With xoJane Launch, Say Media Embarks on Transformation into a “Passion-Based Media Company”

When VideoEgg bought its San Francisco neighbor Six Apart last fall and renamed the combined company Say Media, the reaction from many media watchers was, “Say what?” It wasn’t clear why a rich-media advertising network needed to own a blogging company, or what plans it had for Moveable Type and Typepad, Six Apart’s once-pioneering publishing platforms. And if you had stopped by Say Media’s website at any point in the last eight months, the company would still have looked pretty much like an ad network, albeit one whose technology supports sites with about 400 million unique visitors.

That all started to change in late May, when Say Media launched xoJane, an online magazine headed by Jane Pratt, the founding editor of the now-defunct women’s lifestyle magazines Sassy and Jane. The publication is built on a platform that Say Media CEO Matt Sanchez calls “TypePad plus” (the official name is TypePad for Publishers) and it’s the first home-grown property in what he describes as a “passion-based media company” that will specialize in matching niche online publications with the rich-media digital ads for which VideoEgg was known.

Say’s other big story of the spring was its acquisition of Dogster, Inc., the San Francisco-based creator of the leading pet-services sites Dogster and Catster. The Dogster sites haven’t yet been rebuilt on the Say Media platform, but as the company assimilates or launches more publications, the outlines of its media empire will take clearer shape, Sanchez says. “Right now we’re in this interesting flux period,” he says. “But a year from now it will be really evident from the outside where we are going, and you will really start to see more enablement of independent content creators and people building interesting niche media properties.”

Say Media CEO Matt Sanchez

In other words, Say Media is making a bid to join the ranks of technology-driven vertical media networks, alongside San Francisco-based rivals such as Glam Media, which owns Glam.com, Brash.com, Bliss.com, and Tinker.com; Federated Media, which supplies ads to a network of independent sites such as Boing Boing and GigaOm and also owns niche sites such as Foodbuzz; and Blinkx, which recently bought Burst Media, the advertising supplier for site like Cooks.com, Politico, and RuneScape. In some ways, these networks call to mind the big 20th-century magazine publishing empires like Time-Life, in that each publication has its own special voice and audience and subsists on ads from the big brands who want to reach those audiences. The difference this time around is that it’s not the editors and publishers who are assembling the empires—it’s the middlemen, the companies with the technology needed to package and distribute the ads.

For Say Media, xoJane is the pattern-setter. The site’s tagline is “where women go when they are being selfish,” and it’s full of first-person, mostly breezy articles with headlines like “Wear Your Pajamas Outside” and “My Spin Instructor Quit and I’m Kinda Freaking Out.” There are also big, interactive video ads for brands like Ford, BlackBerry, and Puma. Like Oprah’s O magazine, xoJane is loosely built around Pratt herself and her busy life; for instance, there’s a feature called “Jane’s Phone” featuring text messages, photos, and e-mails extracted directly from Pratt’s iPhone in real time. “I want this to be the no-bullshit women’s site,” Pratt said in an article in Say Media’s PDF-based house magazine—an assertion she backed up with a jarringly personal May 24 post about her history of miscarriages.

Becoming a publisher of passion-based sites like xoJane is a logical outgrowth of the “cost per engagement” or CPE advertising model that VideoEgg pioneered, according to Sanchez. Rather than charging advertisers by the impression, the way most ad networks still do, Say Media charges for … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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