UPDATED 17:52 EST / JANUARY 06 2010

Is Aol. Really Buying Mashable? Maybe.

image We now interrupt your CES coverage to bring you breaking news from the world of the internet:

The rumor mill is on overdrive as it has been speculated that the blog that only people who are obsessed with Facebook, Friendfeed and Twitter care about, (Mashable) is about to be bought up by the Internet company absolutely no one cares about. (AOL sorry, “Aol.”)

When approached for comment, Mashable founder Pete Cashmore said, “"We don’t comment on speculation, but we do hold our writers in high regard and pay a competitive salary for their tireless efforts."

Right.  Aside from the fact that I have been told by an unnamed source that the “competitive salary” claim holds about as much water as a slotted spoon, anybody who responds to anything with a “No comment” is hiding something.

So, seeing as there was no denial, let’s assume for the sake of argument this is true.  If it is, this could be the ticket to easy street that “the Brad Pitt of blogging” is looking for.  He could cash out, find his own “Angelina”, (Julia Allison’s probably not too busy at the moment) and go adopt all the third world kids he wants.  That or live on a houseboat in Miami with an alligator named “Elvis”.

It’s obvious that Mashable has no problem making money (and is thus under no pressure to sell), and based on what I’ve been able to acquire from sources, Mashable’s internal valuation is somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 to 25 million dollars, and the company’s contract with Federated Media is set to expire in March (almost exactly 60 days out from today, typical notice required by a contract like that), so why not get out now?  When you bundle all of this with the fact that Mashable’s only other shareholder is Pete’s father Colin Cashmore, (of the Clan Cashmore) we’re talking about a nice take here.  I mean, how many times can you let this “50 Greatest Tweets” gamble ride before somebody catches on?

imageThrough the grapevine I hear that Mike Arrington is really pissed off about this, but then again, today is a day that ends in “y”, so that’s no shocker, either.

So is it really an acquisition deal? ‘Aol.’ owns one of the biggest web ad networks on the planet (the network formerly known as Platform-A), and the timing is right for this to be an ad network switch. Our sources say that while Mashable had a sweetheart deal with Federated Media (as compared to other members of the network), their COO Adam Hirsch is a shrewd negotiator, and anything that gives them better than a 50% split with the network would be grounds for them to say “adios” to Battelle’s network.

There’s also the new Aol. initiative, Seed, which might make a good new home for the social network blog – both function on similar HuffPo-esque editorial models, with a few paid folks at the top and an army of unpaid PR and consulting folks who submit posts for next to (or completely) nil pay.

Still, we’re having a hard time pinning this one down, with no one really sure what’s going on or who talked. If, in fact, it is a sale, very few of the original staff is likely to stay.  Aol already has a well staffed ad sales department, so there’d be little need for COO Adam Hirsch.  The Seed initiative will provide them with all the unpaid industry opinion they can handle, and the pundits from other Weblogs, Inc properties could be moved over to Mashable.  If there’s any reduction in pay (and believe you me, if it’s an Aol affair, there will be pay cuts), no one else will want to stick around.

Pete, though? He’ll make out like a bandit.

Run Pete, run like the wind. Oh, how I will miss making fun of you.  Viva capitalism!

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