Did anyone actually offer to buy Glam Media for $1.3 billion? We asked sources familiar with the company and its publishing partners. The one-word answer: No. The two-word answer: No way. The non-verbal answer: giggles. So who's the source of the rumor? Probably Glam CEO Samir Arora himself. Says an indury source: "Everybody tells me that they think Samir's saying it to puff himself up." For the record, this is our theory of choice, too. But someone close to the company, offered a fascinating but less plausible theory.
Namely, that Glam might be talking to European private equity firms. The kind, our source explains, that has more capital than sense, an eye on the sinking dollar, and a tendency to start funding conversations with American entrepreneurs by asking, "What would you do with $80 million?"
The theory goes that a European firm would buy Glam, pump a couple hundred million dollars into inflating its traffic with guaranteed revenues for new partners for its ad network, tighten the revenue share on older partners to get them thinking of selling out, buy those blogs to increase Glam's owned traffic from about 3 percent of its network to maybe 30 percent, and then flip the whole thing to an old-media behemoth desperate to make an online advertising splash with Glam's coveted female demographic.
Don't believe the bit about Glam lowering the CPMs it pays out to its partners in order to make them vulnerable to buyouts? Some Glam partners worry it's already happening. A partner tells us Glam used to pay $20 to $30 CPMs for premium ads and $7 to $10 for run-of-network ads. Now they pay $7 for the premium stuff and $2 for run-of-network "garbage." For Glam's publishing partners, these sources say, it's getting harder to sustain a business on Glam ads, and it's getting ever more tempting to sell out.
We hear that many Glam partners who want to sell have to offer themselves to Glam first, under right-of-first-refusal clauses. Industry watchers say Glam learned these tactics when it hired Richard Rocca from hardballing ad network Gorilla Nation.
Take the conspiracy theories with a grain of salt. Some of the CPM shrinkage is the result of Glam's increase in size. Selling inventory, it used to be able to go straight to marketing departments, which tend to spend more for less. But now a run-of-network buy on Glam costs so much that it exceeds the amount marketing departments are allowed to spend. Buys have to go through agencies, whose media buyers watch out for clients like Procter & Gamble by refusing to pay more than a $7 CPM. Just business, in other words — but Glam signed up those websites on the promise of better economic terms.
Even if Glam's partners are wrong in their suspicions, the very fact that some believe Glam's business model is so flawed it has to cheat to win begs the question: Who — other than more investors who want in on the shady action — is going to pay $1.3 billion for that kind of company?