As reported (I’ll give the link to Stacy McCain; the New York Times doesn’t deserve it), AOL is shelling out $315 million for Huffington Post, in return giving Arianna Huffington control of all of AOL’s editorial content. This will come as news to many; not the deal itself, but the idea that AOL has any editorial content. These days, it’s not exactly the first place people turn to online.
From a business standpoint, the sale makes zero sense from anyone’s perspective save Ms. Huffington herself, who realizes not only a massive return on investment but in essence gets to have her cake and eat it too: she gets paid to have control over even more than she previously enjoyed. AOL’s political content is already heavily slanted left. Now it will be even more so. A little advice for Matt Lewis: freshen that résumé. (Oh, and stop blocking me on Twitter for the sole reason of my disagreeing with you one morning about Christine O’Donnell. But I digress.)
The only semi-rational logic behind AOL shelling out serious coin for HuffPo is the belief Huffington’s lightworker abilities will somehow draw ten bajillion visitors per nanosecond to AOL, thus enabling it to sell a few ads which currently happens two ways: seldom and rarely. Regrettably for those concerned, there is a little problem with such a belief. What makes anyone think a HuffPo/AOL alliance will bring in any more readers than what HuffPo and AOL already have? And, as Stacey points out, the actual numbers of HuffPo readers is a mystery, as it doesn’t make independently verifying its claims an option. Even by government standards, $315M is a lot of money to shell out on the basis of “because I said so.”
Another noteworthy aspect of the story is how the overwhelming majority of HuffPo’s content comes from unpaid contributors. For them, the HuffPo moniker is most appropriate given how not only do they huff and puff a lot — must be a symptom of Palin Derangement Syndrome — but also if they’re counting on their low level arrangement to make this month’s rent they are definitely po’. Apparently there are a lot of people out there who willingly accept the availability of bragging to friends and family they’re on a Very Important Site in lieu of pay. That, and they’re all waiting for their deathless prose to be discovered by someone who’ll immediately give them a high-profile paying gig. Which, of course, happens all the time. One can only envision the pub scene from Braveheart when Mel Gibson asks someone to join up with him, and when inquired, “What’s in it for me?” replies, “You get to kill Englishmen.” In this case, the scene is an Internet cafe, the appeal is “you get to rag on Sarah Palin,” and Arianna Huffington is wearing thirty-seven percent more makeup than William Wallace in full battle paint.
While it’s easy to slag on HuffPo, the same kind of financial arrangement, namely contributors enjoy exactly none of the revenue, is hardly unique to Arianna’s assembled throng. Ask the people who write for RedState or Right Wing News or variations thereof how much they earn from their toils. Hint: not much if anything. So why do people compete for a writing slot at such places? The appeal, save any vague statements of potential future compensation as long as you keep cranking out content, is the same: an ego stroke is worth far more than the stroke of a pen signing a paycheck. It is the illusion of inclusion; the belief that grabbing a bigger slice of the same pie everyone else is diving into somehow compensates for the fact that all you’re doing is preaching to the choir while turning over the entire donation to the minister.
In the final analysis, the HuffPo/AOL deal is much ado about nothing. The left will continue to give itself a tongue bath, the MSM will continue to promote HuffPo as a legitimate news source, and the right, regardless of whether it cares to admit it, will follow the same business model while wishing someone would offer them nine figures. Dream on, people. The rich get richer; the poor get the picture. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
P.S. Speaking of the rich getting richer and the poor getting the picture, Midnight Oil says it well:
ADDENDUM: Thanks to Stacy McCain for the link.