I don't see CNET Networks
So I was surprised to read James Nicholson's blog entry -- entitled "3 Ideas to Get CNET Moving" -- that suggests three ways for CNET to regain its dot-com growth stock luster.
And no, this isn't just a kid with a free blog, just ranting because he didn't agree with a Halo 2 review on Gamespot. Nicholson worked at the company for a couple of years after selling his NetVentures e-commerce startup to CNET several years ago. He remains a shareholder.
I agree with some of his arguments, but certainly not all of them. Let's go over the three serving suggestions and see what you think.
1. Pare down
Nicholson suggests that, after growing its top line by 10% this past quarter, the company should get rid of any division that's not growing at a 15% clip or better. I don't agree with this point. CNET has already been gradually divesting some old-school assets like print publication Computer Shopper. In fact, if you back out discontinued operations -- proof alone that CNET is not immune to cleaning house -- its top line would have actually inched 15% higher.
Besides, we all know that the major drag at CNET in terms of page views is the once-popular Webshots photo-sharing site. The fact that the company is able to grow its revenue despite an overall dip in web traffic because of the Webshots malaise is commendable. This may lead some to believe that Webshots should be sold off to another photo-sharing site or Web-based photofinishing specialist like Shutterfly
That would be a bad idea. Yes, the world passed Webshots by. It lacked the community-driven sizzle you find at Yahoo!'s
So I don't think the solution is to kill slow divisions. The better way is to fix the flats and get them moving again or accept the laggards for what they can still do in terms of generating traffic to faster growing CNET sites that are more easily monetized.
2. Harness user-generated content
One of the original knocks on CNET when I first recommended it to Rule Breakers subscribers was that it is too editorially-driven. Fellow subscribers felt that CNET was spending too much money to produce product reviews and original video content, when passionate communities elsewhere do that for free.
I'll agree that CNET isn't perfect in this regard. In the time that it takes CNET to write a review for a new laptop, sites like Amazon.com
Nicholson is right in that CNET can do a better job of harnessing its communities. The company draws enough traffic -- 144 million unique monthly visitors -- to afford to showcase user contributions. CNET is often too willing to play the role of trend follower instead of trendsetter, even though it clearly dominates certain niche categories online. Whether it's a matter of striking revenue-sharing deals with its most active contributors or simply showcasing user content more prominently, I agree with Nicholson here. My only concern is quality and the brand-tarnishing risks you take when you hand someone else the keys.
3. Buy or co-opt blogs
The emergence of popular tech sites like GigaOm and TechCrunch may have eaten into the consumer mindshare of CNET's techie stronghold. Nicholson suggests that CNET either buy prominent blogs outright or create a blog advertising network.
I'm not sure either solution is feasible. For starters, CNET is already backing some pretty popular blogs over at ZDNet. And even if it were to snap up TechCrunch or Valleywag, there would always be new bloggers moving in as independents.
An ad network is also a bit of a stretch. As connected as CNET is, it still turns to third-party networks like Google
Then again, going by the lack of quality on some of those "Ads by Google" sites, this takes me back to the importance of CNET controlling the brand experience.
It's important. It's golden. It's why I also believe that CNET has what it takes to save itself, and it's already on the righteous path of redemption that ends in double-digit share price salvation.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a fan of CNET, but still misses the old MP3.com days. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.