J2 Global Buys Serial Acquirer Ziff Davis Inc; Don't Expect Synergy

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Over the past two years, Ziff Davis has transformed itself from a digital-only tech publisher primarily known for PCMag.com to a broader content/digital marketing play by adding audience ad targeting, e-commerce and enterprise IT functions. Now, after roughly five acquisitions since CEO Vivek Shah took over the media property with investment assistance from Great Hill Partners, Ziff Davis has been acquired by j2 Global, a cloud-computing services provider, for $167 million.

While both companies did not return calls seeking comment, the initial take on this deal is that it won't change much at Ziff Davis, at least on the outside. J2 has been around since 1995 and operates companies such as online fax service eFax, email host FuseMail, email marketer Campaigner, and file storage provider KeepItSafe, among many others. It has acquired roughly 40 companies, and while all of them tend to reinforce and relate to businesses that need some sort of cloud computing service, most of the properties operate independently. That will likely continue with Ziff Davis, sources familiar with both companies told AdExchanger. "Don't expect to hear the term 'cost synergy' around this deal," one source said.

"We have years of experience and significant interest in the digital media and online marketing space, both as a large scale consumer of advertising (~$50M per year) and as a seller of advertising on our ad supported properties (e.g. eFax Free) and a provider of marketing and advertising services through Campaigner,” said j2 CEO Hemi Zucker, in a statement. “This acquisition brings scale to this effort with a top leadership team deeply committed to building the business through organic growth, which we expect to continue." Read the release.

J2 paid for Ziff Davis in an all-cash transaction. While sources said that Ziff Davis was not shopping itself around, j2's large amounts of cash promised significant investment to Ziff Davis' growth plans. And since there are no obvious synergies, Ziff Davis executives could rest easily that they would continue to run the company without much interference or forced combinations with other parts of j2.

Shah is expected to continue as CEO of Ziff Davis. Although he was previously digital head of Time Inc., the very definition of a traditional publisher, Shah has worked to make sure that Ziff Davis is anything but a typical media company. Six months after he and Great Hill took over Ziff Davis, Shah made two simultaneous acquisitions that demonstrated the direction he wanted to take the tech publisher. Ziff Davis bought LogicBuy, a kind of Groupon for tech deals, and audience targeting platform BuyerBase.

It's worth noting that this was at a time when most publishers still tended to avoid exchange-based platforms and relied mostly on contextual ads within their sites. With BuyerBase, Ziff Davis not only made a bet on being able to create their own private exchange in-house, but it also offered its services to outside publishers as well.

Most recently, Ziff Davis IT networking site Toolbox  bought back ComputerShopper.com, which was formerly the size of an unabridged dictionary filled with tech gear, and since become a more streamlined virtual catalog. As Ziff Davis positions itself under j2's public company umbrella, it will have more room to maneuver while it builds out its e-commerce and data platforms.

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