We’ve always been very sceptical of Patch, AOL’s network of 800 local news blogs.We never liked how AOL plans to spend $120 million this year on a group of sites that, even with 800 fulltime editors, only managed to scrounge up about 4 million uniques last month.
By contrast, AOL’s other big media property, Huffington Post, has 25 million unique visitors each month – with about 100 editorial staffers and 200+ employees overall. Even with those smaller costs and much bigger traffic, Huffington Post only just turned profitable in late 2010. You can imagine Patch’s dire financial outlok.
But here’s the good news.
AOL’s media business is under new management: Arianna Huffington, HuffPo CTO Paul Berry, and the rest of the gang that made Huffington Post something AOL found itself willing to buy for $315 million.
This crew is up to their elbows in AOL’s legacy media business, figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
And this week, Arianna had Patch editor-in-chief Brain Farnham write an email to those 800 editors announcing “a full-on course correction heading Patch in the direction we want to go.”
The main message: Patch editors need to find volunteer contributors for their sites – now. Specifically, Farnham told his troops to find 8,000 volunteer bloggers by May 4.
This is a very good move. As the Huffington Post itself showed, volunteer bloggers make for extremely effective word-of-mouth marketers – and some of them turn into excellent pageview machines as well. Their salaries are pretty manageable too.