Glam Media is getting a makeover. The company, a network of women's and men's lifestyle sites that sees 94 million readers a month, has announced the launch of a new health and wellness vertical called Bliss.com. But what's more significant is what's going on under the hood: a new content contributor's platform in the vein of Demand Media as well as a social networking play the company calls GlamConnect.
With Glam Media's growing audience and list of advertisers, industry observers speculate a public offering may be in the cards this year. Founder and CEO Samir Arora spoke to Ad Age about the company's latest moves.
Ad Age : Glam has raised $175 million and is a top 10 ComScore property. Is an IPO in the cards this year?
Mr. Arora: I'm afraid that 's one topic we can't comment on at all.
Ad Age : How did Glam become such a highly trafficked property without gaming search engines or having tons of big name-brand media properties to start off with?
Mr. Arora: There was a fundamental change in content consumption because of social media. If you look at the sources of traffic to other top 10 companies -- the New York Times digital, PBS, CNet, Yahoo and AOL -- Glam is the lowest in terms of traffic coming from search engines. A year ago, 17% of it was organic. A year later, it fell to 12%, though we grew by about 30%. This is a telling sign. Our traffic from Facebook grew over 6% and from Twitter almost three times.
So we were founded on the principle of social media. Consumers are not going to very large portals such as Yahoo and MSN for content, and there is a rise of social web and longer-tail media, small micro sites with more voice. That's the trend that allowed Glam to get where it is .
Ad Age : You're launching a new health vertical -- why this topic and why now?
Mr. Arora: Bliss is basically replicating the Glam model in that it will have its own authors and brand advertisers. It's close to launching a magazine, or a network, in that sense. As we expand our model, our ability to launch verticals, we've crossed the threshold of replication of our vertical models. Our adjacent verticals must have a large consumer base that wants focused content and information, and we must have the advertisers. With our verticals, there must be an emotional need for the brands. Advertisers have to connect to consumers. Health is a very consuming area, with so many people wanting a healthy lifestyle.
Ad Age : Are you thinking of adding any more verticals in the future? [The company recently bought the domain-name Foodie.com.]
Mr. Arora: We have no special announcement to make at the moment, but you can expect more from us. Adjacent to style, we have Glam Entertainment, which we will continue to invest in, as well as in autos and food. We don't yet have a specific determination of which vertical, but these deserve to be their own vertical in the future. We want to eventually go from just one vertical in 2005 to seven.
Ad Age : You're calling your new content-contribution platform GlamCreate [very similar to Demand Media model]. How much will you pay contributors?
Mr. Arora: With GlamCreate, you will get a share of the revenue. On average, with Glam 1, it used to be a 50-50 split. But with Glam 2.0, it's not specific. Is there an economic change with GlamCreate? Yes, but it wasn't the driver. Of course economics will change. There is a cost to content hosting and serving; particularly with video, there is a substantial cost. We want quality content, and we want to let authors and journalists write what they want. If you want to be in this profession, you have to write regularly to make money. Glam is a very serious monetizer of content.
Ad Age : Describe your social network, GlamConnect.
Mr. Arora: GlamConnect is the first vertical social network platform, and is by invite only. So BlissConnect will be specific to professional journalists and authors. It's an antidote to Google+, or Facebook, or Twitter specifically. People have no affinity groups because it's so widespread. But we're launching with 500 authors. And it will be a community where people are already curated, filtered and have similar interests. That's a very powerful community, and hard to do on your own. So once you're invited to BlissConnect, you can use the social network to connect to your own readers on your site as well as on Bliss.com, and the audience will keep growing.
The timing is very good. There hasn't been a lot of innovation in content creation. Wordpress developed and got very complex -- if you need to add a widget, you need someone's help. Most journalists out there are having a tough time keeping up with technology. Our background is different. We come from a culture where the platform of content should be simple.
Ad Age : How will authors' relationship with Glam Media change with the advent of these new platforms?
Mr. Arora: Some portion of current authors will move to GlamCreate while some may stay and do both -- run their own site, and also publish content on GlamCreate. And then we will also have new authors and bloggers starting with GlamCreate, who will need to apply first so that they can be curated and approved to join.
Ad Age : Glam is known more for its advertising than its editorial content. Why is that ?
Mr. Arora: What's unusual about Glam is that we're a tech-media company, created in Silicon Valley, not New York, though we have a big office there. The core change was to bring brand advertisers online. This wasn't an idea we added later, it was a core idea. Five to seven years ago, people didn't believe that the web was for brand advertising. Coming from Apple Computer, I intuitively believed that digital will bring brand advertising in. If you look at the advertisers tab on Glam Media, you'll see brands like Louis Vuitton and Dior. You don't win the trust of these brands easily. But we believe in packaging high-quality content with high-performing display brand advertising.
Ad Age : How is newly launched Glam Media South Korea doing? Any plans to expand further internationally in the near future?
Mr. Arora: We expanded to U.K., Germany and Japan, but stopped at the downturn. Then we expanded to France, Canada and, most recently, South Korea. South Korea is on a complete economic boom cycle. It's extremely brand aware, and its people travel globally, and are the sort of people brands want to target . We also want to expand to China, India, Brazil, Russia and other European countries. We will slowly expand city by city, country by country.