What if MSFT Bought 51% of SuperPages?

Last week I was in Chicago for a ShopLocal “partner” event, which included a range of attendees from the Internet as well as traditional newspaper business.

It was very interesting gathering for many reasons, some of which I’m sworn not to reveal on pain of death :). Among other attendees, Verizon was present (and couldn’t discuss anything because of the “quiet period”). But it got me thinking about something pretty interesting.

Let’s put aside the financial intrigue of whether the business is “sold” or “spun off.” Either way, here’s my provocative thought for the day: What if Microsoft were to buy 51% of the company? Let me just say, I don’t think it’s going to happen. But it hit me that majority ownership in SuperPages would be highly beneficial to Microsoft and SuperPages could remain or exist as a stand-alone unit, avoiding the “cultural” and other integration problems that would come in the wake of an outright acquisition.

I used to get questions from reporters about Google or Yahoo! buying this or that newspaper company or yellow pages company. I would always say, “no way.” Why? Because of the huge cost structure and overhead that would come along with all the sales assets. Also the cultures of these companies are radically different. But Microsoft’s culture isn’t as different from SuperPages as Google’s would be.

But what about a majority stake in what essentially would be an independent, stand-alone entity? I think it would be pretty interesting and it would give Microsoft a powerful local sales channel. SuperPages has roughly 3,000 local sales reps and had approximately $3.5 billion in revenues last year. SuperPages.com is also the single most visited of the yellow pages sites.

Furthermore, SuperPages’ has been more experimental than other directory publishers (with clicks and calls). Overall, being owned by a “new media” entity wouldn’t be as much of a culture shock in this case (Here’s my previous post from when Verizon was put on the block.) Microsoft also has had a long-standing relationship with SuperPages and is using the directory’s PPC and PPCall advertisers to help monetize its local search product.

Again I think this scenario is pretty remote, if not completely impossible. But it’s certainly interesting to consider.


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