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Exploring NewsPicks: Quartz buyer Uzabase's influencer-drive news app

The Uzubase Newspicks app

Uzabase recently bought six-year-old mobile-first publisher Quartz from Atlantic Media for between $75m and $110m. While the successful sale may buoy those in digital media, what are Uzabase’s credentials in news?

The Japanese business intelligence and media company said it plans to create “a larger, more robust global business news brand” with the acquisition by combining “Quartz’s voice, editorial, advertising, and product expertise, and international reach with Uzabase’s deep expertise in data and niche paid content”.

One of its lead products is a news app called NewsPicks, launched in 2013. Now with the merger, the Quartz editorial team will help roll out NewsPicks to English speaking markets.

The app apes a social network, where verified readers and contributors can read, comment on and share curated news and features from publishers and influencers. It’s pitched as a middle ground between Flipboard, LinkedIn and Twitter for “professionals” to help users “save time” and “live smart” by following thought-leaders and building their own profile on the site through their own commentary.

Currently, NewsPicks’ leading contributors are Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington and Ian Bremmer of Eurasia Group where their content sits alongside publisher work, sorted by sector or company according to the users’ interests.

Five years after launch, NewsPicks now claims to be Japan’s “foremost source of business news for young, urban professionals”. It boasts 3.3m registered users and 64,000 paying subscribers (at $15 a month).

Last year, it entered the US market in partnership with Wall Street Journal and MarketWatch owner Dow Jones and within a year claimed to have seen double the growth it recorded in Japan.

In pursuit of scale and a foothold in the west, it then sealed the Quartz partnership.

The staff that have led Quartz’s distribution experiments with newsletters and quirky chatbots will now take the lead on the NewsPicks app, working out how to interlink the two platforms for continued growth.

Uzabase is also in a good position to offer the premium paywall that Quartz has been pursuing for years. Quartz co-presidents Kevin Delaney and Jay Lauf, who now report to report to Yusuke Umeda, Uzabase cofounder, wrote: “We expect our existing products to remain free, but are very focused on also providing premium content and services alongside them, and have been surveying readers about what else you would value from us.”

The sale is expected to close in the coming month.

On the deal, Charlie Beckett, a professor in the department of media and communications at the London School of Economics, outlined that Quartz does great, tailored content, and this would have been an attractive trait in the formation of the deal. "They have identified a particular audience and honed in on techniques grounded on adding value. They don't rely on your bog-standard journalist and in a competitive marketplace they have done well.

"With business news, people are prepared to pay attention and money because it is valuable to their work. What they do may almost be B2B journalism, and that is so much more profitable, nonetheless, it is a relatively small deal and neither company has vast subscriptions - but both have their heads above water.”

He pointed to a parallel with Japanese Nikkei’s takeover of the Financial Times in 2015. “People suspected they would destroy it and it is quite the opposite, and I suspect the same with NewsPicks. They've realised that Quartz has terrific talent as well as an ability to help them expand.”

As much as Quartz may bring to the table for Uzabase, for Quartz, if it wants it, it now has a foothold in Asia.

“There is a vast Asia market that is still relatively difficult for Western and American companies to get into. Even Buzzfeed is struggling to get a foothold in Europe, the language and culture barrier is much harder than they realise. Because of the economics and demographics in Asia, they generally offer fantastic opportunities, there is a huge amount of talent. There is an appetite for western information so that may see the content going both ways.”

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