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No Barriers to Entry
Calacanis openly refers to his latest venture as a “blog experiment,” and to be sure, it is an unproven model. In addition to competing with other networks, like Gawker Media, which currently publishes 13 blogs, Weblogs must compete with businesses using other emerging models. John Battelle, who founded Industry Standard and writes SearchBlog, a blog about the intersection of media, technology, and the Internet, has launched a venture tentatively called FM Publishing that will provide independent blogs with such services as ad sales, but will not own their content.

With this approach, Battelle may be able to attract high-end bloggers who want to maintain ownership of their editorial content but don’t have the time and resources to figure out how to monetize their blogs. And by bringing prominent blogs together, FM Publishing could begin to enjoy some of the same network benefits that Weblogs does.

A similar venture, called BlackInc Media, is being launched later this year by former CNET Networks employees. The company will help blog publishers with ad sales and business development. “Our goal is to allow bloggers to focus on the thing that made them valuable in the first place – good editorial content,” says Matt Comyns, one of BlackInc Media’s founders.

Another, less tangible challenge facing Weblogs is the fickle nature of Internet trends. The influence that bloggers wielded in the national debate during last year’s presidential election suggests that the medium’s cultural importance is unlikely to fade anytime soon. But that doesn’t guarantee that advertisers will ultimately find sufficient value in blogs. To date, most advertising has been conducted on an experimental basis.

Calacanis believes that blogs need not revolutionize media in order to be successful. “The problem is that lots of people want to make this a zero-sum game,” he says. “I don’t see blogs cannibalizing what Google News does or what the New York Times does. I see it as something unique. I think blogs will eventually represent 20 percent of a person’s media diet.”

If he’s right, then blog networks – and even some stand-alone blogs – may be able to carve out a comfortable existence. But in the end, a blogging company’s greatest weakness may be the very thing that makes the new medium so powerful: anybody can publish a blog.

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