Summary:

One of the poster boys for online specialist entrepreneurial journalism is selling to a price comparison website. But can independent personal finance guru Martin Lewis keep his legion followers happy?

Martin Lewis
photo: DECC

He’s styled himself as the eponymous MoneySavingExpert.com. Now personal finance editor and guru Martin Lewis is selling his site for £87 million ($132 million).

Publicly-listed UK financial services comparison site MoneySupermarket is buying Lewis’ site for £60 million cash and shares, plus up to £27 million more based on hitting three-year, non-financial targets (full details).

Lewis, a Cardiff Journalism School graduate, founded MoneySavingExpert.com, reportedly with £100, in 2003. It has gone on to be one of the pre-eminent personal finance brands, with news, advice and forum activity going to 39 million unique users and five million newsletter subscribers.

Over the years, Lewis has positioned himself amply in UK news media as the site’s eponymous figurehead, leading personal finance campaigns like that against banks to repay missold personal protection insurance. It is one of the ultimate examples of specialist entrepreneurial community journalism online.

Not only is MoneySavingExpert.com a good editorial fit for MoneySupermarket, it’s also cash-generating, making EBITDA of £12.64 million on £15.7 million revenue in 2011, according to MoneySupermarket (release). The site generates affiliate revenue from recommended services, including MoneySupermarket itself.

But many regular users in MoneySavingExpert’s own forum, with whom Lewis has always maintained a close connection, are reacting with disappointment.

According to the site, Lewis will continue as editor-in-chief and is locked in for at least three years. He will donate £10 million to charity (£1 million to the cash-strapped Citizens Advice agency, £9 million to a trust). Now he will need to demonstrate that little will change.

Comparison sites like MoneySupermarket are themselves sometimes criticised by campaigners like Lewis for failing to be upfront about promotion within their results.

About MoneySupermarket, Lewis says: “They’ve shown by agreeing the Editorial Code, which ensures our content can proudly remain editorially independent and free from commercial considerations.”

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