Since the Huffington Post was brought in to control media content at AOL, the company’s relationship with TechCrunch and Engadget has been strained. TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington jumped ship nearly a year ago, and Engadget is a skeleton of its former self after a good deal of its editorial team departed for The Verge.
The dynamics of how Arianna Huffington factors into the two AOL-owned sites has been a subject of controversy to say the least, and recently her role with the company was scaled back to only oversee HuffPo activity. It appears to have been a rather tense and confusing tier the editorial side of AOL is working under, and according to insiders the Web company might be trying to simplify things with a sale – or two.
Former TechCrunch writer and PandoDaily founder Sarah Lacy says that insider sources tell her “AOL is exploring the sale of its cornerstone technology sites Engadget and TechCrunch.” AOL allegedly wants between $70 and $100 million and would potentially throw in TUAW and Joystiq to complete the “AOL Tech” package.
There’s been ample reshuffling over at AOL recently, but it might be having the right effect. According to the Wall Street Journal, Aol’s profit increased during the first quarter in its attempts to “appease activist shareholders skeptical about its turnaround efforts.” Ad display numbers are down, however, as is traffic to AOL properties.
“We are turning the worst merger in history into something that is valuable,” CEO Tim Armstrong tells WSJ, while also denying that his company is interested in selling Engadget and TechCrunch. He also told AdAge he plans on investing with these two companies, not selling them.
Both sites have been the subject of scrutiny over the past year, and while their traffic and teams have taken a hit, they’re still properties that AOL can hang its hat on when times are tough. There are suggestions that Huffington’s slimmed down role are a consequence of an upcoming sale, but it’s clear that how HuffPo and these two AOL vets (primarily, TechCrunch) were functioning prior to was not in anyone’s best interest. There’s more hype around this rumor than anything else, and given the dramatic history we’ve watched unfold in the AOL editorial department, it’s not surprising. It’s like the tech media world has just been waiting for the whole thing to fall apart since HuffPo made its home at AOL, and each time there’s a whiff of discord, we pounce.
If AOL really wants to hack away at itself to turn its finances around, the property on the chopping block should be Patch. It’s Armstrong’s baby and investors’ nightmare, and it’s siphoned some $200 million away from the company, without a proven business model and a myriad of complaints from ad sales staff. And take a look at the sites that fall under the AOL umbrella:
If AOL were trying to save some money, there are more than a few brands it could kill or sell (some of them have dismally bad traffic numbers). Sure, they won’t get that $70 million, but it’s unlikely the rumored tech package would either. The whole thing feels reminiscent of the SXSW rumor that would not die: the Mashable sale to CNN. Except that this time, the scoop is coming from someone who used to work with TechCrunch and hasn’t hid the distaste she left the company with in the slightest — which isn’t to say the report is out of left field, but it’s definitely worth considering. An AOL Tech sale of these proportions sounds like the culmination of months of rumors about inner turmoil in editorial and the willing participation of a rabid audience.