Balancing business interests and journalistic credibility at BabyCenter
By J.D. Lasica
For those of us who still believe in the promise of online content sites, the March 2 sale of BabyCenter from online toy retailer eToys to the baby goods manufacturer Johnson & Johnson was significant on a number of levels:
• If you’re pregnant or a new parent, there’s simply no other site on the Web that comes close to offering the breadth of trustworthy editorial content, expert advice and baby products that BabyCenter offers to its 2.2 million visitors each month. (Its nearest competitors draw only one-fourth the traffic.) The 4-year-old site, which faced the prospect of shutting down alongside its ailing corporate parent, can now not only grow but thrive.
• The sale sends another strong signal that even the most successful pure-play content and commerce sites may not be able to survive without the support of a deep-pockets parent or brick-and-mortar partner. The site has won three straight Webby awards, but has still not achieved profitability.
• The sale also rekindles the debate over a corporate owner’s effects on journalistic standards. Simply put: Can a content site retain its independent editorial voice when placed under the control of a corporation with a stake in the site’s core offerings?