Death by acquisition

Over the weekend, news broke that Ziff Davis Enterprise (ZDE), the IT side of the legacy Ziff Davis franchise, had been acquired by QuinStreet, a lead-generation firm with $400 million in annual revenues.

Ziff Davis has had its share of ups and downs over the years, so (even with reports of significant layoffs in store), this isn’t a lament for the fortunes of part of what Folio: described as “one of the most storied companies in the history of publishing.”

Rather, it’s an observation about the buyer.

Looking at industry updates from two media investment banks last month, I wrote:

“When you follow the money, you see that publishing is already blending with a variety of content-dependent businesses. The good news is, these other segments understand how content can be used to attract and serve an audience. The bad news is, that’s not how we think in much of traditional publishing.”

The ZDE acquisition is fresh and the new owner has been silent on its intent. Still, it’s not a big leap to imagine a streamlined ZDE whose B2B media offerings are measured by their ability to generate profitable leads for the parent company’s clients.

Death by acquisition is not the only future for published content, but it is a real one. Hoping to remake Readers Digest into a direct-marketing company, Ripplewood Holdings bought and eventually lost control of the firm after weakened cash flow in a down economy bankrupted the business.

Publishers like Bloomberg, which employs 2,300 journalists in 146 bureaus and 72 countries, are committed to the value of content. They are also committed to monetizing content across platforms, uses and formats.

I think we’re living in a short, transitory window during which traditional publishers will either broaden their service mix and train their staffs or risk becoming white-label providers for folks who weren’t on the radar a decade ago. In such matters, I always hope I am wrong.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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