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Quartz, Atlantic Media’s business news startup, sold to Japanese firm

[NEW YORK] Atlantic Media's business news site built for the digital age has turned into a good bit of business itself.

The site, Quartz, which Atlantic created in 2012, will be sold to the Japanese financial intelligence company Uzabase for a price between US$75 million and US$110 million, depending on its performance, according to a statement released Monday.

The acquisition is the second major international media takeover by a Japanese company in recent years. In 2015, the Japanese media group Nikkei bought The Financial Times, the British business newspaper of salmon-colored pages, for US$1.3 billion.

Atlantic's sale of Quartz is also a rare success in a media industry that continues to struggle to adapt to the internet and the tech titans that dominate it.

Just a year after the site's creation, Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder, bought The Washington Post for US$250 million, seen as a remarkably low price for a news organization with a historic brand name and a vast publishing apparatus. Around the same time, The New York Times Co sold the company that published The Boston Globe for US$70 million.

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Five years later, Quartz itself, despite lacking a name as well known as those of The Post or The Globe, could fetch a comparable sum.

"Uzabase's ambition echoes our own - to build the leading business news brand of our century - and now we are in this mission together," Kevin Delaney, Quartz's editor-in-chief and a founder of the site, wrote in a memo that was emailed to employees Monday.

Started with just 20 journalists, Quartz quickly found an audience by turning out a torrent of articles - some analytical, some quirky, most short - and charts geared toward tech-savvy business readers. With an editorial staff steeped in technology, the site has experimented with new ideas, including making bots that give readers the news and integrating ads into its newsfeed.

Today, the company - which has its own bot studio, a number of popular newsletters and a project for a video show on Facebook - has 215 employees, including more than 100 journalists. Quartz will retain its name, brand, staff and offices, according to the announcement. Mr Delaney and the publisher, Jay Lauf, will share the title of chief executive and will report to Yusuke Umeda, a Uzabase co-founder.

This is the second time in about a year that Atlantic Media has sold a controlling stake in one of its properties. Last July, Emerson Collective, the organization founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, acquired a majority stake in The Atlantic magazine.

Uzabase, which runs a business news aggregation app called NewsPicks, said it was buying Quartz to help expand its overseas business. Quartz will take over the English language version of NewsPicks and will also develop new paid products, according to the emailed memo.

Uzabase and Umeda have tried to challenge a staid media environment in Japan by focusing coverage on emerging technology trends, according to Japanese media interviews with Umeda.

NewsPicks, which aggregates business news and allows commenting and sharing, has 64,000 subscribers who pay roughly US$15 per month, according to the statement. In 2017, the company formed a joint venture with Dow Jones & Co to run a US edition of NewsPicks. Uzabase also runs a financial intelligence service called Speeda.

Discussions between Uzabase and Quartz began in the fall and were rooted partly in Mr Umeda's early admiration of Quartz, according to the statement.

"Five years ago, when I was originally thinking about launching a digital media business, I discovered Quartz for the first time," Mr Umeda said in the statement. "I thought that they were truly the first new media company to successfully combine quality journalism with mobile technology, and they played a big role in inspiring me to launch NewsPicks."

Still, it appears that Quartz will now follow the direction set by Mr Umeda and his NewsPicks product. Under the new leadership, Quartz is to focus on developing subscription products aimed at its current readership.

"While high-quality advertising will continue to represent the lion's share of Quartz's revenue in the coming years, we expect that the biggest source of growth in Quartz's next chapter will come from reader revenue," Mr Delaney wrote in his email to employees.


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