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An Interview With Marc Danziger, One Of The Pajamas Media Partners

Written By : John Hawkins
February 10, 2012

John Hawkins: You, Charles Johnson, and Roger L. Simon run Pajamas Media, correct? How did you decide to get this started and was what you’re doing now the original concept?

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Marc Danziger: Yes – we’re the general partners; there are some other folks who have interests we’ve swapped for help in various ways, but it’s the three of us. Charles and Roger had been thinking about how to take the attention the blogs had been getting and make a business of it and I’ve been working on “long tail” business models for a long time. They called to bounce some ideas off of me, I bounced them back in ways they liked, and we decided to rent a barn and put on a show.

John Hawkins: So, what you’re doing now is the original concept you had?

Marc Danziger: Very close. (It has) three legs: 1) (An) ad network serving mainstream Internet advertisers; 2) Feed serving blog content to mainstream media; 3) Feed serving blog content and ways of finding blog content to the general public.

Here’s a way to think about it: the power of the blogosphere is inherently dynamic and chaotic by nature. It ebbs, surges, and moves in ways that can’t be predicted or controlled, and if you tried, you’d kill what’s interesting about it. But, as more and more attention gets paid to it, there is value there – in the attention (ads) and in the content. So how do you capture that value? How do you make it possible for bloggers to be like Ani DiFranco? So they can be the masters and mistresses of their own fate and not wait for The Washington MonthlyNewsweek, or The New Republic to hire them as columnists? So we want to build a set of interfaces between the traditional media world and blogs: blog energy, creativity, and ideas on one side, and mainstream media attention and dollars on the other.

John Hawkins: Now what do people like Glenn ReynoldsLarry Kudlow, andHugh Hewitt do?

Marc Danziger: They are bloggers who sit on the boundary between mainstream media and blogs – or media folks who sit just on the other side of that boundary. That interface – where blogs, bloggers, and blog content get attention in media and where we supply information for media – is one of the things we want to develop.

John Hawkins: So, do Glenn, Hugh, & Larry Kudlow play a role that’s any different than say a blogger who signs up today or are they just bigger names? Do they have any special role in Pajamas media?

Marc Danziger: They are advising us; when we put together an editorial board to help us shape the content stream, they — along with some left bloggers likeMarc Cooper and some others we’re trying to wrangle — will be involved. We’ve got some interesting ideas about using folks of interest for this…can’t go into too much detail yet.

John Hawkins: I know that you signed up some bloggers a while back (because I was one of them) and you’re signing up more bloggers today. So what’s the difference between those of us who were signed up months ago and those who sign on today?

Marc Danziger: I.e. what are we going to do with the original 60 that we aren’t going to do with later bloggers? In terms of business terms, etc.?

John Hawkins: Well, in general: is there a difference?

Marc Danziger: Contractually, no. You have MFN status, so you’ll get the best terms we offer (although at this time we intend to offer everyone the same ad deal). You had/have a head start on signing up affiliates — we’re planning on leveraging inter-blogger relationships as a way of lowering our marketing costs.

Although I had an interesting email from a blogger who wanted to know what we expected he would make on referrals relative to ads, I told him I was relatively “uncomfy” with businesses where the typical person made more from bringing new people in than they made from doing business. The affiliate income should be a laignaippe, not a driver.

Practically, the people we contacted first were the people we had relationships with — and those will continue to be the people we turn to for advice and comment.

John Hawkins: Tell us about the syndication deal you’re working on. Are you trying to compete with the Associated Press and Google News?

Marc Danziger: In our dreams, yes. Practically, we plan to work first in two areas — and here Roger is more in touch than I am, so if I get it slightly wrong, forgive me. First, in ‘surge’ news – areas like Uzbekistan and other remote areas where media presence is thin, citizens with basic tech can take photos and film.

The second is marketing opeds and commentary. (There are) some other things to (help) connect mainstream media and what’s interesting in the blogs, but that’s not baked yet. From there, we will have to listen to the customers, and see if we can get traction in new markets.

John Hawkins: Now these “Johnny-on-spot-posts” in foreign countries: how are you going to make sure that they’re legit? Although he turned out to be the real deal, I know there was some controversy, for example, when the blogger from “Where is Raed?” started posting live from Iraq before the invasion. People wondered if he was legit, a faker from another country, a CIA plant, etc.

