Social media publisher UniLad has been bought by it’s archival and city neighbour LadBible.
The company that owns UniLad was slapped with a HMRC winding-up petition in July.
A court heard on 4 October that the owner had debts of £10m, with half the sum owed to the company’s original founder. HMRC was said to be owed £1.5m in unpaid taxes.
UniLad and LadBible, which are both headquartered in Manchester, are the two most-viewed publishers on Facebook – beating the like of the BBC, CNN and the New York Times on engagement.
But the takeover has exposed weaknesses in the social media publishing business model.
Combined, both firms have an annual revenue of £25m, representing a fraction of the income that was enjoyed by traditional media.
The UniLad takeover has safeguarded 200 jobs in the short term. But an unnamed staffer told the Guardian that “downsizing” could be part of the longer-term plan for the company.
During the administration process, UniLad’s former management repeatedly complained that LadBible was being favoured over rival bidders.
The two companies have a complicated history.
They were both founded by Alex Partridge, who subsequently closed UniLad in 2012 before giving Liam Harrington and Sam Bentley a 66% stake to reopen the company in 2014.
When Harrington and Bentley pushed Partridge out of the company, Partridge responded by taking the pair to court, where he successfully won back his third-share of the company.
UniLad’s joint administrators said in a statement that they had “identified a purchaser and worked with those concerned to deliver a positive outcome for all stakeholders”.
In a separate statement, LadBible said: “As of today, LADbible Group and Unilad Group are now united under the same roof. This transforms the media landscape worldwide.”
Umbrella Insolvency’s Licensed Insolvency Practitioner Tom Fox said: “It is always good to see a company rescued from financial catastrophe and jobs saved.
“In this case, UniLad’s assets, particularly its strong social media following, appear to have saved the company. It’s thought that the company had a number of rival bidders, including another Manchester social media company Social Chain.”
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