The sale of Ziff Davis Enterprise to online marketing company QuinStreet Friday raises some interesting and, on the surface, worrisome thoughts on the role brands and content play in connecting buyers and sellers.
I should mention that we don’t yet really know how QuinStreet is planning to incorporate ZDE’s brands into its operation. The company declined to offer any details in that regard. What we do know is ZDE employees are in the dark as well, with the bulk of them helping transition the brands before their positions are phased out. As many as 100 of the 120 or so employees will not be moving over to the buyer. QuinStreet didn’t buy ZDE as a company, it bought its assets.
But how can you have ZDE’s market and ZDE’s brands when you don’t have ZDE?
According to sources, about 20 people will be offered positions with QuinStreet. The positions are a mix of editorial, marketing and sales, certainly not enough to continue supporting content production for eWeek, CIOInsight, Baseline, Channel Insider and Web Buyers Guide.
However, QuinStreet says it has a base of content expertise in the IT space already in place—as many as 40 editors and a pool of 300 freelancer journalists, according to the company.
QuinStreet also bought IT Business Edge last year, and the ZDE deal now gives it a much bigger foothold in the tech vertical.
But presumably, along with the phasing out of ZDE’s content, audience and sales specialists, so goes the institutional knowledge of the brands and their community.
Regardless of the motivations behind the deal, whether ZDE’s backers wanted a quick exit, you have to question how a dramatic course correction like the sale of these assets is going to have on content quality and, ultimately, brand equity. But at the end of the day, do these matter for a company that’s dangling content to attract leads? Does the editorial mission change when the end-goal is servicing leads for marketing clients?
I wouldn’t be asking these questions about products created specifically for these purposes, but in this case we’re talking about established brands that have rich editorial histories. You can look at this as simply another example of the decline of brands in a very competitive market, finding a resting place in a context that potentially homogenizes that experience. But it’s disconcerting to see how easily it can happen.