Thursday, September 7, 2006

SixApart Acquires Rojo: Web 2.0 Eats its Own Children via "Acq-Hires"

TechCrunch reports on the acquisition of RSS Rojo Networks by weblog software developer SixApart. Rojo is a feed aggregation and social bookmarking service that has a strong but limited following amongst weblog and news devotees. Like so many Silicon Valley inventions Rojo was one of a field of news aggregation services launched a few years ago that never gained momentum in the face of substantial competitors such as Digg and reports on interesting wrinkles in the deal: SixApart plans to combine Rojo capabilities with the LiveJournal community publishing portal and the Vox social networking service to forge a more powerful social media property that can be spun off as a new service. The management of Rojo is going to stay in place, apparently, a trend that Editor Staci Kramer calls "acq-hires." With a wide array of sources for private equity there is a great deal of competition for leadership and vision in spending their money effectively. Increasingly this calls upon both startups and developed properties and their management to be "hired" in effect to help the "winners" finance their next dreams.

It's a natural adaptation to an investment market that's much less likely to push half-baked ideas to a hasty IPO and far more likely to invest in people with the acumen to move quickly and effectively in rapidly shifting content markets driven by equally rapid shifts in technology.
It is likely to accelerate the power of the visionaries who are able to call these shots, helping them to build portfolios of new and reinvented properties in a new-generation approach to the portfolio building performed by large media companies through the years. Unlike those traditional building processes, though, the money from private investors and their increasingly dominant ownership of media properties allows capital to flow to the idea-realizers more quickly and effectively than public or in-house ownership allows for oftentimes. Thinking of the VNU acquisition and management restructuring covered in our recent news analysis the scalability of this approach covers publishing properties of all sizes, not just Valley startups.

It's a trend that's likely to place ever-greater pressure on publicly owned publishing and media companies to react to these instantly empowered visionaries who can collect and assemble highly competitive services rapidly and, sometimes, rather effectively. A Thomson, an Elsevier or a Wolters Kluwer has the patience, infrastructure and capital to nurture acquisitions that fit into a general marketing plan, but they're much less likely to take a chance on visionaries with 10x potential in their ideas with quarterly or semi-annual earnings reports looming. The public giants will continue to buy these 10x-ers for a while, but eventually the efficiency of the properties that they're buying built on collaboration via virtual infrastructure may overtake the efficiency of traditional media buyers and make it harder for them to be in on these deals.

There may be somewhat of a bubble effect in this process as investors consider the same formulas for attacking finite market share and revenues but the power of private investment is becoming an increasingly permanent fixture in content property development that's likely to shift the power structure of publishing even more as many of these 10x bets begin to pay off handsomely. Watch the "acq-hire" market carefully for forces that can combine both established and emerging properties quickly and effectively to create new competition in publishing faster than ever before.
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