Anyone interested in the evolution of media now has a new benchmark when it comes to industry disruption and fluctuating valuations: Business Insider, a site that is only eight years old, has been acquired by German media giant Axel Springer, in a deal that values the company at about $450 million.
That’s almost twice what Amazon (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos paid for the venerable Washington Post newspaper just two years ago.
The price that Business Insider got eclipses the last major U.S. media deal that was an outright acquisition— AOL’s purchase of The Huffington Post for $315 million in 2011. But the value it puts on the business news startup—roughly six times next year’s revenues, according to Axel Springer—looks not unreasonable compared with some recent deals involving new-media entities like Vice, Vox Media, and BuzzFeed.
In all of those cases, as with Axel Springer’s investment in Business Insider, these deals have been driven by the desire of traditional or mainstream media entities to diversify into digital, mainly to tap into the growth that is lacking in their existing print and broadcasting businesses.
So NBC Universal, an arm of cable giant Comcast (CMCSA), put $200 million into Vox Media earlier this year, in a deal that valued the company at about $1 billion. It also put a similar-sized investment into BuzzFeed, valuing that site at about $1.5 billion. And recent investments by A+E Networks, among others, have given Vice Media a theoretical market value of more than $2.5 billion.
For Axel Springer, which has invested heavily in the digital side of its business over the past several years, the Business Insider deal was also driven by the company’s desire to expand out of its home base in Germany—where it is the market leader—and into English-speaking markets, especially the U.S.
The German publisher tried and failed to buy the Financial Times for about $1 billion earlier this year, only to get out-flanked by Japanese business-news giant Nikkei. It has also tried in the past to acquire Britain’s Telegraph newspaper. More recently, it has invested in a series of digital startups, including Mic, Ozy Media, and NowThis.
For co-founder Henry Blodget, the sale of Business Insider caps a remarkable second act: A former securities analyst during the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s, Blodget was charged with fraud in 2002 for publicly promoting stocks that he was privately skeptical about. He was forced to pay a $4-million settlement and was barred from the securities industry for life.
Here are some facts about the acquisition, in no particular order:
— Springer is actually only buying 88% of Business Insider, because it already owned a 9% stake as a result of an investment round in January (which valued the company at less than half what Springer is now paying). Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, also an early investor, retains a 3% stake in the company.
— The acquisition ties both Blodget and his COO Julie Hansen into what Axel Springer described as a 10-year, equity-based retention deal. That means a certain amount of compensation is based on the two staying with the German media company to run the Business Insider unit for the next decade.
— Business Insider has 72 million unique visitors a month, Springer said on the conference call, although Google Analytics puts the site’s traffic at 90 million uniques. About 60% of the site’s traffic comes from mobile devices, and almost 40% of it comes from social networks. Axel Springer says that the deal means it now has 200 million uniques across all of its various properties.
— Although neither side of the deal provided any revenue figures, Axel Springer said the site’s revenue is growing at about 50% per year, and if it hadn’t invested in its new vertical Tech Insider it would have already broke even. Some media insiders have estimated the site’s revenue at about $50 million.
— Blodget said on the conference call that the company still has about $22 million of the $50 million in financing that it has raised over the past couple of years. He said the dot-com crash was a “very scarring experience for me” and as a result he tried to be as stingy with the company’s cash as possible.
— Critics have accused Business Insider of basing much of its growth on unfair “aggregation” of content from other media outlets, but both Blodget and Springer CEO Matthias Dopfner said smart aggregation and curation is part of the new-media model. “Certain rules should be expected that lead to a healthy ecosystem,” Dopfner said, but “we are doing it, and we love it.”