Sometimes it seems the new math was invented for the new economy, where four or five small companies -- only one of which has ever made a profit -- can add up to big money. At least that's the thinking behind an as-yet-unnamed new venture set to integrate several Internet publications into a new highbrow "portal site" -- a kind of hipster Yahoo! for the twentysomethings who were known as Generation X before they became Generation IPO.
Last week, word got out that the owners of Feed, the scrappy East Coast answer to Salon, were negotiating with several other Websites that have more intellectual cachet than they do mass appeal, including Suck, a snarky mix of comics and think pieces; Alt.culture, an online encyclopedia of cool; and the Smoking Gun, a collection of documents with high gossip value. (New York has a content deal with the Smoking Gun.)
Feed co-founder Stefanie Syman confirms that the new company plans to connect its constituent sites over the course of next year, but it has already faced its first setback. Originally, the prospective partner sites wanted to band together under the name www.pop.com, which was registered to Lycos -- the company that owns Suck and is providing startup costs through its Lycos Ventures division. (Lycos acquired the name when it bought Wired Digital last year.) But Lycos made a deal to give the site name to an entertainment company owned by DreamWorks and Imagine Entertainment.
"It turns out the guy who runs Lycos CEO Bob Davis had his own idea about the URL," says someone involved in the deal. "You have these 'zine sites wanting something that is sought by DreamWorks -- you know who's going to win the fight." A Lycos spokesperson would say only that the company is "thrilled to be working with the DreamWorks-Imagine Pop.com and we expect to continue working with them in some capacity."
Whatever its eventual name and Web address, the new company plans to cut costs by consolidating advertising-sales and office operations. Teaming up with Lycos will also bring in the kind of traffic necessary to attract major ad campaigns. "There's a flow of interesting people," says Steven Johnson, who runs Feed with Syman, "so it's a logical place to start."
In this case, "interesting people" means the 25-to-40-year-old tastemakers whose fortunes have risen along with the booming economy. "It's more a sensibility we're defining," says Syman. "These audiences tend to be incredibly loyal and exciting."
Long-term plans for the portal include partnerships with independent record labels and e-commerce Websites. That, as well as the aggregation of these formerly independent sites into one umbrella company, seems to reflect the abandonment of the do-it-yourself ideal that envisioned the Web launching a thousand 'zines rather than a thousand IPOs.
Whether this shift is permanent may depend on whether this new company makes money. "There's definitely room in the media world for property geared toward a 25-to-40 audience that's fairly sophisticated," says Anya Sacharow, an analyst with the Internet research firm Jupiter Communications. On the other hand, "the core business of pure content is still somewhat problematic." But that never stopped anyone in the new economy, so the big question is: When's the IPO?
"We have a number of hurdles to get over," says Johnson with a laugh, "before we start thinking about that."