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Vox Media to buy New York Magazine in VC-backed takeover

Kevin Dowd

Vox Media, a digital media company that's received hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate and venture capital over the past decade and was valued at over $1 billion in 2015, has agreed to purchase New York Media, the owner of New York Magazine and a series of popular industry-focused websites. No price was announced for what's reported to be an all-stock deal, one that will bring two of the more prominent players in online media under the same corporate umbrella—an umbrella that's owned in part by VCs like Accel and Khosla Ventures

Unlike many media mergers these days, the move was said to be born more of a sense of possibility than necessity. "No one had to do this," New York Media chief executive Pam Wasserstein told The New York Times. "It's a brilliant, in our view, opportunity, so that's why we leaned into it. It's not out of need. It's out of ambition."  

Vox last raised funding in 2015, bringing in $200 million from Comcast subsidiary NBCUniversal at a valuation just shy of $1.1 billion. Before that, the business had raised more than $120 million from more traditional venture backers, most notably Comcast Ventures, Accel, Khosla Ventures and General Atlantic

That final funding came in the late days of the VC industry's brief infatuation with digital media startups during the middle of this decade. Other notable names like Vice Media, BuzzFeed and Refinery29 all raised at least one major round between 2013 and 2015, fueling a spike in deal count in the B2C publishing sector that's since dissipated:
Digital media startups are still raising large VC rounds in 2019, however. Automattic, the parent of WordPress.com and the new owner of Tumblr, raised $300 million at a $3 billion valuation last week, accounting for a large chunk of 2019's deal value in the space. And sports writing startup The Athletic has banked more than $80 million over the past 18 months, reaching a valuation of nearly $329 million. 

What is today Vox Media began in 2005 as a sports-centric entity called SportsBlogs, which was the parent of SB Nation, a popular network of sites that were at the time authored largely by unpaid fans of the teams they covered. The company hired Jim Bankoff as CEO in 2009, and the former AOL executive promptly began to expand its horizons, leading over the next decade to the creation or acquisition of sites like The Verge, Eater, Curbed and Recode. In 2014, Vox Media teamed with former Washington Post pundits Ezra Klein, Matthew Yglesias and Melissa Bell to launch an eponymous news website; today, Vox and its explanatory journalism are arguably the linchpin of the Vox Media empire.  

New York Magazine, meanwhile, was founded in 1968 to chronicle all the craziness the Big Apple had to offer, and over the ensuing decades it became one of the more prestigious publications in the US, piling up more than 40 National Magazine Awards. It was owned by Rupert Murdoch for much of the 1980s, until Murdoch sold to K-III Communications, an entity controlled by Henry Kravis and KKR. It's now owned by the family of the late investment banker Bruce Wasserstein, with his daughter, Pam Wasserstein, installed as CEO.  

Early this year, New York editor-in-chief Adam Moss resigned his position after 15 years. He was replaced by David Haskell, an editor at the magazine and a Moss protégé. During the decade and a half that Moss led New York, some of the company's attentions shifted away from its biweekly magazine and onto a budding network of other sites: The Cut, Grub Street, Intelligencer, The Strategist and Vulture. 

There's certainly some overlap with Vox's existing titles (Eater and Grub Street are both food-focused, for instance, as you probably could have guessed), but it appears no immediate synergies are planned. New York stated in a press release that it and Vox's editorial networks "will remain distinct."  

The employees of both Vox Media and New York have recently unionized, and both companies have also conducted relatively recent layoffs. In the first half of 2018, Vox reportedly parted ways with about 50 employees and then shuttered a style site called Racked. This June, the Vox Media Union agreed to its first collective bargaining agreement with the company. New York Media, meanwhile, recognized its staffers' unionization this past February; a month later, the company announced more than 30 layoffs. 

Interestingly, while Wasserstein and Bankoff, her Vox Media counterpart, both spoke to the NYT for a largely laudatory story (and posed for a well-lit feature photo), it seems that at least some New York employees weren't informed of the merger until it was announced to the public. 

Following the merger, Bankoff will retain his CEO and chairman roles at Vox, while Wasserstein will become the company's president. 

Featured image via BrAt_PiKaChU/iStock/Getty Images Plus

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