Zagat Survey, the company behind the original crowdsourced restaurant guide is seeking a buyer. According to the New York Times, the company, which was founded in 1979 by Tim and Nina Zagat and has since expanded its coverage to nightlife, hotel guides, and attractions, could be valued at $200 million.
What started as a two-page typed list of the Zagats' and their friends' recommendations soon became best known for its tall, slim, burgundy guidebooks that rely on the information of thousands of diners to put together quotation markladen blurbs. But it's the company's online presence that could prove most interesting for potential buyers:
While Zagat (pronounced zuh-GAHT) is considered the nation’s pre-eminent populist printed restaurant guide, less traditional buyers may find its online business its most attractive and underleveraged. Cellular telephone carriers like AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless could use it to build exclusive mobile content. Internet start-ups like OpenTable.com, which allows users to book restaurant reservations online, could pair its services with Zagat’s rankings.
What I think the Times article alludes to with the passage above but leaves unsaid is whether the print guide is relevant anymore. With so much crowdsourced dining, nightlife, and hotel information available online for free, I don't remember the last time I actually picked up the print product to use as a guide. Instead, I pick it up on the day it comes out, scan it to see who's been added and who has slipped or gained rank, and then put it on the shelf.
And while the website has steadily become more functional over the years, the fact that you have to pay at least $24.95 annually to access reviews and ratings may have undermined its growth and allowed sites such as Yelp (basically the same user-generated review model, but at no cost to the reader) to steal its lunch.
In fact, the Times briefly touches on this: "Zagat has tried to build its online business, but it has largely remained a paid subscription service, preventing it from becoming a magnet for users and advertisers."
Zagat, however, remains a strong and attractive brand, and it will be interesting to see who eventually ends up buying it and what its online strategy will be thereafter. Will we see a gradual collapse of the paywall, the way the New York Times itself went and the way the Wall Street Journal appears to be going?
What do you think? Do you use the print version of the Zagat Guides, the Zagat website, or a combination of both? Or have you turned elsewhere for your dining advice?