Over the holidays I had a chance to talk to John Battelle of FM Publishing, a new but much discussed blog ad network that’s currently in beta. FM has a whole bunch of high profile bloggers working with it already, and from what I can see it looks near to making a formal debut, so it was good to get some answers from the man himself.
In this interview, John talks about FM, blog advertising in general, and the integrity of FM bloggers. Enjoy!
Q. For those readers not familiar with FM Publishing, can you tell us in a nutshell what it is, who it’s targeted at and what makes it noteworthy?
Federated Media (we call it FM) is something of a mashup of business models, all of which exist to support what might be called “talent” – think of the music labels, agents, book publishers and the like, but without the evil approach to intellectual property rights. Federated is a service business that partners with authors of great websites to bring them services and revenue. From our overview (not yet up, but soon): WE SELL ADVERTISING, indeed we do.
But that’s not all we do. At FM, we believe great voices attract great audiences. We’re in the business of supporting those voices, by both connecting them to great marketers, as well as providing a suite of services that let authors focus on what they do best: make compelling media. In doing so, we hope to create federations of respected voices which prosper on their own terms.
We have a platform (in limited alpha right now) that connects marketers with great authors, and we focus on the human side of it – making sure that it’s a great fit. So far, we have about 20 sites in the network, with another 20-30 in the works to join over time. We are creating category clusters for the marketers, and meta sites for audiences. But we are not telling the authors what to write, how to design their blogs, or what to do in general. We are providing them with services that will help them make their sites better, if they care to use them (for free). And all advertising must first be approved by each author before it runs. That’s why our tagline is “author-driven”.
Q. FM Publishing is pitched at the higher end of the blogosphere from what I can see, and what I’ve read. Is it fair to say that your most direct competion is from Henry Copeland’s BlogAds, that also clusters topic groups and authors?
Sort of. I sense Henry’s model is to be big (certainly that’s AdBrite’s and Google’s model!). Ours is to be focused. We believe that the human touch – between marketers, authors, and the audience – is key to the highest value relationships. We do not strive to have thousands of authors in our network. Scores of just the right ones will do. There are probably many more differences and many more similarities, but we’re pretty focused on our business right now. I wish Henry the best as his success means ours, and vice versa. It’s a very young market.
Q. Do you have any plans for lesser trafficked blogs?
We are not as much concerned with the size of a blog, as we are the quality of its audience, voice, and its influence.
Q. What kind of criteria are you working to when reviewing applications from publishers wanting to join FM?
Again, from our soon to be up website –
FM looks for passion, integrity, authority, and strong community support in all the sites we invite into our network. An FM site has influence not because its author is well known, but because the author has earned the trust of an influential community.
FM’s authors are characterized by highly original and intelligent voice and a strong sense of community. Their sites attract an influential and strongly opinionated audience who feel a strong bond to the author and the author’s subject whether it’s a focused business oriented sit like GigaOm or a broad cut of digital culture like Boing Boing. And, of course, all the authors in FM’s network believe that advertising, appropriately voiced, is an important part of his or her site’s ongoing conversation.
Q. In your opinion, what is it that bloggers need to be focusing on in order to attract advertisers, other than traffic figures?
Great content and keeping an honest and high integrity dialog up with your audience. It’s as simple as that. We have posted a draft of our author mores – a philosophy of sorts that our authors support – which state:
Authors who join the FM network of sites hold these values in common:
- Voice and Point of View: Strong voices and intelligent points of view drive robust conversations.
- Accuracy: Some FM sites are journalistic in nature; others are not. Regardless, FM sites strive for accuracy regarding items we post as facts.
- Community: Weblogs are conversations, not lectures. The community that gathers around each site is the essence of its value, and we treat that community accordingly. We listen and respond to feedback, and incorporate it into the way we manage our sites.
- Responsibility: We take our role in the community we serve seriously, and feel responsible for our own words. When we make mistakes, we correct them. We do not seek to use our sites maliciously.
- Transparency: We err on the side of disclosure to our readers. If we have an interest in something we’re writing about, we disclose that interest. We are as transparent as we can be about our site’s statistics, practices and policies.
Q. Will advertisers ever get over their fear of blog advertising?
I think so. We’re very very early, but are working with the likes of Microsoft, GM, Sega, Citibank, and scores of others. The key is for marketers to see this medium as one of conversation and dialog, not interruption and dictation or entertainment.
Q. What’s your take on ads with comments? It’s something I’ve had middling success with, readers liking it, advertisers being wary, but I feel this is the way forward for companies wanting to engage blog readers. Your thoughts?
I think it’s a good step toward what I mentioned above. But I think we need to remember that the advertiser has a right to comment as well! I think many innovations like this are in the works, and I hope FM will be in the thick of it.