Property: LMK App
Buyer: Black Ocean
Seller: Hearst
Date: December 2011
Price: Undisclosed

In an interesting twist in the app market, digital media company Black Ocean decided to take a 70 percent stake in Hearst’s LMK app production group. Black Ocean plans to relaunch the app as a free service early this year.

Oliver Ripley, co-founder and CEO of Black Ocean, said LMK is a prime opportunity for his staff. “Hearst is a great example of a very successful business worth emulating,” Ripley told FOLIO:. at the time of the deal. “That being said, however, LMK became non-core to their strategy and how they operate, which is on a corporate level. These startup companies are probably not the best environment or match for that.”

LMK (an acronym for “Let Me Know”) was launched in March 2010. At its debut, LMK was a lean and mean operation where a half-dozen employees churned out apps that delivered news bites on categories specified by users—pop culture, celebrities, sports, and so on. The apps were priced at the .99 to $1.99 levels. The group was an interesting attempt at producing an app factory that lived relatively separately from Hearst’s bigger, branded app production teams. 

Seven Black Ocean staffers were assigned to LMK, in addition to an outsourced group of writers. The majority of LMK’s content will be aggregated by Black Ocean curators. It will be also move to an ad-supported model. “There was a price, but there are challenges there,” said Ripley. “We’re presenting ads in a manner that is unobtrusive to the content.”

Black Ocean plans to position LMK differently than other news aggregating apps (such as Flipboard), both in presentation and function. LMK is smartphone-optimized for news updates and factual information. “If you’re reading a book or a long article, you’ll do that on a tablet device,” he said.

The deal was a step back on Hearst’s part in the app development craze that gripped the publishing world.