One constant theme of contemporary conversations around journalistic online start-ups is the oft-expressed desire to start something that will be “a bit like the Huffington Post of X”—X here being some other country than the US. Apparently, Arianna Huffington and/or her AOL bosses share this ambition, as they have announced launches in Brazil, France, and the United Kingdom (in addition to the Canadian version launched in May).
Just looking quickly at the UK media market, the one of the three I am most familiar with, I’d second many of Kevin Anderson’s observations, and suggest Huffington/AOL faces several challenges as they try to expand—
- They are entering a smaller and more competitive market (Kate Burns aside) than the one they entered in the US in 2005, with a more diverse media system, including ideologically diverse nationally-read newspapers with a strong online presence and of course the giant that is the BBC.
- They do not have the early mover advantage that they had in the US. It is, to put it bluntly, not 2005 anymore, and many sites have moved a long way since in terms of harnessing people’s desire to participate and express themselves (either because of the intrinsic rewards or because they are spokespeople of various sorts) and to be engaged.
- They are no longer the Huffington Post of 2005, the exciting start-up, the cool new thing everyone (might) want to be part of. They are part of AOL, and the same issues over compensation or lack thereof that are dogging the site in the US will follow the model as it is transposed to other countries (especially since some of them have, you know, unions and stuff).
Does the UK need a HuffPo site? Personally I’m not sure it adds much that is critically undersupplied here, but it is an open party, and a free-for-all when it comes to competing for audience attention and advertising revenues. If Huffington makes any substantial contributions to the media systems she is about to launch in, it may be indirectly, by pushing legacy media online to compete with her in terms of participation and engagement, where there is surely still much room for improvement.
Coming with a well-known brand and much know-how accumulated over the years, the new HuffPo subsidiaries need not necessarily grow to the same size as the original to be successful—if aggregation, remix, and commentary fuelled by those who make a living professing views and those who like to profess their views (plus a bit of original content) can be assembled at a low enough cost and a large enough audience gathered by using the methods that have worked so well in the US, they could wriggle their way in here and there.
But I suppose that this is the central difference between the old (US) HuffPo and the new (national) HuffPos—the 2005 original very successfully created a niche by identifying and serving an underserved demand in the US. It looks like the 2011 franchises around the world will have to carve out their niches in a rather more crowded space.