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After the TechCrunch Acquisition, Who’s Next?

It’s not uncommon to read about website acquisitions on TechCrunch, but on Tuesday, the popular tech blog was the subject of the story when they officially announced an acquisition by Aol. Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but estimates put the purchase price somewhere between $25 million {Bloomberg} and $40 million {CNBC} for the TechCrunch network of blogs. Considering that TechCrunch never took on outside investment, founder Michael Arrington likely got the lion’s share of the money. In addition to the blogs that make up the network, there’s CrunchBase, a database of startups and investors, and events like TechCrunch Disrupt (formerly known as TechCrunch 40, then 50) and the Crunchie awards that likely made TechCrunch an attractive target.

Acquisitions of popular tech blogs aren’t anything new: Conde Nast purchased Ars Technica for $25 million in 2008; ContentNext Media, which includes digital media blog paidContent was acquired by the Guardian for $12.5 million; GigaOm is part of a tech blog network that’s raised $5.3 million from investors. TechCrunch was one of the last holdouts when it came to accepting outside investment, but now that they’re part of Aol (who are redefining themselves as a digital content company), which blogs and networks might be next on the acquisition list? Looking beyond tech, here are our best picks.

Mashable

A partnership with CNN means founder Pete Cashmore, and the stories on Mashable are already exposed to a fairly wide audience. CNN parent company Time Warner was eager to get out of its merger with AOL, so it’s unlikely that they’d be looking to add a purely digital publication to their stable. The mass market appeal could make Mashable an attractive acquisition target for Yahoo (who acquired Associated Content not long ago) or another company looking to add a popular blog brand their content portfolio. And, like TechCrunch, Mashable’s branched out from purely blog based revenue by organizing paid professional events.

Also like TechCrunch, Mashable hasn’t taken any money from investors, which means the decision to sell likely comes down to far fewer people.

Sugar Inc. Network

PopSugar, FabSugar, BellaSugar… if you’re interested in celebrities, fashion or beauty, chances are that you’ve read one of the Sugar Inc. blogs in the past month. The company’s success comes not only from the Sugar branded blogs, but acquired blogs like Coutorture and Fashionologie. Shopping search engine ShopStyle, one of the Sugar Network’s other acquisitions, is the one that would make a Sugar Inc acquisition so attractive to a large media company. Hearst acquired social shopping site Kaboodle, Time recently picked up StyleFeeder – a ShopStyle competitor, but previously used ShopStyle to power the on site shopping search for InStyle.

Sugar Inc. reportedly used some of their $31 million in funding to buy themselves out of a sales deal with NBC, so don’t look there for a possible purchaser. While ShopStyle powers the clothing search on Style.com (see our Style.com reader profile), Conde Nast still seems to be focused on establishing magazine sites like Vogue.com and GQ.com as their digital flagships, and the previous acquisitions by Time and Hearst make them unlikely suitors. Our guess for a potential acquirer? Wenner Media, the publisher behind UsWeekly, Rolling Stone and Men’s Health. The celebrity overlap with UsWeekly makes sense, and buying Sugar would be an easy way for the company to step up their digital offerings, which are currently pretty thin.

Gawker Media

Add Gawker to the list of major independent blog networks who haven’t taken outside investment. While they’re a pure media play – no events, no software based web services – Gawker does the pure media thing better than almost any other network out there. Gizmodo regularly gets tech scoops and exclusives that keep a substantial audience, and the other blog properties are no exception. Jezebel regularly exposes photoshop debacles, Gawker takes on hipster hiring policies and New York personalities, and after shuttering underperforming sites, the Gawker portfolio of sites lead in their respective categories.

While they haven’t been making many acquisitions lately – just trying to survive has been a full time job – we can see Gawker eventually ending up under the Gray Lady (the New York Times).

Those are our picks for the next big acquisition target – what are yours?





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