Salon acquires The WELL community

The pioneering online magazine buys the pioneering online community.

Cutting-edge online publisher Salon.com and pioneering online community The WELL LLC say their merger Wednesday is that rare business deal that is also a meeting of the minds.

Salon purchased The WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link) from Rosewood Stone Group, a Marin County venture capital firm. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

The two companies have a closer bond than most parties in an Internet merger. Salon, founded in 1990, was created by subscribers to the WELL community. In fact, the community's new owners planned their business in a private forum on the WELL.

"We were braced for skeptical questions, but the response [from WELL members] has been overwhelmingly positive," said WELL executive director Gail Ann Williams, who will retain her position. "It's a love-fest."

Euphoria aside, both sides say the companies fit together well.

Salon has recently been trying to build up a subscription-only area of its site, which is otherwise supported by advertising. The relatively modest subscription offering includes special content and "premium" community features, such as celebrity chats.

The WELL, for its part, was looking to add appropriate editorial content and features that would be open to non-members.

"It's just like two pieces of a puzzle," Williams said.

Salon assured skeptics that The WELL will remain completely separate from the Salon service, which includes its own community area, Table Talk.

"The principle we're working from is that we are not incorporating The WELL into Salon," said Scott Rosenberg, Salon's vice president of site development. "The WELL has its own brand name, its own culture, its own history, and we value those things. If we didn't we wouldn't have made the acquisition."

The publisher also stressed that the content generated on The WELL by its users will remain sacrosanct, abiding by The WELL's principle that "your words are your own."

Financially, The WELL pays for itself and makes a slight profit, based only on the $10 or $15-a-month subscriptions of about 7000 members.

Intelligent discourse

Founded in April 1985 by Whole Earth Catalog publisher Stewart Brand and technologist Larry Brilliant, The WELL is one of the most illustrious online communities, counting scores of elite technological thinkers, writers and pundits among its members.

As for Salon.com, since its creation in 1995 the publication has built a reputation for thoughtful, in-depth writing, and has built some of the more colorful and intellectual discussion groups to be found online.

Sister sites

Salon.com has been expanding in other areas as well.

Earlier this week the publication took on a new name, dropping the "Magazine" moniker to reflect its interactivity, split its departments into semi-separate sub-sites, and moved from a daily to a continuous story- and news-posting schedule.