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Mashable, once a fast-growing digital publisher with big ambitions, has been sold at a fire sale price.
Ziff Davis, a digital media subsidiary of tech company J2, is buying Mashable for less than $50 million, according to people familiar with the transaction. In the spring of 2016, 's Turner led a $15 million investment round that valued the company at $250 million.
Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that a deal was in the works.
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Mashable's new owners plan on keeping the site running but want to refocus the company on tech and tech-lifestyle content. That will mean laying off about 50 of the site's employees and offering other Mashable employees jobs at other Ziff Davis publications, according to a source familiar with the company's plans, who says founder Pete Cashmore will stay with the company.
Ziff Davis specializes in running low-cost publishers that generate a significant amount of their revenue from "affiliate commerce" — usually executed via in-text links which pay the publisher when a reader clicks on the link, or buys something after clicking on the link. Last year, the company made a bid for the Gawker Media sites when those properties were in a bankruptcy auction.
Mashable's collapse comes amid increasing skepticism about online publishers that depend on digital advertising, as Google and Facebook eat up increasing amounts of that market. Last week, BuzzFeed said it was laying off about 100 people — around 6 percent of its workforce — as it looked for new revenue streams to augment its core "native" ads business.
In a letter to staff, Cashmore said of Ziff Davis, "They love Mashable. They value our excellent editorial." But he also acknowledged that the new owners would be cutting costs and laying off staff:
At our last meeting, you asked whether there would be changes to the organization post-acquisition. Unfortunately, I must confirm that this will be the case. It is never easy to see colleagues and friends depart the company. While such decisions are difficult and painful, I can assure you they were made only after very careful consideration and based on what we firmly believe will provide Mashable with a strategy and structure that will drive a successful, sustainable and profitable future.
—By Peter Kafka, Recode.net.
CNBC's parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Recode's parent Vox, and the companies have a content-sharing arrangement.