other media entity.

“Nick’s taking a lot of the lessons of big media — licensing, international partnerships — and showing [blogging is] a form of media just like any other, but with new characteristics,” she said.

What exactly AOL has planned for the WIN blog content and its accompanying ad inventory remains to be seen. Same goes for VNU’s experiment in licensing the brands and content of popular blogs. About all that is clear is that big online publishers are becoming interested enough in niche media to spend money that a year ago would have seemed insane.

“If there’s any wake-up call here, it’s that blog media is worth a lot to somebody,” said Mernit.

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