Huffington Was Right to Take the Money

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John Gapper's column on the AOL/HuffPo incident argues that Huffington and her partners have made out like bandits. HuffPo occupies a media middle ground that is financially doomed, he says. There are plenty of readers in the middle--HuffPo proves that beyond a doubt--but there isn't much money.

HuffPo has no subscription revenues and there is a vast gulf between the advertising yields from readers amassed through swimsuit photos and search optimisation, and those who pay for their information. The barriers to entry in aggregation are very low and the web is flooded with cheap inventory...

Free news aggregators are being pushed downmarket in a race for page views while specialist providers seek their refuge upmarket. The middle ground, where the New York Times and the Washington Post lived comfortably in the print era, is a digital chasm because the cost of becoming a "premium content company" is so high.

Ms Huffington's creation has been trying to straddle this gap cheaply by combining essays on fiscal policy with more sensational fare. Even for her, however, that is a stretch too far. She is intelligent enough to know it. Which is why she and her investors took AOL's cash.

Sounds right. Even if Gapper is wrong, 10 times 2010 revenues, almost entirely in cash, was pretty good going. Warmest congratulations to Mrs Huffington on that account--also for gathering hundreds, or is it thousands, of unpaid bloggers, bundling them together (in a liberal-leaning publication) and selling them for $315m.

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." Samuel Johnson said that. "Where there's blockheads, there's brass." I said that.

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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