“Vox Media Agrees to Buy Punch, Weighs Going Public”

From a Wall Street Journal story by Benjamin Mullin headlined “Vox Media Agrees to Acquire Punch, Weighs Going Public”:

Vox Media said it is buying Punch, a cocktail website founded by Bertelsmann SE’s Penguin Random House, part of a bid to deepen its coverage of food and drinks….

The deal with Punch comes as Vox Media—owner of tech-focused website the Verge, current-events site Vox.com and sports-focused SB Nation—is considering several options that would allow the company to finance further expansion….Those options include going public through a special-purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, a traditional IPO or raising additional funding….

Talia Baiocchi, the founder and editor in chief of Punch, will join Vox Media and report to Amanda Kludt, editor in chief of the Vox Media food site Eater. Ms. Kludt said she sees opportunities for collaboration between the two sites, including maps that help readers find the best food and drinks in their cities.

Several digital-media companies have explored going public this year to raise capital for acquisitions and provide venture investors with long-sought returns. Executives at Group Nine Media, Vice Media Group and Vox Media have all considered SPAC mergers, and BuzzFeed has reached a SPAC deal that is slated to close later this year.

SPAC mergers provide a quicker path to the public markets but can come with risks and trade-offs for investors, as companies try to determine their valuation and line up financings….

Punch is the fifth acquisition Vox Media has made in the past several years. In April, it struck a deal to acquire Cafe Studios, maker of the podcast “Stay Tuned With Preet,” which is hosted by former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

Vox Media expects to generate about $400 million of revenue this year and turn a profit….

Vox Media has covered the dining industry since 2013, when it acquired Eater as part of a $30 million deal that also included real-estate site Curbed and now-closed fashion site Racked. New York Media, which Vox Media acquired in 2019, operates the food site Grub Street.

Ms. Baiocchi said in an interview that Punch was originally conceived as an online magazine with Crown Publishing, an imprint of Penguin Random House that published a book she wrote. Launched in October 2013, Punch was run out of Ms. Baiocchi’s living room for the first two years with a small budget and a mission to cover wine, spirits and cocktail culture.

Readership of the site grew and advertisers came with it, Ms. Baiocchi said. Liquor-industry heavyweights, including Bacardi Ltd. and Campari Group SpA, became advertisers, spurred in part by word-of-mouth marketing by industry enthusiasts. In addition to its articles and drinks recommendations, Punch has produced 10 books and gift products and has launched a branded content studio and an events business…..

In early 2020, Penguin Random House began exploring a sale of Punch after Ms. Baiocchi realized that the site needed additional tools and resources to grow. Over margaritas at Claro in Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Gowanus neighborhood, Ms. Baiocchi and Ms. Kludt discussed the possibilities for a deal.

“Everyone in the cocktail industry reads Punch,” Ms. Kludt said. “They have a large consumer audience, and they’re a must-read for everyone in the trades.”

Punch and Eater share many advertisers in the liquor industry, so the deal will make Vox Media a more important partner for its clients in that category, said Ryan Pauley of Vox Media.

“The brands are going to get a lot more leverage out of the partnership between Punch and Eater as one company than they have in the past,” Mr. Pauley said.

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