Federated Media Publishing, the ad network run by John Battelle, has lost one of the most popular sites it repped, and another may also leave the stable. Fark, the heavily-trafficked humor site run by Drew Curtis, has appointed Maxim, the men's internet and magazine title, to sell its inventory. And Digg, the tech news link dump, is set to follow.
Word last week was that Maxim was about to put out a press release about the switch. I even thought for a while that the timing was designed to spare Battelle the embarrassment of a partner defection at Web 2.0, the highly popular internet business conference he chaired, and at which FM was showcased.
However, Drew Curtis said yesterday he had no knowledge of an announcement. He doesn't want needlessly to alienate Battelle, and Fark will continue to use FM for its remnant inventory, the ad space it can't otherwise sell.
These developments aren't all that surprising. Digg is on the block, and Fark's editorial mix of fratboy humor and funny headlines didn't sit comfortably with FM Publishing's other sites, such as Boing Boing, which primarily cover technology news. FM's head of sales came from CNET, and its sales team is more familiar with tech and business advertisers.
The Battelle spin is that Maxim was a better fit for Fark, and clients — such as Digg, presumably — sometimes get acquired. Which is fair enough. Ad networks — though Battelle would never admit to being one — always suffer from turnover. They don't control the properties they sell. If they do a bad job, the partner site fires them; if they perform well, um, same thing happens. (Read Jason Calacanis on the subject.) The departure of Fark and Digg is par for the course. And Battelle is adding sites.
But there is one perplexing question. John Battelle has been in the publishing business for more than a decade, and he would know that FM would have difficulty representing Fark. The site's racy content scares off more conservative advertisers. So why on earth did he talk up Fark so much this summer? In September's Business 2.0 cover story, Blogging For Dollars, Battelle boasted that Fark could become "the most profitable site in mainstream blogdom". If that's the case, someone else will be making the commission.
Long disclosure: FM Publishing is a rival, in business model, at least, of Gawker Media, owner of Valleywag. John Battelle, when Valleywag launched, said that gossip wasn't part of Silicon Valley's DNA, a contention we obviously disagree with. And Battelle and I have a relationship that's superficially friendly, but is more accurately described as passive-aggressive. He's bullish, and that annoys me. I thought "The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture", Battelle's book, was sycophantic. I'm sure I've forgotten something.