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Vox Media Buys Curbed Network: Is This the Future of Digital News?

Jim Bankoff, chairman and chief executive officer of Vox Media

Photograph by Brian Ach/Getty Images

Jim Bankoff, chairman and chief executive officer of Vox Media

Vox Media, the private company that publishes a range of popular digital publications, announced on Monday that it is purchasing Curbed Network, a private company that publishes Eater, Racked, and Curbed, which cover restaurants, fashion, and real estate, respectively. They will join existing Vox properties such as SB Nation, a network of sports sites; the Verge, a tech platform; and Polygon, a gaming site. According to The New York Times, the sale price is in the range of $20 million to $30 million. The purchase comes on the heels of reports that Vox Media recently raised $34 million in new investment capital.

As Felix Salmon points out, Vox’s purchase of Curbed is unusual in that typically, nascent blog networks tend to be scooped up by established media giants (such as AOL (AOL) or Time Warner (TWX) or Disney (DIS)), rather than by other nascent blog networks. The Vox-Curbed deal, he suggests, could signal a coming wave of consolidation.

Here’s the logic: Over the past decade—thanks to rapidly evolving technology and low entry costs—a diverse constellation of thriving, independent digital-only publishers have sprung up. The result has been a rich and far-flung ecosystem of publishers that has been great for media consumers. It has also proven a major hassle for media buyers (i.e., the people paying everybody’s bills).

Consolidation along the lines of the Vox-Curbed merger could be a solution. It offers a potential path to viability for independent players struggling to attain profit by enabling them to reach the massive scale traditionally demanded by major advertisers in a business with notoriously thin margins.

In these types of arrangements, previously independent publishers combine to aggregate a mass audience across their sites while keeping costs in check by sharing such things as technology and sales staff. The people charged with rolling out ad campaigns on behalf of advertisers get a simpler, more efficient way of buying ad space that doesn’t require the headaches of negotiating with multiple, dispersed suppliers every time they enter the market. And readers continue to get a diverse range of unique publications to choose among.

In other words, the media monopoly of yesteryear may be on its deathbed. The media monopoly of the future may just be getting started.

Gillette is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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