this is retro-push, the email channel of
stating the obvious, located on the web at



The Cash-Out Effect
by Rogers Cadenhead

When Andover.Net went public 60 days ago, the 49-employee
Massachusetts Web publisher raised $72 million, an astonishing amount
of money when you consider the dismal history of pure-content Web
companies in going public.

To put the amount in perspective, raised $26 million in its
June 1999 IPO and dropped 50 cents off its initial price during its
opening day alone. Regardless, expectations were so low for the online
magazine that "today was a victory for Salon," the Washington Post

After its IPO, Andover.Net was handed a wallet stuffed with investor
funds to pursue the goals stated in its S-1: buy more technology
sites, improve its content and protect the trusted reputation of its
most popular site, Slashdot, which receives 46 percent of its
Andover.Net's overall traffic.

"We provide an independent, unbiased source for content, much of which
comes from the Linux/Open Source community itself," the company stated
in its S-1. But Andover.Net was mindful that it could incur the wrath
of its visitors with corporate deal-making. "Our reputation may be
harmed if the Linux, and more generally Open Source ... communities do
not approve of these transactions," the company warned prospective
investors in its S-1.

In an industry where the term "money-losing" is invariably followed by
"web publisher," Andover.Net could afford the luxury of editorial
credibility. There was no need for line-blurring advertorial deals
like HotWired's decolorization for a printer company or exclusive
bookseller links on

After seven weeks of unbiased, trusted independence, Andover.Net sold
itself to server manufacturer VA Linux for roughly $1 billion. When
the ink dries, Slashdot and its 1.2 million daily eyeballs belong to a
company that publisher Rob Malda turned down flat last year.

"Whoever became involved, they had to be 'Outside' the linux/open
source world to a certain degree," Malda wrote in a June 1999 article
explaining why Slashdot was sold to Andover.Net. "We didn't want
anyone to think that a company might buy us simply to gain an
advantage in the story select."

With new inside owners, Malda and the Andover.Net staff don't want
anyone to think VA Linux has gained an advantage, nor do they want to
believe it themselves. On a percentage of traffic basis, their site
represents $414 million of Andover.Net's purchase price -- more than
the worth of the New York Yankees -- but Slashdot will treat VA Linux
no differently than companies that spent zero million dollars to buy

Promising complete editorial freedom and the parent company's respect
for its adopted child, Slashdot asks readers to believe that the next
VA Linux security hole or poor benchmark will be reported with the
same zeal as if Microsoft or LinuxOne was the villain of the piece.

As much as I respect Editor-in-Chief Robin Miller and the work of
Malda and his cohorts, there's no way Slashdot can be trusted to
report objectively on VA Linux and its competitors. When dozens of
good story submissions are turned down every day, Slashdot will look
like a tout when it picks a positive VA article. Negative stories
about competitors will smell like FUD.

Andover.Net disregarded Malda's well-known wish for Slashdot to remain
out of a Linux company's hands. Now that VA Linux must justify paying
$900 million for a company whose primary asset was Slashdot, how much
patience will the company and its shareholders have if a story in its
own publication thrashes its stock price?

A few weeks before the buyout, Slashdot entertained discussion on the
AOL Time Warner merger, and the conclusions tended to be
anti-corporate and calamitous. "Are consumers really well-served when
one company controls more content and access than any other company in
the world?" contributor Jon Katz asked.

Two-thirds of all Linux and open source traffic on the Internet now
passes through VA Linux, according to the company.

Andover.Net betrayed Slashdot's founders by selling to a Linux company
and removing its greatest asset -- editorial distance. Anyone who
believes that Slashdot is still an independent voice about the stuff
that matters should get back to me when Microsoft buys VA Linux.

-- Rogers Cadenhead is a syndicated newspaper columnist who has
written eight books on computer programming and the Internet.


Value added version of this story (with links!) located at:


Discuss amongst yourselves:

Will Slashdot be able to report fairly on VA Linux or its competitors?
Or will the Slashdot "community" be able to keep any editorial
imbalance in check?


This has been retro-push, the email channel of Stating the Obvious.
Redistribution of this message is encouraged.  To subscribe, send the
phrase "subscribe retro-push" (without the quotes) to
[EMAIL PROTECTED]  To unsubscribe, send the phrase
"unsubscribe retro-push" (again, without the quotes) to
[EMAIL PROTECTED]  Questions, comments and concerns can be
directed to [EMAIL PROTECTED]


Reply via email to