In the latest sign easy-money market froth may be peaking, moments ago German media conglomerate Axel Springer announced it has agreed to buy 88% of web-only Business Insider, adding to the 9% it already owns, for $343 million, which according to the Springer press release values 100% of the content aggregator at $442 million "on the basis of a cash and debt free valuation of USD 390 million." The remaining 3% of the company will be retained by Bezos Expeditions, the personal investment company of Jeff Bezos, who purchased a $5 million stake in 2013.
The transaction means that Business Insider, which was founded in 2007 in by Henry Blodget (who had previously spent several years as a freelance writer and consultant), Kevin Ryan and Dwight Merriman, is valued about 77% higher than Washington Post which was acquired by Jeff Bezos in 2013 for $250 million, and 40% higher than the previous record paid for an all-digital media outlet, when AOL acquired Huffington Post for $315 million in 2011. According to Springer, founder Henry Blodget and COO Julie Hansen will stay on board and "remain significantly invested through an extensive, long-term equity incentive."
As a reminder, one month ago Springer lost the auction to acquire the Financial Times which was ultimately sold to Japan's Nikkei for $1.3 billion.
According to the Springer press release, for $400 million the German media outlet is getting some 325 employees, most of whom recent journalism school graduates, as well as 76 million unique monthly visitors which "will increase Axel Springer’s worldwide digital audience by two-thirds to approximately 200 million users, making the company one of the world’s six largest digital publishers in terms of reach."
More importantly, according to Re/Code, Springer's failure to clinch the FT, prompted the scramble to buy Business Insider which values the company at around 9x its projected revenues for this year. Re/Code adds that "another complimentary theory popular with media executives I’ve talked to in the last week: Springer wanted a digital asset, and even at a rich price, Business Insider was more affordable than publishers like BuzzFeed and Vox Media."
The bigger problem for Springer is if it hopes to generate profits on its acquisition: Business Insider has historically been just about breakeven, report a modest profit several years ago, then spending all of its revenues and then some to double down on investments: in addition to its US website, the company launched seven additional editions outside the U.S., including in the U.K, Australia and Singapore. In July, it introduced a new tech-focused standalone website called Tech Insider.
In any event, the long-awaited media consolidated/roll up phase has officially started with two marquee financial purchases in just the past two months. What is ironic, is that just like in 2007 when Japanese and Europen investors were bidding up US RMBS, with disastrous results, this time they are buying up the financial media. To be sure, the entire cadre of financial reporters will be carefully following this transaction, many with hopes they too can cash out before the buying window closes.