While everyone is celebrating Gawker’s declaration of Bankruptcy, they are missing the huge elephant in the room: Ziff Davis. While most of you may be unfamiliar with this giant company, as I explain who they are I am sure the feeling of joy will start to quickly leave your body for abject horror.
In 1927. Ziff Davis got its start with what we would think are the old-timey equivalent of enthusiast magazines, later becoming invested with technology publications in the 1980’s, purchasing PC Magazine and MacWEEK. In 1997, Ziff Davis would open Official PlayStation Magazine which closed in 2006. After several ventures with CompuServe, Yahoo!, ZDTV, and eventually TechTV which was absorbed into G4 liquidating many jobs. It was also at this time that Ziff Davis pushed for more “personality” driven content, and this was especially the case with product reviews. In 2000, Ziff Davis would be bought out by Japanese telecommunications company Softbank. By the time 2010 rolls around, Ziff Davis had some extremely deep roots into the internet. Chances are if you are looking at a top 10,000 Alexa rated tech page, it’s connected to Ziff Davis.
In June of 2010, Great Hill Partners, a private equity group involved with everything from pharmacy benefits administration to online media and Vivek Shah the former group president for digital at Time Inc., would purchase Ziff Davis. At the time, Ziff Davis pulled in 7 million users a month, with the most reliable entry being PCmag.com. Later Great Hill Parters would sell their portion of Ziff Davis to j2Global, a company which now has an estimated market cap of $2.4 Billion, that provides cloud-based, business-critical communications and storage messaging services. In 2013, Ziff Davis would acquire IGN, but financial details surrounding the purchase were not made public. This was eight years after IGN Entertainment stated that they had a whopping 24 million unique visitors monthly from their sites IGN.com, 1UP.com, GameSpy.com, AskMen.com, and UGO.com. The same year they acquired NetShelter, an advertisement network specializing in consumer electronics, computers, and mobile technologies. This effectively put one of the largest gaming and technology sites under the same roof with a major advertising company
specialized in selling products to their audience. It was this year that their new reach was 29 million unique visitors in the United States alone. Even though Ziff Davis had essentially assembled a Juggernaut of collective sites, widespread layoffs in 2013 would see 1UP.com, UGO.com, and GameSpy.com close in order to strengthen IGN and AskMen. IGN alone stands as ranked 380 internationally.
As it stands right now, Ziff Davis controls the number one game site in the world, reaching 20.5-22 million unique monthly visitors on average, depending on the source, while it has a complete and very competent advertising team under its umbrella. They pull in 3 million more unique users on average than their closest competitor GameFAQs, and almost as much as their third and fourth place counterparts, GameSpot and Kotaku, which add up to 25 million uniques estimated. Kotaku is estimated to have 9-10 million unique users and if you only take a quarter of that user base and apply it to IGN, that will put their grasp over the gaming industries’ online media, more than five million uniques over their nearest competitor, a competitor that is specifically user driven in nature, and does not hold official product reviews while controlling its own advertising medium. Even scarier, this is only looking at Ziff Davis in regards to the acquisition of Kotaku. However, they will be purchasing all of Gawker’s sites, which boast somewhat large, if not equal numbers of traffic in their respective fields.
Many of us who have been around the industry long enough will remember when IGN was owned by Fox Entertainment, and the turmoil such a large sale has. But it also, at times of consolidation, can make the parent company an unstoppable force beyond reproach. That thought legitimately terrifies me, and should terrify you. We are bearing witness to the new news media emperors, ones which ultimately can not be trusted as many of us have known, and many of you have learned. There is always a potential for a silver lining, but if the past is any indication of future events, we will see a buyout, consolidation, redirection of traffic, and finally an absorption which will have the effect of pulling in unsavory individuals into a company that is damn near impenetrable, and just got that much more powerful.