Glam Media announced that they have secured an additional $84.6 million to be used to fund its rapid international expansion, its luxury, wellness, and living categories, build an online celebrity style channel, and perhaps add a men’s lifestyle channel. The funding is also set to be used for strategic acquisitions in four areas: the international media space, global content anchor properties, networks or media ad-focused companies, and technology providers to help the company “build out [its] ad platform for display, video, targeting and placement,” says Arora. (via Folio). While there has been considerable controversy around Glam's traffic assertions (is it a sham?), Hollywood Reporter reports that according to the omScore's MediaMetrix, 44 million unique visitors view Glam-operated or partner sites every month. In the U.S., Glam claims 25 million unique visitors a month, compared with 17 million for NBC Universal's iVillage.com: The Woman's Network. For PR professionals, Glam's expansion offers untold new opportunities and spaces to raise visibility for clients, as well as a host of new media relationships to deveop and best practices to define.
With the expansion of new media, public relations is faced with a host of new opportunities and challenges. Example: with so many niche publications, online channels, and overload of information, is the value of media coverage declining? To date much of online PR strategy has focused on securing blog editorials that mimic those in print - How might public relations serve its clients better?
However, this post is less about what I see as the ways in which public relations are fundamentally shifting, and more about my identification as a blogger who chose to engage create a blog because it gave me an opportunity to create discuss an issue I felt more passionately than mainstream PR publications and greater PR academia seemed to be. With all this money pouring in to develop Glam, my indie-girl antennae has been raised, bringing with it a load of questions and speculations about how the online media landscape is changing and who ultimately benefits from these big business deals.
Part of my inquiry stems from the fact that the initial, "blogging for the love of it," enthusiasm that influenced early fashion bloggers to turn an altruistic eye toward trends, increased access in the fashion industry, and of course, a great bargain, appears to have largely given way to the hope and drive to turn blogging profitable. This has influenced the quantity and quality of fashion bloggers overall. Julie Fredrickson was recently quoted in the NY Times on the relationship between beauty blogging and free products, “Most of the bloggers call themselves beauty addicts, and maybe they were, but that girl quickly realizes that this is about notoriety and freebies,” Ms. Fredrickson said. “Maybe before people started sending out products, it wasn’t, but that’s not something we should romanticize anymore.” Julie has gone on to encourage fashion bloggers to put pressure on themselves to evolve creatively, stating in her blog that "[fashion blogging has gotten fawning again. Its almost as if the second we all got access the critical perspective we once took went out the window." She goes on to encourage bloggers to focus "on creating value in our own right. We need to move beyond commentary...now that the hierarchy has been reestablished let’s get rid of it! Blogging is mainstream media again."
Is blogging is facing its own multi-million dollar record deal to sell out? From a branding perspective, I often felt there was a kind of unspoken divide between those fashion blogs that were early adopters of Glam's "anybody and everybody" acceptance model, and the more hand-picked feel of the original Coutorture model (I say original because with Sugar Inc's recent acquisition of the hub the site is in almost daily evolvution. Currently, the focus seems to be moving away from a highlighting member content, emerging as its own multi-media vehicle content creator.) When looking at the visual branding, Sugar Inc seems to be operating on a similar aesthetic to Glam, and Coutorture seems almost like the way too cool older sister they can't quite seem to understand. It's a bit like if you are a Wal-Mart (Glam) or a Target (Coutorture) kind of person. Or back in elementary school when you had to be either a Madonna (Glam) or a Cyndi Lauper (Coutorture) kind of person.I am a Target shopping, Girls Just Want to Have Fun petticoat wearing fashion PR blogger. And I am worried that we are losing the heart of blogging in the pursuit of ad dollars, free products, party invites - all the things that bloggers and to a certain extent, PRs, bemoaned about the traditional print fashion journalism 'slave to the advertiser' model.
I checked in with friend, fashion blogger, and Fashiontribes editor Sandra Mendoza-Daly who has pursued the benefits of both Glam and Coutorture to see how she feels about these two major players. Her response: "I don't receive as much traffic as some of the mainstream blogs. Recently, I noticed my traffic, according to Glam, has gone way down. However, according to my [non-Glam] stats, they haven't fluctuated enough to coincide with the massive decline in ad revenue Glam claims I am making. Yet, Glam has not offered tutorials, courses, teleseminars on how to increase my traffic (Coutorture does). If they are making enough traffic to warrant yet another VC bonus, I'm wondering who is pulling in all of this traffic? Because according to them, it certainly isn't me. On the other hand, Coutorture doesn't offer ad revenue to its members. I do feel Coutorture cares more about quality content, but in the blogging business, it's all about numbers."
Is this inevitable, human nature, or can something be done? My eye is on sites like Independent Fashion Bloggers - a collective of thought-provoking posts on everything from blog networks and advertising to interviews with fashion bloggers own appointed monarchy.