About.com: I totally don’t get it

In the world of mainstream media, there’s a lot of not unjustified worry about trading print dollars for digital dimes — or worse yet, digital pennies.

Yet, it is seemingly contradicted by the success of About.com, which new media commentator and former About.com consutant Jeff Jarvis wrote recently was “about the only bright spot” on the New York Times’ profit and loss statement.

According to the New York Times Company annual report for 2006, the NYT subsidiary About.com — one of the top 15 most visited websites that year with 47.5 milllion average unique monthly visitors worldwide — had revenues of $80.2 million or some 3% of the total $3.3 billion revenue pie. Its 2006 operating profit rose to $30.8 million from a restated $11.7 million for 2005 and compared to $317.2 million for the company’s News Media Group.

That’s 8.9% of the 2006 operating profit with just 3% of the revenues, which is the opposite of dollars for digital dimes. It’s actually more profitable than the old print franchise, so what gives?

Frankly, I’ve wondered for a while now just why About.com — with a lot of mediocre content — became so successful that the NYT was willing to pay $410 million for it in 2005. After all, it’s not exactly a difficult model to replicate. Then the other day, I noticed this referral to my Scottish Terrier and Dog News site and all I could think of was Geosign.


And I started to wonder if About.com’s success actually had very little to do with its content and a whole lot more to do with pages like these, which supposedly made Geosign annual revenues of $100 million plus. And, of course, that would explain Marshall Simmond’s seemingly inexplicable reputation as an SEO rockstar.

All this leads me to my final questions for today: Does anyone know how many of these pages About.com actually has and if its serious money is coming from parked domain-style pages as opposed to the content pages? I am really, truly stumped.

4 thoughts on “About.com: I totally don’t get it

  1. Anne, the about.com page you are linking to apparently contains an AD (“sponsored link”) for your Scottish Terrier and Dog News site, i.e. you are probably PAYING for every click some moron (just like me) does. Frankly, I’d suggest to take down the link immediately and just keep the screenshot.

  2. So, you’re buying ppc advertising on google, and landing it on a page emphasizing a large adsense ppc block?

    Hypocrite.

  3. Nothing hypocritical about it.

    I’ve always been interested in monetizing online content and made that clear right from the start.

    It’s why I became interested in Geosign in the first place.

    I wanted to figure out what made it so profitable when its content was so poor.

  4. And BTW, the same questions apply to About.com although its content is a lot better than Geosign’s and as far as I know it never engaged in arbitrage, relying instead on organic search results.

    Still, it makes a lot of money for what it does.

    And finally, I do give Geosign a certain amount of credit. It figured out a new industry and market and made a fortune, all legally as far as I know.

    While neither the company nor Tim Nye has done anything to contribute to the greater good — unlike Apple, Google, YouTube, Facebook, etc — they were in the right place at the right time with insights that others didn’t have.

    It was a mistake, however, to pretend to be something they weren’t.

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