I Can Has Cheezburger CEO Ben Huh Publicly Offers to Buy Reddit from Condé Nast

8/30/10

[Updated with comments from Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman, 6:35 pm] I Can Has Cheezburger‘s Ben Huh extended an offer to purchase Condé Nast’s online user-generated news aggregation site Reddit.com last week, amidst an online debate over politically controversial advertising, according to VentureBeat.

In a post on the Seattle-based humor network’s pop culture site, The Daily What, Huh offered to buy Reddit after Condé Nast, following in the steps of Facebook, refused to run promotional ads for California’s Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana for personal use for those 21 and older. The decision resulted in backlash from Reddit users and administrators, who disagreed with Condé Nast’s decision to turn away advertising dollars. The Reddit admins even released a statement calling for the community to petition the decision.  Condé Nast responded that, “As a corporation, Condé Nast does not want to benefit financially from this particular issue.”

Huh took the opportunity to jump into the fray, proposing to take the issue and the rest of Reddit off of Condé Nast’s hands. In his post on The Daily What, Huh wrote, “I believe that Reddit is one of the best communities I have seen on the Internet. I also believe that Reddit would benefit from more resources and less corporate interference. We can offer all of the above. And we’d love to buy Reddit and all those pesky troublesome users that we love so much.”

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian responded on his blog that he would be “very surprised if Reddit were sold.” However, given Huh’s success with the Cheezburger network, he added, perhaps humorously, that he and the Reddit team might benefit from meeting over cheeseburgers to further discuss the offer.

Huh purchased the original I Can Has Cheezburger site from two entrepreneurs in Hawaii in 2007, and has since built up the humor network to encompass over 50 sites, including its best-known staple, LOLcats. Cheezburger has been steadily growing ever since, and now has nearly 50 employees, including the company’s first full-time CFO, who was hired in June.

Last month Huh’s network entered into a content partnership with Seattle-based global media organization Getty Images, giving readers the ability to doodle and caption Getty photos and repost them on the network’s ROFL Razzi and Pundit Kitchen sites. A similar deal between Cheezburger and the Associated Press fell through earlier this month, after the wire service said the partnership could potentially jeopardize its “journalistic integrity.” Cheezburger is currently in talks with Corbis Images, and Huh says the humor network will continue to seek out content partnerships with other media organizations. Read more on Huh’s public offer to purchase Reddit at VentureBeat.

[Updated, 6:35 pm] I caught up with Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman, who shared his thoughts on the both the advertisement debate, and Huh’s offer. He says Condé Nast’s decision to not run the Prop 19 ad turned the issue into a bigger one than it needed to be.

“A lot of companies make this mistake—they don’t want to run marijuana ads for whatever reason, and because they don’t run them, it turns into a much bigger deal. If they’d run the ad, no one would have batted an eye,” he said. “But in true form, Condé decided to make an issue.”

Condé Nast, which also owns Wired, purchased Reddit in 2006. Co-founders Huffman and Ohanian both left the company at the end of October 2009, when their contracts were up. And according to Huffman, the folks at Reddit have been frustrated with Condé for a long time.

“When we were bought, the message was ‘Don’t worry about money, just do the site,’” he says. “Then when the economy took a downturn, Condé stopped hiring all over, which makes sense. And now they’ve recovered in a sense, and they’re [Reddit] still not able to hire.”

The site, according to Huffman, is managed by just four developers, even though its traffic has grown ten-fold since Reddit was brought under the Condé Nast umbrella less than four years ago. And just like any other startup, Reddit needs ways to make money. But when an opportunity for advertising came along, Huffman says, Condé Nast denied them the opportunity.

“Condé’s been saying, you guys have to figure out how to make money, which is the opposite of what they told us for the first three years, and now that they have an opportunity to make money, they don’t let them. It’s like, well what do you want?” he says.

“I think a lot of their decisions are run by PR—they don’t want to run a marijuana ad, because they’ll look bad. They don’t want to sell Redddit because they’ll look bad. But they look like fools now. Reddit gets more traffic than all of their other sites combined, and it’s run by four people. Their other sites are run by hundreds of people.”

And although he’s no longer involved in Reddit, Huffman says he would “would love to see somebody buy the site,” though he’s not sure it should be Huh. In fact, he’s been encouraging other people to consider buying Reddit from Condé Nast. The site is popular, he says, and needs more resources to thrive. Whether Condé Nast would agree to sell, however, is another question.

Thea Chard is a correspondent for Xconomy Seattle. You can e-mail her at theachard@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/theachard. Follow @

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