Salon’s Swan Song?

Who will buy The site’s search for a buyer has drawn attention to its troubled business model as a standalone news site, but its content and audience could be valuable to a company willing to assume its losses.

Someone who’s shown a strong stomach for such losses is Sidney Harman, the 92-year-old audio pioneer who bought Newsweek for $1 this summer (then merged it with Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast). He could fold in Salon’s editorial staff and audience, while eliminating duplicated back-office, sales and technology staff.

“For something like Salon, [a buyer] is someone who wants to aggregate audience,” said Bob Nolan, managing partner of private equity firm Halyard Capital.

Another Internet-focused company, Politico, could fold Salon’s culture coverage in with its political content.

Salon’s audience (the company estimates it at 5.5 million; puts it at 2.3 million) could also bolster The Week’s small online presence, although publisher Felix Dennis hasn’t shown much appetite for money-losing ventures. (Salon has reportedly lost $15 million over the past five years.)

News that Salon is in play after 15 years of independence underscores the near impossibility of being a stand-alone news site that’s wholly dependent on advertising. On top of that, Salon trades in long-form content on a platform that caters to short attention spans, while facing growing competition for eyeballs.

Close competitors have fared only somewhat better. The Huffington Post is about to turn a profit, but it gets its content cheaper by mixing free and aggregated content with original fare. Politico gets a lot of money from its companion newspaper—which helps explain why The Daily Beast decided it needed a print partner in Newsweek. Slate found protection in The Washington Post.

“More than ever, it’s good to be part of something large,” said Ken Doctor, an analyst at Outsell. “On the Web, the value of scale is so big.”