BusinessInsider.com, an edgy financial and technology news website, may not technically be shopping itself, but that hasn’t stopped potential suitors from calling, including one that recently offered more than $100 million as a potential acquisition price, the FOX Business Network has learned.
A person with direct knowledge of the situation revealed that executives at the website rejected the deal proposed by another digital media publication in the second half of 2013.
The name of the potential buyer could not be determined, and it’s unclear at what price Business Insider chief executive Henry Blodget and his partners would be willing to sell — or if there are buyers who would pay significantly for a website that media executives say may only be eking out a small profit.
In an email, Blodget would neither confirm nor deny that such an offer was made, though he categorically denied that the firm is actively seeking buyers. People with direct knowledge of the company add, however, that management has considered various offers, and will continue to do so in the future.
Business Insider, formerly Silicon Alley Insider, was founded in 2007 and is known for its candid business and technology blogging. According to Alexa data, it achieves more global traffic than traditional business media companies like the Financial Times and Bloomberg, but less than The Wall Street Journal.
The New York-based startup has received more than $18 million in fundraising from Amazon (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos, Huffington Post co-founder Ken Lerer, Marc Andreessen and venture capital firms. The investment rounds date back to a seed round in 2008, with the latest venture round in the spring of 2013.
One person with direct knowledge of the matter says the “low-nine-digit offer” came from a “major Internet media brand,” but declined to comment further. Some say a logical buyer would be AOL Inc. (AOL), an Internet company that has been on an acquisition spree in recent years, snapping up the blog TechCrunch for an undisclosed price in 2010, and the Huffington Post for $315 million.
AOL wasn’t immediately available to comment.
“Some of the larger Internet companies are looking at ways to expand their audience,” says Neil Doshi, analyst at CRT Capital. “A company like AOL has clearly gone down that path with a number of acquisitions in the past. It seems like it would fit very well within their strategy of really participating in the fragmentation of the Internet.”
Doshi added that AOL believes it can squeeze “higher ad revenue from those niche sites” like Business Insider, “than if they were trying to build something themselves.”
Media watchers say Blodget might be looking for a price tag that approaches $250 million.
Still, there are skeptics. One person with knowledge of Business Insider’s finances says the website only recently became profitable, with less than $20 million in revenues. Jeff Bezos recently bought the Washington Post – one of journalism’s premier brand names — for more than $250 million.
And Business Insider is not known for its news breaking; most of its content involves pithy analysis of stories that have appeared elsewhere. Still, sites like Business Insider are considered the future of journalism catering to a younger generation of readers who get most of the news through the Internet.
It is generally expected that venture-backed companies provide liquidity for their investors, after five to ten years. This is usually achieved through a takeover or an initial public offering. Business Insider is unlikely to be seeking an IPO right now, people with knowledge of the matter say.
Many analysts say business media, particularly publications with a strong web presence, is ripe for consolidation. Forbes is up for sale and TheStreet is said to be open to acquisition offers. TheStreet acquired The Deal, a financial publication, in late 2012.
Blodget, who serves as CEO and Editor-In-Chief, is a former equity research analyst. In 2003, he was charged with civil securities fraud for overhyping Internet stocks, when he was the head of global Internet research at Merrill Lynch. He was barred from the securities business.
Business Insider chairman Kevin Ryan also serves as the chairman for Gilt Groupe. He has acquisition experience, previously selling DoubleClick to Google (GOOG) for more than $3 billion in 2007.