Top 50 Properties (U.S.) statistics make sobering reading for AOL, the former king of the portals in the 90s and early part of this century. While AOL is the number 5 ranked U.S. web property, with 104 million monthly unique visitors, it's now well adrift of the top 4: Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and Facebook. Facebook is just one spot above AOL, but has nearly 44 million more monthly uniques. Meanwhile a company that is virtually an unknown brand outside of the Internet industry, Glam Media, has just about caught up with AOL.The latest comScore
Glam Media had 91 million uniques in September, according to comScore. That's only 13 million less than AOL. Glam Media had 54 million uniques one year ago, so how has it managed to get to within sniffing distance of becoming one of the top 5 Web properties in the U.S.?
Glam Media is a network of web sites predominantly focused on lifestyle content, connected to a massive advertising platform. The flagship site is Glam.com, a web site for women that launched in 2005 and that competes with the likes of iVillage. Although Glam Media made its name by providing content for women, in 2008 it expanded into mens lifestyle content with the launch of Brash.com.
Glam Media calls itself the "the pioneer and global leader of Vertical Media," by which it means a combination of flagship properties and small publishers in a particular vertical - in Glam's case, lifestyle content. It claims to have over 1,400 publishers worldwide operating within its network. As well as Glam.com and Brash.com, a site called Tinker.com brings social media into the mix (primarily Facebook and Twitter).
Glam Media is highly ambitious. According to a recent article in business analysis site Crain's, Glam Media founder and chief executive Samir Arora "plans to grow Glam's head count to 1,000 from its current 300, with emphasis on technology hires." His goal is for Glam Media to be "no. 1 in all brand advertising to women."
Arora compares his company's model to cable television, saying that the 1,400+ sites in its network are like niche TV channels.
While Glam Media doesn't specifically compete with AOL, or other portals such as Yahoo! and MSN, it's interesting to compare the two models. Glam specifically focuses on 'lifestyle' type content, yet it also targets a very wide audience: basically all women and as many men as it can get. Glam Media and AOL are going after much the same audience: the mainstream.
The difference between the two companies isn't the content, per se. Because AOL does lifestyle content too. In fact it has its own network of sites in its living.aol.com section. And with the Seed program, AOL is attempting to tap into 'the long tail' of blogs and small publishers - just like Glam Media.
Yet AOL does much more than just lifestyle content. It does news, email, music, and so on. So it must be a concern to them that a relatively small upstart "vertical media" company is breathing down its neck in terms of visitor numbers.
I think it's refreshing to see a media company focus on something it does well - and growing that - rather than spreading itself over many different market segments. Although it should be noted that Glam Media does not actually own the vast majority of sites it includes in its network, which many people rightly see as a risk to Glam's model. After all, if you don't outright own the content then how much control over your brand do your really have?
Nevertheless, Glam Media is feeling confident. Founder Samir Arora told Venturebeat in March: "We should be bigger than AOL very shortly."
Judging by the current growth of Glam Media and the stagnation of AOL, that could be within a few months.