August 31, 2021 by Max Willens
After a couple years of bargain-hunting for ad-supported media businesses, Recurrent Ventures has pounced on a small, subscription-focused title it hopes will help provide a foundation for subscriber revenue, Digiday has learned.
The private equity-backed company, which owns brands ranging from The Drive to Task & Purpose, has acquired JancisRobinson.com, a subscription-focused site owned by the wine critic Jancis Robinson, a six-time James Beard Award winner who also serves as a wine columnist for the Financial Times. The U.K.-based site employs a small team of 17 employees, including regular contributors. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
While some of Recurrent’s media brands have some non-advertising dimension to their businesses, Robinson’s site has no advertising at all, generating nearly all of its revenue from subscriptions, which start at $12 per month.
To date, consumer revenue has played a small role in Recurrent’s business overall, accounting for about 10% of overall revenue last year, according to a spokesperson. It has 600,000 subscribers across its portfolio, most of them concentrated at the brands Recurrent acquired from Bonnier late last year.
“Subscription, in time, I think will be one of our largest revenue streams, even if we’re just beginning,” Recurrent Ventures CEO Lance Johnson said. “[Robinson] is something we can build around.”
Robinson’s site is the fourth site Recurrent has acquired in 2021 — it bought Domino, Mel Magazine and Futurism earlier this year — and the 17th acquisition it’s made since the end of 2018, when it bought The Drive from Meredith. Johnson said Recurrent is on pace to make another two or three deals before the end of 2021, though he did not provide further details.
Neither Robinson nor Johnson would disclose how many subscribers Robinson’s site has. Robinson said that her site has been “consistently, highly profitable” for years and that its membership base has grown “healthily” every year it’s been offered, normally between 5 and 10%. The site launched a paywall in 2001.
It has also attracted a diverse base of customers. In addition to monthly and yearly consumer offerings, Robinson’s site also offers a professional tier, which gives customers limited commercial reuse of the site’s reviews and resources; those begin around $250 per year.
Robinson said she suspects that “around 20%” of her subscriber base is professional, though only around half of them are paying the professional price.
Robinson said she has subscribers in 82 different countries, yet less than 30% of her site’s audience and membership is based in the U.S.. In the near term, Johnson said the plan is to grow its American subscriber base. It has set a near-term goal of making U.S. subscribers half of its total subscribers, while growing Robinson’s digital audience as a whole.
Some of that will be done with technical improvements, such as improving the site’s SEO. But Johnson said Saveur, which Recurrent also owns, will also play a key role, both through simple article syndication as well as more ambitious projects, such as getting Robinson’s site to make wine pairing recommendations for the thousands of recipes Saveur has on its site.
“There’s a lot of synergies there,” Johnson said.
Some basic digital marketing will play a role as well. Since she first launched her site in 2000, Robinson said she has never spent any money on paid marketing. Instead, her customer acquisition efforts have been confined to in-person events, as well as word of mouth.
“I don’t have a marketing bone in my body,” Robinson said.