Challenges Of International Media Focus Reverberate In Sale Of 'Quartz'

One of the significant news stories of the week is yesterday’s announcement of G/O Media’s acquisition of Quartz, the digital-content brand that looks at business through an international lens.

The acquisition is the first addition to G/O Media since the company was formed in April 2019. It adds Quartz to a stable of well-known brands, some of which have a powerful legacy for innovation and edgy, top-notch journalism. Among them: Deadspin, Gizmodo, Jalopnik, Jezebel, Kotaku, Lifehacker, The Root, and The Onion, as well as The A.V. Club.

And Quartz itself has a strong pedigree, having been launched with a significant amount of fanfare by Atlantic Media in 2012.



Terms of this most recent transaction were not disclosed, but Atlantic Media sold Quartz in 2018 to the Japanese company Uzabase for $86 million. In 2020, just over two years later, Uzabase sold Quartz to its co-founder and CEO, Zach Seward.

“The digital business news space is an area ripe for investment and synergies with our other G/O Media sites," G/O Media CEO Jim Spanfeller said in a press release on Thursday. "Quartz’s commitment to quality and mission-driven journalism embodies the values espoused in all of our brands, and I look forward to working with the talented Quartz team to grow the business to new levels of success.”

Seward will join G/O Media as general manager and editor in chief of Quartz after the deal closes. Katherine Bell, Quartz’s editor in chief since January 2020, will continue as an advisor to Quartz.

"We’ll be able to serve readers in new ways and continue to grow the advertising and membership revenue that supports Quartz’s vital work," Seward said. "I am particularly proud that there are no layoffs connected to the acquisition, nor planned once we integrate. This is a plan for long-term growth.”

But Quartz has a difficult recent track record. It’s pivoted from advertising to subscriptions over the course of its 10-year life, and revenue has declined. The Wall Street Journalreported in late 2020 that for the first half of that year, Uzabase announced overall revenue for Quartz had fallen to $5 million from $11.6 million in the same period the year before. In 2019, revenue also fell, the Journal said, a 22% drop for the full year to $27 million. And Quartz eliminated about 80 positions in 2020.

It wasn’t profitable in 2019 and in the first half of 2020. Earlier this month, the brand announced it was dropping its paywall, which was introduced in 2019 and offered the brand to subscribers for $99.99 annually.

But this recent sale of Quartz—combined with its challenging history—may be of particular interest to Justin Smith, the former president of Atlantic Media, who launched Quartz in 2012 while he was with that company.

Now Justin Smith, most recently CEO of Bloomberg Media, along with the former New York Times journalist Ben Smith, is in the process of launching an international media brand called Semafor. The mission? It’s not dissimilar to Quartz' in 2012. Semafor will be a digital-content brand that looks at news through an international lens, with local journalism across many countries.

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