Someone asked me a question on Quora:
“Should Buzzfeed and Business Insider merge?”
I can’t remember my Quora password, so I figured I would just answer the question here.
My answer is “no.” Or at least, “Not yet.”
This is not because I am not impressed with Buzzfeed — I am. Buzzfeed is a colossally successful publication. It’s generating ~$50 million in annual revenue, is profitable, and is already read by more people than the New York Times. Buzzfeed’s critics, meanwhile, still misunderstand the power of the company’s innovative native digital strategy, which is to fund top-quality journalism and news in part with the production of highly commercial content with broad appeal (e.g., “cat pictures.”)
Journalism snoots love to snicker about Buzzfeed’s cat pictures. What they’re missing is that Buzzfeed’s formula takes a page right of the playbook of traditional media: Successful publications and networks in print and TV have always funded expensive journalism and news with feature content with broad appeal.
At the New York Times, for example, the weddings, food, auto, garden, and other feature sections pay for the Iraq War coverage. The Today Show’s animal, weather, and celebrity features help pay for more serious journalism. And so on.
We do the same thing at Business Insider. We’re a native digital publication, and we produce and distribute expensive journalism and news aimed at senior executives that is funded in part by features that appeal to a broader audience of professionals worldwide.
So, in that way, the philosophies of Buzzfeed and Business Insider are very similar.
Buzzfeed and Business Insider are produced for different groups of readers. More importantly, as a result of these different reader demographics, we have different groups of companies as sponsors.
Buzzfeed is a general-interest publication. Buzzfeed’s reader demographics are similar to those of CNN, The New York Times, cable news channels, Huffington Post, USA Today, Animal Planet, celebrity and food publications, and other general-interest publications. Buzzfeed’s advertising clients, meanwhile, are mostly mainstream consumer brands trying to reach mainstream consumers.
Business Insider’s readers, in contrast, tend to be business executives and other professionals who also read the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, the Economist, TechCrunch, Wired, and other business- and technology-oriented publications. Business Insider’s advertising clients, meanwhile, are mostly business-to-business companies trying to reach executives and other affluent professionals.
There is some crossover in our audiences and clients (I’m an unapologetic fan of some of Buzzfeed’s cat pictures, for example). But, for now, they’re mostly separate.
So, no, as much as I admire what Jonah Peretti, Jon Steinberg, and the rest of Buzzfeed’s 200+ team-members have accomplished, I don’t think Business Insider and Buzzfeed should merge right now. Maybe in a couple of years, when audience targeting and context has gotten so scientific that a single publication can truly be all things to all people. But not yet…
(Buzzfeed and Business Insider could certainly be two standalone publications in the digital equivalent of a “Time, Inc.” A few different companies are beginning to build those. So if one of those companies bought both of us, or we combined at the corporate level with the aim of creating one of those, then, yes, a merger might sense. But it wouldn’t make sense to combine the sites themselves right now.)