People are generally out to get you, and Arianna Huffington is no exception. She's especially out to get you if you're a property-rich but underemployed scribe, as so many of her bloggers at HuffPo are.
One of the reasons I never was too thrilled to sign onto HuffPo, even while many friends were, was that the terms were pretty bad. In fact, there weren't any. But that's every blog's right: to tender the terms they like.
Today comes an op-ed by one Michael Walker in which Walker suggests that the writer situation at HuffPo is analogous to the comedy club scene in LA in the 1970's. Walker says that comics started picketing the key comedy clubs and that brought the change, and we lived happily ever after.
I'd like to submit that today's HuffPo situation is nothing like that.
The primary difference is that in the 1970's, not every comic could open up his or her own club on Sunset Boulevard if they didn't like the pay at the Comedy Club. But every property-rich unemployed scribe can start a website and compete for the very same eyeballs the HuffPo competes for, and via the very same way: letting their friends know they're there.
Someday somebody in marketing will do the math and discover that eyeballs at HuffPo are no more or less valuable than eyeballs at the right low-trafficked blog at which you can pay $100 a month for 5,000 impressions. In fact, someone who's paying for ads might also do some math someday and discover that if HuffPo has 6,000 bloggers, the pageviews it gets on any individual page are in fact lower than that on the homepage of most standalone blogs.
But nobody really likes to do Internet math at ad agencies, and there's a reason for that too. Ad agencies don't like Internet advertising at all because 1) it's measurable, and no marketer really wants to be measured, and 2) the agencies can't charge nearly as much for producing a banner Internet ad as they can for producing a print ad or broadcast commercial.
So when a big account comes into an ad agency and says, "How much should we advertise on the Internet?" the agency generally responds, "Oh, no more than 5% of your total budget." Because the more Internet ads occupy the total ad budget, the less the agency can markup in art and editorial costs.
I suspect what will happen at the HuffPo (as with Daily Beast/Newsweek) is it has reached peak and now we can watch a long gradual and very very dull decline in which the center fails to hold. Like AOL Time Warner but without the attendant economic impact. It never really works to merge two sets of investors who both have unreal, money-for-money's sake business plans in pocket. Even in the beginning there wasn't much of a purpose to the HuffPo other than to make the investors money, and that mission has already been met.