With $90m Pulse acquisition, is LinkedIn becoming ‘the newspaper of the future’?

LinkedIn’s gone a long way from being just a virtual resume pile. After what CEO Jeff Weiner called “a transformative year” in 2012, the company has cemented itself in the media industry, most recently with Thursday’s $90 million purchase of news reader Pulse.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | April 12, 2013

Does this development prove the professional networking site is on its way to becoming “the newspaper of the future,” as ReadWrite’s Owen Thomas suggested? The acquisition of Pulse will certainly thrust LinkedIn further in the direction of content providers, a shift the company’s been gradually working toward.

“We believe LinkedIn can be the definitive professional publishing platform — where all professionals come to consume content and where publishers come to share their content,” Deep Nishar, senior vice president of products and user experience, wrote in response to the acquisition. He added: “We believe we can help all professionals make smarter and more informed business decisions … through LinkedIn in the form of news, Influencer posts, industry updates, discussions, comments and more.”

Launched in 2010, Pulse combines algorithm and social aspects to stylishly present users articles in different categories, from news and politics to entertainment and fashion. The startup’s mission, it says on its site, is to “make your news available wherever you happen to be,” across platforms: Pulse launched as an iPad-only app in 2010 then expanded to iPhone and later Android and web versions. It’s now used in 190 countries with nine available languages, according to a release.

With 30 million users, Pulse is among the leaders in news apps. While its user base pales in comparison to competitor Flipboard, with 53 million users, including 3 million sign-ups in the last two weeks, Pulse sold for much more than news apps Summly and Zite, which went to Yahoo and CNN respectively, each for $30 million or less, according to Mashable.

Pulse users read 10 million stories a day through the app, according to All Things D. Among 750 partnered publications are The New Yorker, AP, TIME, BBC News and Forbes.

In the past few years, LinkedIn put an emphasis on content marketing to give its more than 200 million registered professionals more reasons to return to the site, aside from job searching and recruiting. It instituted LinkedIn Today, which compiles news based off links shared by industry contacts, and began its Influencers program, which enlists big business names such as Jack Welch and Richard Branson to write original content.

The efforts have apparently paid off: Weiner said LinkedIn was the world’s 25th most visited website in the final quarter of 2012, CNET reported.

Adding Pulse to the mix, Thomas noted, LinkedIn will now have a wide range of original content, with exclusively written articles by Influencers, curated links on LinkedIn Today and profile updates and user contributions.

What remains unclear, however, is how LinkedIn will use Pulse. A blog by the app’s founders assures users that Pulse as it exists won’t go away anytime soon, though the team will soon relocate to LinkedIn’s headquarters, a release says. While some, such as Thomas, have speculated that LinkedIn picked Pulse primarily to make use of its interface, others guess LinkedIn will use Pulse’s news recommendation service to personalize LinkedIn Today. Mathew Ingram suggests the partnership might result in an app that shows users their contacts at companies mentioned in the news.

The only official word is that together Pulse and LinkedIn will “build future generations of professional content consumption products,” the release says.

LinkedIn’s revenue sources mimic that of yesterday’s newspaper, Thomas noted, with subscriptions, advertising and its own version of classifieds for professionals. LinkedIn also took a page from newspapers of today by dabbling in sponsored content. The company has run tests of sponsored stories for GEXeroxThe Economist and Blackberry and hopes to start showing the ads on smartphones, Weiner told Jennifer Van Grove in February.

“They’re taking repositories of content that they’ve built over time … and they’re now able to serve that content as a status update and target specific followers,” Weiner said.

But unlike newspapers, whose revenues are mostly flat, LinkedIn is thriving: 2012 was “a blowout” year for the company, with shares rising above $117 each. This year, shares have risen steadily higher still, reaching $183 on 11 April.

So if LinkedIn is indeed on the way to becoming a newspaper, it at least seems immune from the fate of other publications.

“LinkedIn,” Thomas said, “is showing there’s money to be made in media.”

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