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John Battelle

Founder and Chairman, Federated Media

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- "Talent management is not for sissies. You have to understand what it is to be an independent author making his living off of this. These are talented people living off fear and adrenaline."
John Battelle, Co-Founder, 'Wired' Magazine
John Battelle, Co-Founder, 'Wired' Magazine Credit: Bart Nagel

This is John Battelle, co-founder of Wired magazine, chronicler of Google and, most recently, a sort of Moses of the blogosphere, talking about what it's like to lead that scattered nation of aggregators and instigators into a promised land of advertiser respect and, of course, higher CPMs.

Doubling CPMs
As of late August, about 85 high-profile blogs, including BoingBoing and Digg, had joined the flock of Mr. Battelle's Federated Media, giving up a slice of their ad dollars for the exposure to the bigger advertisers and better rates that a bit of scale gets them. Since it was founded last year, Federated (of which Mr. Battelle is founder and chairman) has done ad deals with the likes of General Motors and Microsoft and managed to double its cost-per-thousand averages across its network. Still, it's clear Mr. Battelle's most important clients are those who wear their bathrobes and slippers to work.

"You need to be the kind of organization who knows how to keep those people happy and talk them off of ledges," he said. "That is not for the weak of heart, and it's not what traditional media companies are good at."

That doesn't mean old media isn't trying, especially as the flight of ad dollars to the internet hammers stock prices. The Washington Post recently decided to follow the money into the arena, with Blogroll, a network that, like Federated, will eschew ownership in favor of a cut of ad sales. Even just a few years ago, in the hysteria of the dot-com hype, you would have laughed at the suggestion that the Washington Post's sales force would be looking to the nation's living-room scribes to produce ad inventory. That, of course, was before the long tail swept across the world, teaching marketers and media sellers alike that there's gold in them there blogs, if you know how to look for it.

Started with BoingBoing
Mr. Battelle's theory is that by getting together quality bloggers with strong readerships, you can get them better deals with everyone from third-party ad networks to advertisers and agencies themselves, who don't have the time to filter the millions of blogs out there. The idea that became Federated grew out of Mr. Battelle's experience as "band manager" for BoingBoing, a phenomenally popular technology blog that brings in 2 million unique users every month. About a year and a half ago, its co-authors began to get hit with charges for hosting and decided to get Mr. Battelle help them find a way to make some money.

"John said it's going to be harder to make a little money to pay your bandwidth bills than it will be to make a lot of money and have a real source of income from this," said Cory Doctorow, co-author of BoingBoing and a colleague of Mr. Battelle from their Wired days.

Federated's ranks are divided into groups based on broad topics, or "Federations." Mr. Battelle expects Federated to grow to about 200 blogs, and he said it will soon begin organizing events around some of them.

And, inevitably, there'll be more competition, from new- and old-media types alike. Mr. Battelle, who knows a little about PR from working the other side of the fence, doesn't seem particularly worried, though. "I'll tell you what people tell me when I report on this stuff: All these competitive threats, they're very validating."
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