On Website Mergers

What’s with the merger mania? A lot of good websites have been acquired recently, and let’s not forget the infamous Microhoo

CNET was acquired by CBS, Ars Technica was absorbed by Condé Nast, owner of Reddit, Wired, and Webmonkey, and countless other web companies have met similar fates.

This is worrying. Big corporations are swallowing good websites, and the future is foggy when it comes to what will happen to the sites. When a big media company buys out another company, it often ends in the purchased company no longer being what it once was.

Condé Nast has said that they don’t want to meddle in Ars Technica’s affairs too much, but what about CNET? CBS isn’t likely to sit back and let them continue on as before. Sure, they didn’t ruin Last.fm when they bought them, but I’m unsure whether we’ll see the same treatment with CNET. I hope they don’t ruin the site, but there’s a good chance that won’t be the case. As someone on Digg pointed out, the $1.8 Billion CBS paid for CNET is a bargain for their domains alone. News.com, com.com, mp3.com, download.com, etc. CBS is a big corporation that has shown that they mainly care about money. They could very well sell-off some of the domains, or put them to new use. (One notable example would be puttung News.com to use for non-tech news.) There are plenty of things that they could do to ruin the site (fire the employees that make CNET, well, CNET, bringing in tech-ignorant people as replacements, comes to mind…)

I think it’s safe to say I don’t like seeing websites acquired right and left by large corporations. There are always significant odds that the site won’t be as good as it was before the acquisition, if it lasts at all. And I don’t want the internet to be controlled by a handful of monster-sized companies. Imagine if the only ISP available was Comcast, you could only get webhosting from Dreamhost, and CBS and Fox owned all of the web’s news sites and social networks. Oh, and you would have to use Internet Explorer, on Windows of course, too. That’s where we could be heading.

So, if you one day you have a successful site and a large company offers you a considerably large sum of money, resist it. First, say forget it. If they keep pestering you, demand an unthinkable sum of money, much higher than their initial offer (good bargaining advice, too…). Say you want $12 Billion when they only offered $1.2 Billion. That should scare them away. If not, take the money and go launch a competing site. (Oh, and if you’re a publicly traded company, keep tabs on your stock to prevent hostile takeovers. Google seems to be good at this.)