Disney is acquiring Babble Media, whose New York-based parenting website Babble.com and vocal community features web savvy, hipster-leaning and well-connected parents not unlike its co-founders.
Babble was launched by Nerve Media in 2006, which made a splash with Nerve.com, a website focused on sex, relationships and culture by husband-and-wife team Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman. They even spun a book out of the site's content with The Big Bang: Nerve's Guide to the New Sexual Universe, Sex Etiquette, and Full Frontal Fiction.
Babble.com was named by TIME as one of the 50 Best Websites of 2010 and by Forbes as one of the Top 100 Websites for Women. A stable of 200-plus mom bloggers contribute fare in the usual range of parenting topics including pregnancy, child care, health, food and family activities, as well as lifestyle topics including home, fashion and family products. Which is all well and good, but will they live happily ever after in Disney's world?
As part of the sale, Griscom, Volkman and Babble’s entire 40-person staff will move over to Disney Interactive Media Group. DIG's SVP of Moms and Family, Brooke Chaffin, wrote in a statement that she was a personal fan of Babble's feisty community of blogging parents:
“With more than 3.9 million mom blogs in the US alone, Disney Interactive recognizes and values the important and powerful role moms have taken on in new media. Parents’ relationships with Disney are founded in stories, and Disney’s best stories are about families.”
Chaffin, who joined Disney in 2011 after time at Auditude and Yahoo, says Babble is on trend in parenting currency, combining social with content. “What Babble is doing is best of breed," she told AllThingsD. "Iit is just a different approach to blogging…and Babble does an amazing job doing just that.” With Babble.com, Disney is gaining an edgy “blogging platform that elevates the first-person stories of parenthood." Babble has perfected that art as TIME noted in 2007, when the site was still gaining traction:
“Parenting is tough and often lonely. Subordinating one's self is especially fraught for women, who historically often lost their identities in marriage and motherhood. Moms and dads can be unique, creative individuals after they have kids. It's being a unique, creative individual through your kids that's disturbing. Pierce whatever body part you want, having a kid is not alternative: it's been the norm since we stopped reproducing by division.”
Of course, parenting sites and blogs are a highly competitive category, and Disney’s acquisition of Babble adds substantial heft against rivals Johnson & Johnson’s BabyCenter, NBC’s iVillage, Parents.com and CafeMom, which Disney reportedly considered acquiring before the Babble deal.
While Babble's bloggers (at least Catherine Connors) are thrilled, not all parents are enamored with Babble, naturally. Consider Annie, a.k.a. PhD in Parenting, a Canadian feminist mom with 60,000 plus followers on Twitter, who has been blogging since 2008. She is a vocal critic of Babble for issues such as partnering with Similac, raising the ire of breastfeeding advocates in a blog post last year titled “Similac and Babble team up to dupe breastfeeding moms.”
“If you were an online media property that is trying to turn a profit, would you be willing to sell-out your breastfeeding readers, by feeding them a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Would you be willing to partner with Similac, an infant formula company, on your Breastfeeding Guide?... The Similac sponsorship of the Babble guide goes beyond simple advertising and takes things to a whole new level.”
Fast forward to Monday's announcement of Babble's sale to Disney, when Annie tweeted, “Disney did announce a partnership with Similac recently.” While Babble no doubt will tone down any edgy content to appease its new family-friendly owners, Annie and other critics may not be pleased by the more advertising-friendly turn the the site may take.
To that point, Griscom and Volkom promised in a blog post entitled "Babble's next Chapter" about the Disney acquisition,
Of course this decision has been a process for us. We love what we do every day, we feel that the Babble story is just beginning, and we know that selling a company is by definition a leap of faith. We needed to know how Babble would fit into another company’s portfolio of sites, what they thought of the Babble voice, and whether they would support our ambitious roadmap for development in the years to come. No company had better answers, a better understanding of what is special about Babble, and more complementary resources than Disney.
Looking forward, there are commitments that we would like to make to ourselves and the Babble community. We will make it our daily mission to stay true, connected, real, honest and interesting. We want every user to walk away informed, satisfied, enlightened, or at least tickled to some degree.