When raising money, it's best to keep investors guessing. The less they understand your business, the more likely they are to substitute optimism for analysis. At least, that seems to be Glam Media's hope. By touting itself as the best way to reach women on the Web, the online-advertising concern is hoping to rake in big bucks. A private-placement document (PDF) circulated by Bank of America and investment bank Allen & Co. says that the company aims to raise $200 million, and claims that Glam, with 19 million unique visitors a month, is growing faster than MySpace did before News Corp. acquired it. And VentureBeat reports that Glam is on the verge of signing a multiyear, $1 billion ad-sales deal. There are a few small problems with those displays of optimism, however.
First, the comparison to MySpace: Glam is an online-advertising network, not a destination site, and so it doesn't control the traffic it claims. More than half of its pageviews, according to ComScore, come from MyYearbook.com, a social-networking site that Glam doesn't own, and that could, quite conceivably, drop Glam at any point in favor of a rival or its own ad-sales team.
The billion-dollar advertising deal, if true, would explain Glam's otherwise unbelievable revenue-growth projections:
Glam's own websites, according to a ComScore report (PDF), account for less than 10 percent of its unique visitors and about a seventh of its pageviews. If Glam's counting ads sold for third parties as gross revenues, then most of that money will be flowing to websites it represents, not Glam's own coffers. And if Glam takes too generous a cut, it risks losing those sites altogether. Without MyYearbook.com, especially, Glam wouldn't have nearly as much inventory to offer. (Note: Gawker Media, the publisher of Valleywag, also publishes Jezebel, a competitor to some sites owned or represented by Glam.)
Glam's latest move, launching a search engine for its network of sites, may prove an answer of sorts. Lately, the company has been dabbling in search-engine optimization, the questionable practice of designing websites to rank highly in Google's search results rather than in users' affections. By driving traffic from MyYearbook.com and its handful of other popular sites to those sites designed to lure in Web searchers, Glam could actually capture more traffic from the network of sites it reps. Until, that is, those independent sites protest the naked grab at their users.
Samir Arora, Glam's CEO, is a slick sort. In 1997, he managed to sell a controlling stake in Web-authoring startup NetObjects to IBM; four years later, the company was broken up for parts. Given his history of salesmanship, and the current mania for online-ad networks, it's likely that Glam will draw deep-pocketed investors. But buyer beware.