@ AOP: Build Or Buy? Time To Go Shopping In The Digital Sales?

imageWith the economy turning down and digital media investments supposedly drying up, one question occupying publishing execs’ minds has perhaps rarely been more pertinent – build or buy? In a panel on M&A strategies at today’s Association of Online Publishers conference in London, moderator and Index Ventures partner Saul Klein asked essentially that question, then answered himself: “If something’s worth investing in, it’s probably worth buying…”

Economic effects: How is the economic storm affecting media players’ digital M&A outlook, Klein asked: “The climate today is making people more nervous, is this a time to be making investments or is this a time to stick to your knitting?”

“Most of the insane things get presented to you at boom time,” said Simon Waldman, digital director for Guardian Media Group (GMG), which bought ContentNext in July. “If you know there’s structural decline in your company, you’re going to have to do something about it … (but) we’re not all sitting on massive piles of cash right now. Now I think there’ll be much more scrutiny; people can’t just go and get a load of debt anywhere. Maybe there are things you looked at 18 months ago that now become affordable, going shopping in the sales – but saving £500 on something you weren’t going to buy anyway is not really a saving.”

Buy the platform: Mippin and WeeWorld investor Accel Partners’ Judy Gibbons said startups with talented engineers are still attractive: “Technology platforms are perfect candidates for acquisitions at this time” even though “a lot of them will go to the wall” next year after winning their first VC round. “Thoughtfully acquired they can be the most extraordinary asset for you. London’s pretty much a hotbed of innovation; you’ve got loads of these search startups in London, that’s a perfect example of a brilliant acquisition – bring in excellent technical Expertise with world-class engineers and you’ve got something cooking there.”

Bolting on: Martin Weber, venture MD of German publisher Holtzbrinck, which bought German Facebook clone StudiVZ last year for a reported