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April 29, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:17am

Quartz founder Zach Seward says being part of G/O Media will let it focus on the journalism

By William Turvill

Zach Seward, the co-founder and general manager of Quartz, is hopeful that the business news title can thrive under a “conglomerate model” as it is acquired by G/O Media.

G/O, which already owns brands including Gizmodo, The Onion and Deadspin, announced on Thursday that it was buying Quartz for an undisclosed fee.

The deal comes less than two years after Seward led a management buyout of Quartz, becoming its chief executive. Following the G/O deal, Seward will become general manager and editor-in-chief of Quartz. Katherine Bell, the current editor-in-chief, will move on while continuing as an advisor to Quartz and Seward.

“Quartz and G/O have really complementary strengths,” Seward told Press Gazette on Thursday. “G/O is profitable, well capitalised, it has scale – an audience of 100m monthly uniques – and a good structure… G/O is building a really strong network of editorial brands and did not have a business news property in there. And now they do.”

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On the commercial side, Seward believes that G/O’s “sophisticated programmatic stack” will boost Quartz’s ad revenues. Editorially, he said, “we’ll reach even more people with our journalism. And just on a personal level, having a much bigger impact with our work is just really important.”

Seward believes that being part of a wider, well-resourced group should enable Quartz employees to focus more on their core product.

“I sincerely hope it will help us continue to focus,” he said, adding that Quartz, with a staff of around 100, has been attempting to simultaneously fund a strong newsroom, a custom advertising agency, and a commerce business. 

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“Another advantage of the conglomerate model at G/O is everyone is specialising in one of those things,” he said. “So our newsroom can just be laser-focused on great journalism, serving our readers, growing that readership. And I hope [they will] worry less about where our financing will come from next, or the ups and downs of the ad market.”

Quartz, co-founded by former Wall Street Journal reporter Seward in 2012, has endured some tumultuous years.

In 2016, while part of Atlantic Media, it reported revenues of $30m and a $1m profit. Quartz was sold to Japanese media company Uzabase in 2018. Disappointed by its financial performance, Uzabase sold Quartz in 2020 at a loss to Seward as part of a management buyout.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that Quartz’s revenues fell to $12.3m in 2020 and $11.1m in 2021, when it lost $6.9m. The NYT said Quartz had been seeking outside investment since last autumn.

Seward said that email newsletters will be an area of focus for Quartz in the coming years. He revealed that email recently overtook the website as its “number one audience platform”.

Quartz earlier this month dropped its metered paywall, having built up a subscription base of around 25,000. It still charges for some products, including its Quartz Africa weekly newsletter.

Beyond Quartz, Seward said he is “quite hopeful” for the future of non-paywalled digital news brands, especially those that are part of larger groups like G/O.

“This model is really working for G/O, yes – they’re already a profitable media company – but also for all the other companies… that also have a conglomerate media model, whether it’s a Vox Media, Buzzfeed or otherwise.

“They are all proving that not only can it work, but it can work well enough to sustain really great journalism. I would point to Vox Media, in particular, on that front.

“There are going to be a gazillion challenges along the way, half of which we can’t predict – that’s been the nature of this business. But I’m quite hopeful and encouraged by the structure as a good solution, both for Quartz and also for the rest of our industry.”

In an email to staff on Thursday, Seward said there would be no job losses as a result of the G/O takeover. He added that employees “will be eligible for deal bonuses from the proceeds of the sale, totalling more than $1m”.

Photo credit: Craig Barritt/Getty Images

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