Atlantic Media has sold Quartz to Japanese online media group Uzabase in a deal that values the US-based business news site at up to $110 million (€95 million).
The sale of one of the best known online business brands follows a fallow period for digital publishers, whose valuations have slid in recent years. Changes to Facebook's algorithm have hit traffic referrals, while revenues have been pummelled by the rise of Google and Facebook as an effective duopoly in online advertising.
Mashable was last year sold for $50 million - a fraction of its once lofty valuation - while operators such as Fusion Media Group and Slate have also struggled.
Move from publishing
The deal with Uzabase, which was founded by a trio of two UBS investment bankers and a consultant on the eve of the 2008 global financial crisis, values Quartz at $75 million-$110 million "depending on achievement of future financial and operating performance in 2018", Atlantic and Quartz said.
The Quartz sale is part of Atlantic Media chairman David Bradley's plan to step back from publishing. Last year he sold a controlling stake in The Atlantic magazine to Emerson Collective, a philanthropic organisation founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, and said in a note to staff this week that he planned to divest his media properties.
“I had thought it would be a few years before we launched the search for a Quartz buyer,” he said, adding that the sale was “coming years faster than I had imagined”.
Uzabase is best known for its NewsPicks news curation app, which has become a favourite with white-collar Japanese commuters and chief executives.
Quartz will take over responsibility for the English-language version of NewsPicks following the acquisition, as Uzabase seeks to expand the app's international footprint in the US and Europe following its success in Japan. Since 2013, the news curation site has gained popularity for the high-profile "professionals" who recommend their favourite articles to its registered base of more than 3.3 million users.
Kevin Delaney, Quartz's editor-in-chief and publisher, said in a memo that the site, which is free to use, would "continue to operate without interruption" following the sale. But he also hailed "a new chapter for us as a business", pointing to plans to launch a subscription service.
"Digital publishers have to find more ways to monetise their readers," said Christopher Vollmer, global entertainment and media advisory leader at PwC, the professional services firm. "Deals like this one have the potential to expand a publisher's addressable market both in terms of new revenue models like paid subscriptions and reader-focused services, as well as broader geographic reach."
The company has built its name as an innovator in data-driven digital journalism. One of its standout pieces of work, say people who worked at the company when it was founded, included a widget that tracked the number of private helicopters flying into Davos for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.
Uzabase has made no secret of its plans to expand beyond Japan, where the ageing population and shrinking workforce create natural limits on future growth. The company has established sales subsidiaries in Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai - the regional financial centres it sees as its key hubs. It also entered the US market last year through a joint venture with Dow Jones, a unit of News Corp.
The acquisition is the latest big media deal by a Japanese buyer, and follows the 2015 purchase of the Financial Times by Nikkei. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018