Marc Danziger: That’s one of the hardest questions we’re dealing with in talking to media folks. In the blogosphere, things are corrected over time – “truth-in-progress,” I call it. So you can be casual. So we’re looking at ways of doing some basic validation/factchecking. But remember we had a reporter here in LA who did a story from Chico without ever going there. The best way to strip away falsehood is to be open to criticism.

John Hawkins: The advertising deal you’re going to be offering — you say itdoesn’t compete with blogads, so what type of ads will Pajamas media be running?

Marc Danziger: Well, yes, we will be competing — we’re both trying to get you to run our ads. So on one hand, we will be having a friendly competition for blogger attention. Bloggers can run both, but at some point you start looking like a NASCAR car.

We’re looking at a different group of advertisers – more mainstream and corporate, which we think will pay higher ad rates and do more sustained advertising. But Henry’s done a good job, and there’s a lot we will learn from competing with him.

John Hawkins: So, will you be running ads that go in the side columns — like blogads, banners ads, pop-ups, something else?

Marc Danziger: No popups or popunders, no interstitials. I hate those, and think most bloggers and blog readers would as well.

John Hawkins: Agreed.

Marc Danziger: We’re working on the exact form of the ads, plus a few blog-specific things with our ad partners. The structure of blogs is different than a typical web page. But, we also have to run ads in traditional formats in ways that make traditional advertisers comfy or they won’t play.

John Hawkins: So, you’re thinking banner ads and ads that go in the side panels of blogs perhaps?

Marc Danziger: Yes, as a basic step.

John Hawkins: Now the banner ads wouldn’t be competing with blogads. I’ve had banner ads and blogads on my blog for more than a year, for example. But, the side ads would. So it would be fair to say you’re competing directly with blogads right out of the blocks?

Marc Danziger: For that real estate, perhaps. But, people run Google ads and blog ads in sidebars without anyone’s brains melting, so I assume we could, too.

John Hawkins: If a blogger signs on with Pajamas media, will they be able to choose which types of ads to run (banner or side) or will they be obligated to run both types?

Marc Danziger: We’re going to have a set of choices, and ask that you commit to run at least one of them. So imagine that we have – maybe, I don’t know – five types of ads. To contract with us, you’d have to agree to run at least one of them. Ideally, the rates we’d get would be good enough that you’d want to run more.

John Hawkins: Now, I’ve heard some talk about some pretty good rates for ads. Why do you think you’ll be able to get exceptional rates?

Marc Danziger: Two basic reasons: because those are the mainstream rates that major ad buys get, and we’re going to set things up so that we can do ad buys as major blocks. (Also), because we have some cool ad targeting ideas which will allow us to do a better job – than almost anyone else – in targeting ads without tracking individuals.

John Hawkins: Want to give any general idea of what sort of rates you think you can get or is it too early?

Marc Danziger: Too early, but we’ve been talking to major ad-serving companies and international advertising agencies and haven’t been laughed out of the room.

John Hawkins: I understand. You’ve also mentioned investors. Let’s say you were able to pull in some real money. What would that allow you to do that you’re not currently doing?

Marc Danziger: Well, we’re proceeding on the assumption that one of the investors or investor groups we’re talking to will step to the table with real money so our plans don’t change much.

John Hawkins: Last question: When does Pajamas Media go live?

Marc Danziger: Depends. We have ad contracts ready to sign. The limiting issues right now are two: we need to get the various investor groups to sign off on the actual contracts we will be sending out for blogs to sign and we need to get insured. We’re being underwritten, but we’re different enough from the traditional ad networks that it’s a bit of a pain. So the soonest date would be a week from Monday (we’d go out with contracts and code to insert ads) and start running ads within days after that. Worst case is about ten days later barring some disastrous news.

John Hawkins: Anything else you’d like to say or promote before we finish?

Marc Danziger: Not too much. I’m excited about this. I’m sorry that we haven’t been able to clear some of the haze around this sooner. That’s a consequence of the fact that there are three people doing this on weekends and that we need to keep a lot of it under wraps while we deal with lawyers.

You can see the future home of Pajamas Media here. Also, Marc Danziger blogs at Winds Of Change.

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