End of PC era? Ziff Davis sold

Posted by Emory Kale

The publisher of PC Magazine gets sold. We is building CNET 2.0 say suits.

Ziff Davis, once the leading brand in tech publishing, has been snapped up by a former Time Inc. executive and an investment firm called Great Hill Partners. Never heard of any of them, but they are worth sucking up to if I am going to stay in this business. Just not right now. Because, I have a gripe.

The official line is:

"The acquisition represents the first step in building a new digital media company that specializes in producing and distributing content for consumers making important buying decisions."

The real reason is that we've always fancied ourselves as doing a CNET.

Ziff Davis has a storied history. It is still a pretty good brand, but it lives in a dying world, or at least a shrinking world, the tech publishing world, where the competition on the web is, if not fierce, numerically crushing. The nine Ziff Davis publications included in the deal are PCMag.com, ExtremeTech, GearLog, GoodCleanTech, DL.tv, AppScout, CrankyGeeks, Smart Device Central and TechSaver.com, which reach over 7 million users per month. None of them, with the exception of PCMag, jumps out at you, but PC Mag is a geezer mag of huge geezerishness.

Also, according to the official press release, the ZD Labs are a big attraction for the new owners. Granted, the labs still carry some cachet, but they haven't broken any barriers in a long time. They've been coasting for years, hampered by a lack of products to test; it ain't like the old days when they did a graphics card roundup twice a year and filled a couple of hundred pages.

CNET 2.0. I betchya. Because, we really need another CNET. Really, we do.

I mean, with all these blogs, and sites, and enthusiast sites, and online publications, why do we need another monolithic tech publisher? Beats me. But, I guess if you can build one and sell it to a rival of CBS, you look golden. Sorry, I may be giving away the strategy.

What's interesting is that Ziff Davis has tried for a number of years to be CNET 2.0 and hasn't done badly, but has never scaled to those heights. Too much debt, and too much baggage. So, are these newbies going to dump a bunch more cash into the brand? Will it matter to an audience that doesn't even remember PC Magazine? Yes, more cash is going to have to go in.

I know nothing. I own nothing. Who am I to question? Screw it: this won't turn out well.