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April 24, 2014

Wheelings & Dealings: Discovery Sells Off HowStuffWorks.Com


Whenever there was a question about how some complex mechanism worked, millions of people relied on Discovery's HowStuffWorks.com for an answer. The publication, owned by Discovery Communications (the same people who own the Discovery Channel), has made strides in educating a rather young and aspiring demographic on things that really mattered to them.

Unfortunately for the site, it's proven to be an investment that the digital media company has deemed unsuitable for its future. Rather than hemorrhaging money on its digital property, Discovery has decided to sell HowStuffWorks for $45 million, which amounts to about a fifth of what the company paid for the site seven years ago. On the other end of the transaction is a company known as Blucora, formerly named InfoSpace. The company, a provider of several business services including tax preparation and search and monetization solutions, intends to integrate HowStuffWorks into the search advertising portion of its business, which has retained the “InfoSpace” moniker.

Discovery bought the site for a quarter of a billion dollars just seven years ago with the intention of putting more of its televised content on the web. This has since proven to be a fallible investment with the rise of YouTube. Now, more people go to YouTube to find instructional content in the form of entertaining videos.

Other sites with similar content encountered the same kind of treatment. About.Com, a site owned by New York Times Co., was sold to InterActiveCorp. Demand Media, a company whose business model was based on “how to” articles churned out into properties like eHow and Livestrong, didn't fare nearly as well, losing much of its referrals and revenue due to Google weeding out “rinse and repeat” content. Of course, the latter company's failures were more due to their method of operating as opposed to a change in media preference, such as what HowStuffWorks suffered from.

As a person whose knowledge of computer engineering was greatly boosted by HowStuffWorks, it's sad to see the site change hands and eventually be disseminated into a search advertising business model. However, the future looks bright as more colorful content is being used to describe the same things the site once exposed to the public. This kind of evolution may inspire more engineers and scientists than HowStuffWorks ever hoped to accomplish.




Edited by Alisen Downey


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