Newsweek Sold Again

This time to IBT Media

Newsweek has been sold again, this time to IBT Media. 

This is the third ownership change for the 80-year-old newsweekly since it was sold in 2010 by the Washington Post Co. to audio magnate Sidney Harman and then combined with IAC/Interactive’s Daily Beast under Tina Brown’s editorship.

Newsweek's been on a downward spiral for a while. This year, it stopped publishing in print, continuing on as a tablet edition. Its CEO Baba Shetty stepped down in June after less than a year, while high-profile staffers including Tunku Varadarajan, Andrew Sullivan and Howard Kurtz left in droves. (There are about 20 people dedicated to putting out Newsweek now, down from a staff of 150 at the time of its sale by the Post Co.) In a particularly low moment, after Harman died, and with Newsweek's losses continuing to drag down IAC's results, Barry Diller, IAC’s chairman, admitted he regretted buying the publication.

IBT's founders don't seem to see it that way, though, saying they were drawn to its "iconic brand cachet."

"It has a long legacy of thought-provoking coverage, great news and analysis, and it’s a global brand as well that fits with our global perspective," Etienne Uzac, an economics grad who founded IBT with Johnathan Davis, a former engineer, said in a phone call. "Newsweek opens up a lot of doors on the business front.”

Founded in 2006, the company has kept a low profile. It has 200 employees around the world, and its flagship International Business Times claims to reach 13 million monthly unique visitors (on the strength of, apparently, a good dose of SEO tricks). Its highest ranking editorial exec, Jeffrey Rothfeder, is a Bloomberg News alum. In 2011, the New York-based company moved into offices in Hanover Square, then home to Newsweek. It was there that the founders got a chance to see the weekly's operation and grew interested in buying it.

IBT stresses that it's a digital-only news company (in other words, forget about Newsweek being resurrected as a print magazine). The founders said they plan to bring back and continue Newsweek's international editions, probably the most valuable vestige of the brand. They said Newsweek would benefit from IBT's digital-only expertise, while IBT's existing properties could learn from Newsweek's diversified revenue model, including paid subscriptions. 

"A lot of what we’ve seen that works we can bring to Newsweek off the cuff," Davis said. "We believe it needs to be more Web-friendly and responsive.” 

It's the second handover of a venerable news brand today after The New York Times Co. sold The Boston Globe to the Boston Red Sox's owner, also for a much-deflated value.

There were reports that Variety owner Jay Penske and Digital First Media, which manages MediaNews Group and Journal Register papers, also took interest in Newsweek. IBT didn’t say what it paid, but given Harman only bought it for a dollar three years ago, the purchase price probably wasn't far off.