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TechCrunch and AOL: Is Selling Your Blog a Mistake?

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When AOL bought TechCrunch back in 2010, it seemed like the perfect pairing. Some were skeptical, but Mike Arrington really seemed pumped about it and encouraged the TechCrunch community to be too, particularly in the post Why We Sold TechCrunch To AOL, And Where We Go From Here. Oh what a difference a year makes, right? I don’t think anyone at TechCrunch in 2010 would have suspected the drama that was to come in 2011. If things don’t change, TechCrunch might even fail.

So was selling the blog a mistake?

Financially, it’s hard to argue that it was. The widely-reported sale price was $25 million (though some believe it was much higher), and while TechCrunch’s popularity means that this money could potentially be made back in just a few short years, the acquisition was still a risk on AOL’s part. So while you can always argue that something was worth more, for argument’s sake, let’s say that TechCrunch did pretty well. I mean, the deal wouldn’t have been signed if both parties weren’t happy with the sale price, right?

What bloggers know to be true, though, is that blogging is about way more than money. I think that’s the key that most companies buying blogs are still missing.

AOL is a large corporation. Their main goal is to make money. Someone like Arianna Huffington has no personal attachment to TechCrunch, and I don’t fault her for that. Why should she? Why should anyone who wasn’t there to build TechCrunch from scratch? TechCrunch isn’t AOL’s baby, it’s blood, sweat, and tears. TechCrunch was…and is…a business investment.

For many of the writers there, TechCrunch is a home. I think most bloggers feel that way. It’s easy to sell a house. It’s hard to sell a home. So when someone says, “We’re going to buy this house, but you can still live here,” it is easy to keep thinking of it as your home.

Only it’s no longer yours, not really.

It’s more like you’re renting the house. You can make it as cozy as a home, but the landlord can come in and paint the walls a color you hate, tear down the deck, or even evict you. Your lease agreement only protects you so much.

When you sell your blog, it doesn’t matter what kind of off-the-record promises were made. Tomorrow, the company that purchases your blog could make decisions that you don’t like, and when that happens, you don’t have any control to stop it. That’s the risk you take when you sell. True editorial independence no longer exists. Even if you have this freedom, it is only because your overlords are allowing it. Your kitchen walls are still that beautiful shade of red you adore because the landlord is allowing it. Tomorrow, the house’s owner could be in a yellow mood. They can change their minds.

And they will, if they think it’s the best choice for their business investment. They haven’t “grown up” with the blog, so they don’t always make the best choices in terms of the community or design or even content. They make the best decisions in terms of money, or so they think. Personally, I feel that any blog ruled by money won’t succeed, at least not to its full potential. That’s not necessarily for me to say, though.Everyone defines success differently.

If you sell your blog, you don’t get to make the decisions anymore. You can dole out advice or even make threats to discontinue your involvement with the blog…but you can’t stop the train once it is moving. Selling your blog is that first chug-a-lug without you as a conductor.

Bloggers can be a stubborn bunch – and I’m definitely including myself in that statement. What a corporation suggests might not be a bad idea, but changes can be scary. It’s really easy to feel the urge to push back whenever anyone suggests that you’re doing something wrong or could be doing something better, especially if you’re already pretty successful. “That’s not how we do things around here.” Well, it is now. When you sell, there are changes that will be made. Even if you think you’re doing the best possible job, outsiders with a different perspective won’t always agree.

So is selling your blog a bad idea?

Yes – if you think it’s going to continue moving forward the exact same way as it is under your leadership. TechCrunch will never be the same. No sold blog is the same afterward. No matter what the terms of the sale, things are going to change. Those changes could be good, if you give them a chance. They could also be horribly wrong, and you could see your baby fail. In my opinion, you shouldn’t sell unless you’re prepared to walk away, enjoy the money, and fondly remember your blog how it was, no matter what it has become.


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