AOL to Buy Weblogs Inc.

NEW YORK AOL made the first major purchase of a blog media company, striking a deal to pay an estimated $20 million for Weblogs Inc., a collection of 85 niche Internet sites on topics like gadgets, baby care, films and video games.

Santa Monica, Calif.-based Weblogs will become an AOL subsidiary when the deal closes next week, and the portal will promote the blogs in its various online channels. For instance, the AOL Autos section will drive traffic to Weblogs’ Autoblog and the AOL personal technology section will feed Engadget. Weblogs’ properties draw an estimated 30 million page views per month, according to AOL.

Jim Bankoff, executive vice president of programming and products at AOL, said the company considered a variety of options, including building its own blog network, before concluding that Weblogs offered it the best opportunity to build a large number targeted blogs to appeal to specific audiences.

“It was the process as much as the traffic,” Bankoff said. “It’s a great system the company has for identifying talented bloggers and giving them incentives.”

Blogs and smaller Web sites have attracted more media attention as advertisers shift from targeting mass audiences to niches. The New York Times paid $410 million in February for About, a collection of specialty Web sites on specific topics. Weblogs and independently owned Gawker Media are the two largest blog media networks.

AOL plans to sell placements on the blogs to its advertisers, allowing an automaker, for example, to run mass-reach ads on AOL and influencer-targeted campaigns on Autoblog. Weblogs will keep its own sales force.

“AOL fully is embracing what’s going in the world of blogging and more broadly user-generated content,” Bankoff said.

Weblogs will retain its management team, including CEO Jason Calacanis.