Peter Kafka

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Pop Culture Web Publisher BuzzMedia Lays Off 20 Percent of Staff, Restructures

buzzmediaBuzzMedia, the pop-culture Web publisher that got a new CEO late last year, is undergoing another overhaul. The company is cutting 20 percent of its workforce, but plans on replacing many of the outgoing employees with new hires.

People familiar with CEO Steve Hansen’s plans say he intends to lay off about 50 of the company’s 240 employees, and will end up hiring another 25 people in the coming months.

The company also plans on shifting its focus away from its blog advertising network business, and to concentrate on a core group of music and pop-culture sites it owns, including Celebuzz, Idolator, and Spin, the magazine it bought last year and turned into a digital-only property.

Earlier this year, the company raised a new $15 million round from existing investors, including Redpoint Ventures and Focus Ventures.

Hansen, a digital veteran whose resume includes GeoCities and Yahoo, was hired as BuzzMedia’s president last summer; he was elevated to the top job amid chatter that the company had missed sales targets. In a letter to the staff he has distributed this morning, Hansen describes the firings and hirings as a “rebalancing of existing skill sets and the addition of new ones … There is a lot that is right at Buzz, but much that still needs to change.”

Some of the changes may not come as a surprise to BuzzMedia’s staff; other Web publishers say they’ve been seeing BuzzMedia resumes circulate in the last few months.

Here’s the full memo:

Note to The Company

When first joining BuzzMedia, I told you that while successful, the company needed to evolve in order to achieve it’s true potential. Today we will be making a number of difficult, yet necessary organizational changes across all departments and levels of the company in order to achieve that goal.

Transformation sometimes requires making very hard decisions. Make no mistake about it, today will be difficult for all of us but our success is dependent upon greater focus on our audience, evolving our portfolio of brands, all supported by powerful technology and data. We need to align the organization around those objectives and today is a first step, albeit a very hard one.

Proper organizational alignment requires a rebalancing of existing skill sets and the addition of new ones that focus on those key areas that will help us keep pace and grow stronger within our industry. Embarking on that path necessitates a number of painful personnel reductions that will directly or indirectly impact all of us. The fact that so many friends and colleagues will be effected by what is happening today is not a referendum on them as contributors. On the contrary, today we will be saying goodbye to a group of people that have shown great passion, commitment and sacrifice for BuzzMedia. We owe these individuals a debt of gratitude for they were an important part of what Buzz is today and I’d like to thank them all.

These changes are not made lightly. Over the past several months I’ve met with many of you to better understand how the company works. I’ve taken great pains to personally review structure, process, priorities and people. There is a lot that is right at Buzz, but much that still needs to change. Success in our world will come down to having the right people focused on the right tasks and providing them with the resources they need to succeed.

While difficult in the short term, the changes being made today will make us a healthier company in the long run.

In 2013 we really need to focus on doing three things very well:

• Drive higher level of audience and audience engagement on our owned and operated sites
• Provide better solutions for our advertising partners and users
• Create a technology/publishing/knowledge platform that will support all of our sites

Successfully achieving these goals will allow us to legitimately lay claim to being a market leader in the digital publishing world. That is my goal for 2013. The world that we live in is getting more competitive by the day and doing a much better job for our audience, advertisers and editors is essential.

Although today is a difficult but necessary step in the evolution of our company. we make these changes from a position of market leadership, strong financial support and historical revenue momentum. And because we move forward from this position of strength, we can use these challenging times to become even better.

I think at a time like this it’s particularly important to reaffirm to you my commitment to transparency, accountability and high standards — both internally, with our partners and throughout our industry. Our reputation and how we treat each other is just as important to me as our financial success. I want each and every one of us to be proud of what we’re builing here — and how we’re doing it.

Affected employees will be notified mid-day today. I have also scheduled a company wide call for Friday at 10:30AM PST. Please feel free to reach out to me directly if you have questions.

From everyone on the executive team, I wish you all the best moving forward.

Steve


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work