Quick read. Skift Inc, the five-year-old global travel industry platform, has acquired Airline Weekly, of Florida, for a modest price that is believed to be principally geared to future profits and shares.
Airline Weekly (AW) was founded in 2004 and publishes a subscription weekly ‘magazine’ emailed as a PDF. Curiously, it even looks like a print newspaper. But it’s a high-rated news and information source especially among US airlines, and is said to have some 7k subscribers paying $775 per year. Less than 10% of revenue comes from ads, and the staff exclusively comprises the three founders.
AW is thought to be marginally profitable. Its tagline -“Shouldn’t a publication about an interesting industry be, well, interesting?” – sounds like something right out of the mouth of Skift founder Rafat Ali whose three-month negotiation with Airline Weekly’s founders was betrayed by tell-tale AW quotes on Skift.
The opportunistic deal spotlights the rising success of Skift, now said to be profitable with revenues of some $8-12m (primarily from events, research reports, and sponsored content). The company has almost 60 employees, mostly in New York.
It is 10 years since Ali sold his PaidContent media-tech web platform to The Guardian for some $12m. It had some 200k page views but they neatly included the daily newspaper’s senior executives who were momentarily joyous about their first acquisition outside the UK. Ali was pretty pleased too and managed to fill reporters’ notebooks with the rags-to-riches story that he had created his super-blog about the business of ‘new media’ in 2002 as a kind of job résume: “I was trying to get hired. I was trying to show employers the kind of journalism I could do. I never thought it would be a business” (even though he had private equity funding). But The Guardian deal, whose price would have more than doubled if only growth targets had been met, quickly went sour and ended, two years later, with PaidContent being swallowed up by GigaOM for next to nothing.
Rafat Ali quit with regrets of being sweet-talked by the loss-making UK newspaper. In 2012, he bounced back with the launch of Skift, described at the time as “an online trade publication that writes about the travel business, and primarily for the travel business, with occasional stories that go viral with a much larger audience”.
That’s only part of the story for a new kind of publisher in a B2B media world that has flipped from being dominated everywhere by large publishers with multi-sector portfolios to versatile global specialists who deep-dive into everything from high-value information to consulting, and research to events.
Rafat Ali is a student of media, and Skift seems like nothing so much as a colourful cocktail of ingredients from four highly-personalised, community-building media successes by new-wave entrepreneurs in the US and UK: Monocle, The Information, The Business of Fashion, and The Wrap. But what happens next is the exciting bit.
Ali’s painful lessons from his little skirmish with The Guardian and his polished story about “not wanting” to add to the $2.5m he had raised from venture capital in Skift’s early days, can’t really be taken at face value. He may continue to snap up pockets of expertise in travel and also hospitality, into which he has been expanding. And we bet he will be doing more of his stylish print magazines. But the question is who will reward Rafat Ali for creating one of the world’s sexiest B2B media brands? And when?