Vox Media's Jim Bankoff continues to acquihire everything under the sun, snatching up Editorially founders
Jim "gotta catch 'em all" Bankoff is at it again.
When I heard a few days ago that Bankoff had a new acquihire to tell me about I racked my brain trying to think what content niche he hadn't yet snapped up a team in. Bankoff started in sports and expanded to tech (poaching the Engadget team from AOL for the Verge), explainers and general news (that big Ezra Klein hire for Vox.com), and food and real estate (via the acquisition of Curbed and Eater.)
It turns out his latest addition isn't about content at all-- it's about strengthening Vox's underlying tech platform and CMS, Chorus.
If you’ve heard any interview with Bankoff, sat near him on a plane, or been remotely in his vicinity, you’ve heard him talk about the importance of Chorus to Vox Media.
Unlike lean content companies like Pando, Vox has raised a shit load of money-- some $61 million. A lot of that has gone into Chorus-- the company has a 64 person product team that just got bigger with this deal. But that's not to say it doesn't impact the editorial side of the company. Chorus is not only a content management system, it helps enable the creative storytelling layouts and presentations that Vox Media is known for. It also enables targeted distribution, and a platform to produce sponsored content. It’s all about an obsession with the user interface (UI) -- not just the one the readers see, but the one advertisers, writers, and editors have to live in all day.
Bankoff describes it as "better digital storytelling" and has always said the tech part of Vox is as important as the content. I've described it before as that thing where you pull up the Verge, and it looks like $100 bills are hitting you in the face. There’s always a debate with modern content companies about how much investment should go into UI and how much should go into putting great journalism on the screen. Medium is about the former, and a site like Pando is about the latter. Bankoff has gambled that he and $60 million in capital can do both at the same time.
It’s not immediately clear how the Editorially team will make the whole experience more…. Chorus-y. The software was all about better version management, collaboration tools, and workflows for writers and editors. It’s a big problem, but media teams and publishers are awful at ripping out old shitty software even if there’s a promise of something better. So ultimately, while Editorially failed as a business, it had a lot of fans. Indeed, some of the early brainstorms and sketches of the Verge were based on the work of one of the founders, Jason Santa Maria.
When Editorially announced it’d be shutting down earlier this year, the Vox team contacted them about joining, a move straight out of the Bankoff playbook of snapping up disenfranchised or unhappy rock star teams and bolting them on.
The Editorially product will remain sunsetted, with the founding team of Santa Maria, Mandy Brown, and David Yee working on Chorus and possibly adding in some elements of the old product, but also maybe not. First and foremost they’ll spend time talking to the writers and editors. The cool thing about the Editorially team is that they’re product and UI geeks, but also publishing geeks. They built Editorially originally because they kept bitching about shitty CMS products. Now, they get the luxury of solving the same nagging problem while not having to, you know, build a profitable business.
I’ve gone back and forth on how important gorgeous a CMS is to building a media brand. You can click around here and see pretty readily that Pando has invested in content over tech at every opportunity. But I have to admit the more I talk to Bankoff, the more jealous I am that his writers and editors aren’t relegated to a Wordpress world.
If the big bet with other mega-funded content companies like Buzzfeed is around social and distribution, the big $60 million (and counting) bet on Vox is about the importance of technology to making a media company more scalable, targeted, and easy to plunk high-paid, custom ads into. As their cap table shows, it’s a content company dream that even the platform-obsessed Valley could love.
[photo by Hallie Bateman]