The times are changing and so are the blog networks, something that appeared to be a solid business model a couple of years back, but now deemed a rough one if you want to succeed. One company above others are being mentioned whenever blog networks are branded as a failed idea, and that’s b5media. Not because they have failed or anything, but rather because they have all these blogs, and no real focus.
Well, that’s about to change, and starting today at that.
The first big change is Splendicity, something of a portal page for the beauty and style channel at b5media. It’s not a new site, but with the redesign, b5media not only aims to bring something new to the table, they’re also reshaping the logistics of their blog network.
Or, to put it frankly, they have taken their 32 blog strong beauty and style channel, and converted them all to one big site: the new Splendicity.
32 blogs, becomes 1 site. That brings a lot of questions, doesn’t it?
But first, here’s the new Splendicity, screenshot courtesy of b5media:
The New b5media Network
CEO Jeremy Wright told me that this is the step to move b5media to an online media company, and it is a logical one. By taking the 300+ blogs in the blog network, and reshaping them into a handful, or “5-6-10” of them, to quote Jeremy Wright, sites, you’re getting the focus needed to appeal to advertisers. While I’m told that’s not what b5media is about (the bloggers writing for them are), it is the harsh reality, and I’d imagine they had quite a hard time selling advertising space to non-techies across a channel of blogs. Just the word channel is something of a turnoff for anyone not instantly knowing what it means, so this should open up new possibilities.
There’s also the traffic numbers to observe. They claim that Splendicity, with all its redirected traffic from the old stand-alone blogs, will be one of the top 20-25 beauty sites online. Now that’s potentially big business, and a lot of readers at that! It also brings authority, which is probably why the beauty bloggers are thrilled about this, or so I’m told.
Speaking of the bloggers, Jeremy Wright told me that some were let go, but others were added to the roster, so making one big beauty site of 32 standalone blogs isn’t a move to save more money on blog payments. In fact, the bloggers will be paid in a different and possibly more fair way, by agreeing to posting a set number of posts with a certain quality, and getting a fixed amount for that. No more traffic numbers or revenue splits, just paid content, which sounds a lot more manageable.
Another fact that’s being pushed is the technical aspect of not having to manage all those blogs. 32 becomes 1 means less support questions for what used to be the channel editors. Now they can focus on pushing the best content onto the Splendicity front page instead.
While one big site might not sound like it, it is still a bunch of blogs running on WordPress MU, with some of the content being profiled on the front page. There is still tags and comments and everything you’d expect, and the form factor is familiar to anyone used to the blogosphere. This is all about making the network content more accessible to the mainstream crowd, and getting traction across the beauty and style channel, but in a different packaging.
This isn’t anything new, really. A lot of blogs are making an effort to be more user friendly to the mainstream crowd, which makes a lot of sense since what we’re really dealing with here is online publishing using various platforms that make it easy for us to reach out. Most likely b5media, with their not so developed style design-wise, has had serious issues making their product easy to “get” for the less technical crowd. And believe me, ad agencies and media buyers tend to belong to this group, so it’s something that can be put down to being bad for business.
That’s a lesson for blogs and sites in general as well. If you’re too technical and exclusive to your niche, you’ll miss out on the ones that just doesn’t get it. That might not be a problem, you say, because your niche is your niche and you don’t care about the ones outside it, but if you want to do business you’ll end up dealing with people that don’t really know anything about what you do, but just want to reach your readers, and if they don’t get your site, then you’ll loose them.
This is what b5media faced, I think, and this is what they reacted to by moving from a blog network to “online publishing”, or a blog network in disguise if you will.
The Social Aspect
Blogs is, by themselves, pretty social. You’ve got comments and you’ve got trackbacks, and most bloggers understand that linking is good. So the step to making it even more social isn’t a big one, and b5media is going with that. They’re doing profile pages for both their bloggers and registered members, with Facebook-like activity streams, friends functionality and so on. The community aspect of the site is of course a way to get people to hang around longer, but it is also a way to get the users to dig deeper into a site. Think about it, if you see your friends reading all about something, by visiting their profile pages and seeing their actions in the activity stream, you might click it.
By having everything under one roof, b5media is making other site-wide things available. Tagging, for instance, as well as personalized search across the blogs. You’ll likely see instant messaging in the near future, and 1-click subscriptions that just adds to your activity stream. They are not just putting all their niche blogs in one place, they are creating a social network around them to really catch the readers. Naturally, we can expect Facebook Connect and similar to add to this.
Now, it’s a bit unclear how much of this will be around on the final site that launches later today. Jeremy Wright promised me that for the features that are not around yet, we’re not looking at months and months, but rather weeks. “4-6” was in fact mentioned, so perhaps you won’t be playing around with the activity stream just yet. Either way, it’s an interesting move and certainly another step of viewing blogging as a way to publish, rather than a specific type of site.
Aggressive Launch Schedule
Splendicity is the first relaunch and repackaging to roll out, and it only affects the beauty and style blogs. Naturally, the celebrity and entertainment blogs will all go into Starked, and the business ones will be a part of Bizzia. Both are already established portals used by b5media today. But a 300+ blog network won’t fit into three big sites, so that’s why we’re actually looking at “5-6-10” of them.
And rapidly, it seems, because they aim to launch a new one every 2 weeks. The ones mentioned above should be the first ones to join Splendicity, but we’re looking at a total of 9 channels within b5media currently, so expect more to join them as we go along.
Will It Work?
It is way to early to tell whether it will work, of course, but in my opinion b5media is taking a lot of smart steps here. There are several positive things that come with consolidating their channels of related niche blogs into bigger and wider sites:
- More traffic means more influence, which is good for bloggers.
- One brand instead of several makes it easier to sell advertising.
- It is easier to get the readers to jump around within a site, than it is to get them to visit a new one within the same channel.
- The amount of writers means that there will be a small core of active people in the community already, hopefully with a relationship to their readers from the previous blog, which could kickstart that feature.
- Easier to manage.
However, there are some issues that needs to be handled as well:
- Transition is hard on the readers, and they are being forced to go from a very focused blog about their particular interest, to something that is much wider.
- Blogs are deeper into the site, will the readers find their way to their favorite content?
- Will the readers actually use the community? The bloggers and the editors need to work hard to activate the readership.
- The current blogger rooster is supposedly happy about this now, but how will they feel in a month’s time?
- One format means less freedom for the bloggers, which could matter for some.
All in all, I think this is not only the logical step for a blog network as huge as b5media, but I think it has a good chance of succeeding. It’s all about pulling off the launch of Splendicity first, and make sure that they actually add all these new cool features to further prove that it is in fact something better than it was before. Then, they need to move ahead aggressively – the 2 week launch schedule is good – with the other niches within the network. It’s a big change, and it won’t be easy, so I’ll be following this one closely.
Is this the right step for b5media? Let us know what you think in the comments.
Thord Daniel Hedengren is a designer, writer, and blogger, and also the former editor of The Blog Herald. He used to be a hotshot in the gaming industry in Sweden, but sold everything and went International. Most recently he wrote a book called Smashing WordPress: Beyond the Blog, and does loads of kickass design.