Why Bloomberg Bought BusinessWeek (updated with counter view)

An insider explains: brand extension, and a 1 million customer base – for free

Updated on Thursday at 12:30 pm:

A major player in the publishing world writes that most competitors did not agree that BusinessWeek was such a good deal, and disputes the quantcast traffic numbers: 

Here's what he writes, comments welcome: 

  1. nielsen and comscore show combined unduplicated uniques at 5.7 million and 4.8 million, which isn’t anywhere near the biggest anything. Also, very low pageviews relative to the category.
  2. those extra 1 million subscribers constitute one of the weakest circulation files in all magazinedom, which is why no one in the industry would touch it.
  3. the real internal number at bloomberg for the cost of this acquisition, counting all liabilities, is around $70 million.

Previously:

Either Bloomberg has figured something out about the future of print magazines, or the financial news giant just threw away time and effort — though not much money — in buying BusinessWeek.

And I definitely don’t think it’s the latter.

Most would have to agree that Bloomberg got a hot bargain in buying the business weekly from McGraw-Hill for what was reportedly under $5 million, plus debt. (I am told by a Bloomberg insider that in fact no cash changed hands at all.)

Just a few years ago the magazine was valued at more than $1 billion.

But the obvious question is: Why would anyone want to buy a dying medium for any price?

I spoke to one executive who explained the strategy on condition that he not be quoted by name. The answer for Bloomberg is pretty simple, and it is three-pronged:

1. BusinessWeek represents a new subscriber base, 1 million strong. That’s an entirely new audience of business-news consumers that the terminal-based financial service had never reached.

Bloomberg’s thousands of terminals are rented monthly around the world, mainly by financial traders. The subscriber base for BusinessWeek is a different category — the men and women who make up American industry.

Bloomberg hopes to be able to market their products to them. And by putting its content in front of this audience, they hope to turn them into sources.

That gets at a conundrum I hear all the time: international wire services cannot get access to the top executives and sources in industries that tend to be niche, and communal. That is why a niche publication like TheWrap — though much smaller, and nominally less powerful — can get to news that Reuters or AP or Bloomberg could not possibly. Same for BusinessWeek.

Business people want to speak to the news organizations that they and their peers read by themselves. And no one who's not in finance reads Bloomberg.

2. If you combine the websites for the two entities, bloomberg.com (at 10 million uniques per month, according to quantcast.com) and businessweek.com (at 8 million, according to the same source), they create the single largest business-oriented, non-portal news site, says this executive.

And advertisers these days are only interested in the biggest. Not a big audience. Just the very biggest one.

“With the Internet, in this case, one plus one equals four,” said the executive.

3. There are clear content synergies to be had from tapping the editorial talent at BusinessWeek — which now numbers about 400, and will surely fall by a lot once Bloomberg cleans house.

A stripped-down editorial staff that keeps the star talent, combined with Bloomberg’s content, creates a much more cost-efficient magazine.

If they use the content that Bloomberg is already writing and creating, they can almost put out the magazine for free, said the executive.

Also, given Bloomberg’s broad international base, the magazine could be sold internationally, which it currently is not.

TheWrap reported earlier that BusinessWeek is expected to lose roughly $40 million this year. Revenues are expected to be about $130 million, the company said.

“We think we can make this, at minimum, a wash,” said the executive. And the gain is huge in terms of brand extension and awareness.

Here’s the final secret: Mike Bloomberg has always dreamed of having a print presence in his media empire. Up to now, he hasn’t had one.

“I don’t think anybody, especially Mike, believes that print is going away,” said the executive. “Investigative, long form journalism is more readable in print than on a Blackberry or PC.”

And besides, the Wall Street Journal wasn’t available.

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