News broke earlier today that Gawker Media had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, a move intended to protect the company’s assets and restructure it before it’s acquired by … someone. Since its founding in 2003, Gawker’s made a point of boasting about its independence; within a few months, it may no longer be able to. But who’s going to buy it?
First of all, it’s important to understand why Gawker, despite its legal liability and status as a tech billionaire’s object of obsession, is still an attractive proposition. Part of it is straightforward: The seven Gawker Media sites still bring in a reliable 90 million unique visitors monthly, a figure large enough to generate significant advertising revenue.
There’s another part, though: Gawker’s commerce division. Gawker Media is one of few large digital-media organizations to have figured out how to make a boatload of money off of “e-commerce” — that is, affiliate links to Amazon and other retailers, of which purchases Gawker gets a cut. In 2014, the company made about $10 million in e-commerce revenue; last year, it was expected to make even more. Traditional display advertising, meanwhile, has become less and less attractive to publishers, and a big, tech-focused media company — like, say, PC Magazine publisher Ziff Davis — would love to have a proven, knowledgeable, e-commerce operation in-house. If it also gets 90 million new readers and seven new websites, all the better!
Or, maybe, six new websites. It’s been heavily implied (if not outright stated) that Gawker’s sale is being marketed to potential buyers under the assumption that gawker.com, the flagship site and the one with the most baggage (legal and ethical), will be shut down. (Or possibly sold separately, or maybe even kept around by Denton.) It is, after all, the site most likely to have made fun of executives, brands, or publications from its new owners
Ziff Davis has already put in a preliminary bid somewhere in the $90 to $100 million range, well below the $250 million Gawker founder Nick Denton was estimating the company was worth last year. But it’s unlikely to be the only bidder in the auction. Univision’s interest in the company has already been reported, but who else might express interest?
Already Made a Bid
Ziff Davis The publisher of PC Magazine, askmen.com, and IGN has already made a bid. Gawker’s “geek” sites — Gizmodo, Kotaku, Lifehacker, and Jalopnik — would fit in easily with the company’s tech-oriented digital properties, and its December purchase of the coupon site offers.com might provide opportunities with Gawker’s e-commerce department
Meanest Gawker post about Ziff Davis: “Ziff Davis Needs to Make Some Money Online, Quick”
Almost Certain to Make a Bid
Univision Univision, which bought the Onion and the Root last year and has had trouble gaining traction with its millennial-focused news site Fusion, has explored a partnership with Gawker in the past around its Spanish-language sites. Rumors from earlier this year held that Gawker and Univision had reached a preliminary deal that was scuttled over the Hogan lawsuit; it seems likely that the company will throw its hat in the ring again.
Meanest Gawker post about Univision: “[Univision-owned] Fusion Is Losing a Shit Ton of Money”
Penske Media The publisher behind a host of entertainment and media-focused publications, including Variety, WWD, HollywoodLife, and, uh, cricketcountry.com, Penske was reportedly looking into Gawker’s financials earlier this year. A sort of inverse Ziff Davis, Penske would be able to fit Gawker’s lifestyle sites easily into its portfolio, and would give the company a foothold in the somewhat more lucrative tech media market.
Meanest Gawker post about Penske Media: Deadline’s Nikki Finke on Jay Penske: He “Owns Me Like I’m His Slave”
Vice Vice, Gawker’s longtime foil, is said to be kicking the tires, too. It makes sense: Not only is the company expanding its news operations under Josh Tyrangiel, Vice would be able to absorb Gawker Media’s sites without really requiring them to modify or soften their aggressive sensibilities. So long as they’re not going after big Vice advertisers.
Meanest Gawker post about Vice: “Working at Vice Media Is Not As Cool As It Seems”
Vox Media Despite a New York Post report from earlier this year, it’s hugely unlikely that Vox will bid on Gawker. Not only is there too much overlap between each company’s brands, Vox CEO Jim Bankoff is said to still hold a grudge against the company from Vox’s early days as SB Nation, when it was a frequent target of Gawker’s sports site, Deadspin.
Meanest Gawker post about Vox Media: “46 Times Vox Totally Fucked Up a Story”