A short time ago, I heard from a number of US sources that Arrow had been in negotiations to buy IEEE’s GlobalSpec. The price mentioned was $40 million but I’ve been told that Arrow walked away from the deal. Whether the rumours are true or not, here’s the backdrop to the situation.
On June 2nd, 2016, I wrote this blog post about Arrow’s intention to buy an ailing EETimes and a bunch of other media outlets aimed at the electronic engineering (EE) community, from UBM. The deal was made public by Arrow the following day and the distributor’s publishing arm, AspenCore, under which EETimes was operated, was subsequently born. The flagship title, arguably still one of the most influential in our market, has had a bumpy ride since then. From memory, the traffic to the website was running at around three million page visits per month at one time. By December 1st last year, when I published this snapshot of North American electronics media, it had fallen to just under 620,000 visitors per month, according to SimilarWeb. Today, that figure is down to under 400,000 visits. And it’s still falling. Loss of revenue, cuts in senior editorial talent (there have been numerous high-profile lay-offs) and the continued fragmentation of channels that satisfy the needs of electronics engineers and executives have all taken their toll. Then back in July this year, AspenCore’s Publisher and co-Global Editor-in-Chief, Bolaji Ojo, announced his resignation.
So, what can Arrow do to progress its strategy of trying to ‘own’ a large proportion of the electronic engineering audience worldwide? A strategy that enables them to go to potential component suppliers and promise them unrivalled access to the audience they crave, perhaps in exchange for an exclusive franchise deal. At first sight, buying IEEE GlobalSpec’s website, subscriber lists and other assets may seem like a good idea. The site has around 1.1 million visits per month, again according to SimilarWeb. But not all of these visitors are EEs. This IEEE site, like the organisation itself, serves engineers of many disciplines. I can’t access specific data on the traffic to electronics360.globalspec.com, the part that does address EEs, but it seems likely that it will have just a few hundred thousand visitors each month, and there could be a lot of overlap with readership that Arrow already attracts at EETimes.com, EDN.com, or one of its other properties.
$40 million would be a lot to pay for the modest extra traffic. Arrow may be better looking at some of the smaller niche publishers that are garnering growing numbers of visitors amongst EEs, or aspiring engineers. Electronics-notes.com is little more than a one-man business but attracts close to 800,000 visitors each month. Although the owner has told me the site is definitely not for sale, I’d speculate that anything near $40 million may change his mind! EverythingRF.com is another example of a small publisher doing an outstanding job. The site attracts close to 450,000 visitors per month, and it only serves the RF niche.
Whatever the truth behind the Arrow/IEEE story, the days of companies becoming publishers themselves are here to stay. But I don’t think the appetite for good independent journalism is going away any time soon. And it’s sad to see the decline of EETimes’ fortunes. It’s been a powerful voice for our industry for decades, publishes some great content, and still has a lot of loyal followers. I only hope someone finds a way to revive it soon.