G/O Media Hangs ‘For Sale’ Sign Across Its Portfolio

The company, after working to sell its whole portfolio, is now shopping individual properties

Digital media company G/O Media is shopping around its portfolio of editorial assets in hopes of securing buyers for individual titles, part of a broader effort to divest the properties ahead of another challenging year for the media industry, according to four people familiar with the efforts.

The media company—which includes publishers Deadspin, Quartz, Kotaku, The Root, The Onion and Gizmodo—initially sought a suitor that would acquire its entire stable of brands, according to two sources.

But no such buyer materialized, leading the company to explore options to sell the properties on an individual basis. It has placed a particular emphasis on offloading The Onion, which is not profitable, according to two people familiar with its finances. 

“It’s fair to say they’re looking to divest,” according to a source. “I think it speaks to the broader market. There is not that much positivity about the future of publishing, so they’re trying to extract as much value as possible.”

Dwindling referral traffic from search and social platforms has reduced publishers’ scale across the board, while shifts in the privacy landscape and the rise of generative artificial intelligence threaten to upend established commercial and editorial strategies. Traffic at across G/O Media has fallen from 33 million unique visitors in December 2019 to 21 million in December 2023, according to Comscore.

“Your reporting is largely incorrect. As with many multi-title media properties, we are always entertaining opportunities,” said a representative for G/O Media. “We have sold sites and purchased sites. Having said that, we do not comment on transaction rumors and speculation.”

G/O Media ownership eyes the door

G/O Media is owned by private equity firm Great Hill Partners, which created it after acquiring Gizmodo Media Group and The Onion for roughly $40 million in 2019, according to two sources.

In March 2023, G/O Media sold one of its properties, Lifehacker, to media company Ziff Davis for an unspecified amount. According to two sources, the sale fetched a high enough price for Great Hill to make back its original investment. 

“They sold Lifehacker, made a good return and are looking to get out,” according to a person familiar with the matter.

A roll-up gone wrong

G/O Media is a relatively small acquisition by Great Hill standards, which often invests between $50 million and $75 million in companies with businesses that grow to around $200 million, according to a source.

The private equity firm initially hoped to scoop up the Gawker and Univision assets for cheap, invest in the brands and sell them for a profit, sources said. The strategy—a linchpin of the private equity playbook—typically occurs over a time horizon of three to five years, placing G/O Media near the end of that timeframe.

Instead, the media company has endured a ceaseless stream of internal turmoil. Culture clashes, for example, have roiled within the company around its return-to-office policy, as G/O Media operates offices in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. 

This year, head of video Garth Bardsley and The A.V. Club editor in chief Scott Robson have left the company, departures that have not been previously reported.

Persistent criticisms of CEO Jim Spanfeller, who has led the company since its inception, have also led to high rates of turnover. In 2023 alone, five editors in chief, as well as editorial director Merrill Brown, left the company. 

Unions are key variables

As G/O Media works to sell The Onion, the union contract protecting the publisher remains a key variable. The contract expires at the end of this month, according to two sources.

When G/O Media initially moved to sell Jezebel, its union contract complicated the effort, as potential suitors would have to honor it, according to a source. Only after G/O Media shuttered Jezebel, in November, was the feminist publisher able to find a buyer.

Literally Media, which has amassed a portfolio of comedy brands and recently acquired Mel Magazine, has been floated as a potential home for the brand, according to two people familiar with the matter. Literally Media did not respond to a request for comment.

“I would say there is a bit more reasonableness about value lately,” said one person familiar with the sales efforts. “You can buy anything.”