Only three months after the British newspaper publisher The Guardian Group bought Rafat Ali’s ContentNext Media and his collection of blogs for a reported $30 million, one of those blogs is sputtering badly. The blog in question is contentSutra, the Indian counterpart to its bigger and better known brother, paidContent (both cover the business of digital media). Until recently, contentSutra was ContentNext’s second biggest blog, even beating out mocoNews.
But if you look at it now, traffic has dropped off a cliff. Posts are sporadic, and mostly consist of news roundups or the occasional post from the editors at paidContent. ContentNext and the Guardian are currently in talks with media companies in India for possible syndication and cross-promotion deals. Rumors are going around that ContentNext has been in talks with HT Media (publisher of the Hindustan Times), 9.9 Media, and others. We also received an unconfirmed tip that the Guardian is trying to unload contentSutra all together, but Rafat Ali says that is not true.
In any event, the site is not doing as well as it once did. The editor who built up contentSutra for two years, Nikhil Pahwa, left at the end of May, and launched his own competing blog, Medianama, a month later on June 27. Pahwa didn’t have any equity in ContentNext and was frustrated by the lack of a plan to take it to the next level. The Guardian deal was announced two weeks after he launched Medianama. Pahwa tells me:
About the Guardian deal: I found out about the deal, like everyone else, on the day that it was announced. All I knew before that is that ContentNext was raising another round of VC funding. The interest in the market is evident from the fact that contentSutra was number two among the ContentNext properties in terms of traffic at one point in time.
One of the reasons (but obviously not the main driver) for the deal was the international exposure that contentSutra would provide. In an interview on paidContent, Guardian Media Group CEO Carolyn McCall explained the appeal of ContentNext’s Indian media property:
International plans: The common interests the companies have in UK, US and India are a major part of the fit. McCall: “India is an emerging market and doing incredibly well, I should think, and there are great opportunities there … I think we could help each other in India because we’ve been looking at that market long and hard.”
After Pahwa left, Ali started looking for a new editor for contentSutra. He is still looking. Meanwhile, Medianama is putting out more posts a day (and better ones) on the Indian digital media scene than contentSutra. A blog is only as good as its writers.
That’s the thing about blogs. They are incredible efficient from a labor standpoint. You can launch a media property covering an entire sub-continent with one editor. The flip side is that when you build a brand or sub-brand around one person, that brand takes a hit when that person walks out the door. (This is an issue all blogs have to deal with, and is why giving out equity to writers and editors is a good idea).