Digg is close to announcing its sale to a major media player for $300 million to $400 million, according to sources close to the company, I hear. When I floated this Digg rumor past some knowledgeable friends, several scoffed: "When isn't Digg up for sale?" It's true: The news-discussion site is perpetually in talks — but we hear the price tag always sinks potential deals before they're consummated. CBS, for example, backed off, with effervescent dealmaker Quincy Smith citing the media company's bubbly $280 million purchase of Last.fm as the reason it couldn't bid a high price for Digg. Things are different now, though.
Digg recently inked a $100 million, multiyear ad deal with Microsoft. On those revenues alone, Digg's acquirers could easily justify a $300 million to $400 million purchase price; if Microsoft is paying about $30 million a year for Digg's banner-ad inventory, paying that price would mean a modest 10x to 13x multiple on revenues.
So who is it? A source rules out all the big Internet players — not Microsoft, not Google, not Yahoo. CBS, a big Web acquirer of late, has taken itself out of the running. So who could it be?
Two possibilities: The New York Times Co. and the Washington Post Co. Both the Times' Arthur Sulzberger and the Post's Donald Graham are big believers in a digital future. And both can see firsthand how much traffic Digg contributes to their websites. If I were to place a bet on those two? I'd say the Post, which already owns Slate and has close dealings with Microsoft; Digg's Microsoft ad deal would not discomfit Graham the way it might other businessmen. The Post also has a stronger balance sheet, with a market cap four times the Times'.
That's pure speculation, of course. Acquisition talks fall apart all the time — and for Digg, especially, with its history of almost-but-not-quite deals, I wouldn't be surprised if nothing came of this latest rumor. Still, it's telling that the Valley's talk about Digg has changed from scoffing at its overinflated valuation to talking about who's willing to meet Digg's terms.
Digg CEO Jay Adelson gave me the standard noncomment about "rumors and speculation." But given his transcontinental commute from New York to San Francisco, I wouldn't be surprised if he'd be glad to put his company up for sale. For founder Kevin Rose, a sale would be more emotional. He'd have to be comfortable with whoever buys the company, since he'd likely stay involved. His Diggnation podcast, which draws on headlines from Digg, is one of the centerpieces of his other startup, Revision3. Digg's contentious audience, too, might not take to the site's new owners. That's the biggest obstacle, I suspect, to any deal happening. Those who would profit from the wisdom of crowds must contend with their madness, too.
(Photo by briancaldwell)