Primedia is selling About.com. Potential bidders include AOL, Google and the New York Times. Before I say another word, it's time for some disclosures. I was a producer at CNN's online division when parent company Time Warner merged with AOL. It was a disaster. I fled in the ensuing bloodbath of fiefdom feuds. I landed a job as an executive producer at About.com, a compendium of Web sites with a citizen journalism bent. I was still at About when it was purchased by Primedia. I moved up the ladder at the new company, eventually winding up a vice president.
But the merger didn't work. The culture clash between magazine "professionals" and online "entrepreneurs" was intense. Civility was rare. My tiny corner of the Primedia world was even stranger. Primedia had earlier purchased the Intertec collection of B2B magazines. And those properties were being overseen by Industryclick, an online venture powered by arrogance that mimicked the early business model of Verticalnet. My position required that I deal with everyone -- Primedia big-wigs, About.com guides, trade-publication reporters, Industryclick codewriters and more mid-level executives than I could count. And everyone seemed to strongly dislike everyone else.
The About/Primedia merger was a disaster. And I'm glad to see the deal is at last unraveling. At this point, the sale will have little to no effect on B2B. Kelly Conlin put an end to the attempts to integrate magazine and web operations. And Primedia separated its trade-publishing business from its consumer properties. The online wings of the B2B unit are gone -- Industryclick, ABZ, Digibid, etc. Web sites, email newsletters, etc. are now run from within Primedia Business by the exceedingly talented Prescott Shibles, who worked for me back in the old days.
I'm going to bet that the N.Y. Times winds up buying About. The Times has been late in adopting the ethos of citizen journalism. Buying About would give them a leap forward. More importantly, About is the king of the targeted ad. And newspapers need new advertising revenue sources now that Craigslist is taking over the classified business.