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CondNet Buys Travel Blog Publisher SFO Media; Chubb Says More Acquisitions Ahead

This story was written by David Kaplan.

CondNet, the online unit of magazine publisher Cond Nast, has acquired travel blog producer SFO Media, publisher of the travel blogs, and the forthcoming Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

HotelChatter, which posts user-gen comments on lodgings located all over the world, and Jaunted, which is a pop culture guide, claim to draw a collective one million monthly uniques on average. The SFO blogs will become part of the channel offerings within CondNet's Concierge.  The Concierge sales team will handle ad placement across the sites, both individually and included in packages with and At the same time, the SFO properties will still maintain their standalone sites. As part of the acquisition, Mark Johnson, SFO's founder, will join CondeNt as a senior director. He will continue to run the sites.

The move reflects the elasticity of CondNet's digital strategy, which has been been noted for spinning some sites out of themed portals for topics like cooking, fashion and travel. For example, last November, the company rolled out Wmagazine into a standalone site from its place within the channel. More recently, the sites associated with Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines moved out of And early next year,'s Conde Nast Traveler will go out on its own as well.

In an interview with paidContent, Sarah Chubb, CondNet's president, emphasized that there was never any intention to follow a single path with respect to creating portal channels or standalone sites. Chubb: "Our digital strategy was never predicated on an 'either/or' way of thinking." More from my interview with Chubb after the jump.

-- More is more: In terms of digital strategy, Chubb said that the mix between standalone sites and channels within portals translates to greater use by readers, more spending by marketers. "What has happened with some of the magazine sites that have created standalone websites outside of the portals is that they'll create more opportunities for across both sets of properties. People are going back and forth between and Epicurious. They're having a different experience. If you're an advertiser and you're targeting 'foodies,' we have more of them across these sites. In the end, it proves more really is more."

-- Building the footprint: For the past two years, we've been aggressively looking for ways to grow our overall footprint. In July 2006, Conde Nast bought back Wired after an eight-year separation. Then, in October 2006, the company acquired social news site Reddit, a site called NutritionData and we're building new stuff too. The properties that we have set up have always been vertical. That's what's most important online: if someone's really passionate about food, fashion, or travel, fi you can build a destination that creates a deeper relationship as opposed to most websites, where viewers tend to be more transient by linking from one site to another. From an ad standpoint, being able to show you have relationships are more vauable than eyeballs.

-- Acquisition strategy: Chubb outlined three things that the company looks for when considering its M&A activity: First first, "is this complementary, will it grow our reach?" Second, whether an acquisition brings new technology, which was behind the purchase of Reddit. Third, talent. "In the case of SFO, it's just blog technology, so we're not able to check off that box. But the other two boxes are really good. SFO's tone is right with our kind of [upscale] consumer. The voice is a little different than Concierge's, plus, SFO skews a little younger." After a site is acquired, Chubb insisted that the policy is usually "if they're doing something good, don't get in their way, don't try to turn them into something different." Looking ahead, Chubb doesn't find the prospects of a continued economic slowdown too daunting when it comes to acquisitions; she expects to complete additional purchases over the next several months.

-- Staffing: Chubb described SFO under Johnson, who started SFO in San Francisco but is now based in Boston, as "a one-man band." Aside from benefiting from Concierge's ad sales support, CondNet will add other staffers to help manage the sites. It hasn't been decided if the additional staffers will come solely from within CondNet or if outside hires will be made. Johnson is considering returning to San Francisco, but no decision has been made about where he'll be located.

By David Kaplan

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