AOL Inc. (NYSE:AOL) offered to purchase BusinessInsider.com, a popular business and technology news website, for more than $100 million but talks ultimately broke down when the two sides couldn’t agree on price, the FOX Business Network has learned.
The early stage discussions took place during the second half of 2013, with AOL considering the possibility of paying between $100 million and $150 million, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. The talks ended after officials at Business Insider indicated they wanted a more lucrative offer, this person said.
It’s unclear what Business Insider would sell for; a source has suggested that it may be looking for an offer of about $250 million. FOX Business previously reported that at least one unnamed suitor made a play for Business Insider but was rebuffed.
The previously undisclosed details of the buyout talks indicates the appeal of new-economy media outlets like Business Insider — which provides analysis on business and technology news — to more established web players like AOL.
Neil Doshi, an analyst at CRT Capital, says Business Insider has obvious appeal given AOL’s business model of acquiring content providers with a strong brand name and an upscale readership. AOL acquired Huffington Post, which specializes in politics and lifestyle news, in 2011 for $315 million, and TechCrunch, which focuses on technology, in 2010 for an undisclosed price.
“Visitors of these sites tend to skew towards certain demographics that could yield higher ad rates,” Doshi said.
A spokesman for AOL would neither confirm nor deny the talks. Business Insider chief executive Henry Blodget says that the company is not shopping itself, but would not deny that he and his partners spoke with AOL, when approached about a possible deal.
“We love the folks at AOL, and we have enjoyed the many conversations we have had with them over the years. But what we talk about is private,” Blodget told FOX Business.
Blodget ruled out the possibility of going public. Venture-backed companies generally provide returns for their investors through an acquisition or IPO. “I wouldn't wish being a public company on anyone these days,” Blodget told FOX Business. “It's an expensive, time-consuming hassle. And it pushes you to make dumb decisions to appease short-term traders who couldn't care less about your product, customers, or team.”
Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO), which has become especially acquisitive under CEO Marissa Mayer, could be another potential future buyer. Blodget already hosts a show at Yahoo! Finance and could create synergies at the combined entities. Barry Diller’s IAC (NASDAQ:IACI), which owns a variety of news and Internet sites, could also make a play for Business Insider, according to Doshi, who adds that traditional media like the New York Times, News Corp, and Bloomberg may also be interested in Business Insider to complement their digital presence.
Some media watchers say the prices being discussed for a possible Business Insider acquisition exemplifies a bubble in the valuations of Internet companies. Sources say the website barely ekes out a profit, and churns out less than $20 million a year in revenue.
But companies like AOL may care less about current profitability and more about attracting traffic as the web transforms the way news is delivered. According to Alexa data, BusinessInsider.com achieves more global traffic than traditional business media companies like the Financial Times and Bloomberg, but less than The Wall Street Journal.
Business Insider, formerly Silicon Alley Insider, was founded in 2007. The New York-based startup has received more than $18 million in fundraising from Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos, Huffington Post co-founder Ken Lerer, Marc Andreessen and venture capital firms. The investment rounds date back to a seed round in 2008, with the latest venture round in the spring of 2013.