Cyber Monday’s here

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen, Brenon Daly

Even though the receipts from Black Friday, the traditional retailers’ launch of the holiday shopping season, weren’t much bigger than they were last year, online retailers on Cyber Monday appeared to be ringing up a pretty good business this year. Amid all of the cyber-shopping, we couldn’t help but notice that there has also been a fair amount of buying of the shopping sites themselves. For instance, Amazon recently wrapped up its $847m all-stock acquisition of online apparel retailer Zappos. This stands as Amazon’s largest purchase, nearly three times larger than its second-largest buy. (We should also note that when the deal closed earlier this month, the equity was worth a whopping $1.2bn thanks to the recent surge in Amazon shares. The stock, which hit an all-time high on Monday, has risen some 62% over the past three months.) While overall M&A spending this year appears likely to be half the amount of 2008, online retail dealmaking is still going strong. We expect spending on Internet commerce acquisitions to come in roughly where it did in previous years, at some $2.3bn worth of transactions in the sector.

Meanwhile, another e-commerce vendor continues its push for a different exit. filed to go public in late September, and appears to be on track for a debut early next year. The online electronics retailer, which was founded in 2001, has more than doubled sales over the past four years while also posting a profit in each of those years. Although growth has slowed so far this year, Newegg still raked in $2.2bn in revenue and $70m in EBITDA for the four quarters that ended last June.

Given the recent trend in dual-track offerings, we wonder if Newegg might not get snapped up before it hits the Nasdaq under the ticker ‘EGGZ.’ Granted, this is pure speculation, but there are a fair number of parallels between Newegg and Zappos, which could mean that Amazon will reach for it. (Both Newegg and Zappos have developed profitable, growing businesses by specializing in a slice of the market that Amazon has tried – but failed – to dominate.) Additionally, electronics retailers such as Best Buy could well be interested in bolstering their online sales units with Newegg. Although Newegg and its underwriters haven’t set an initial valuation, we suspect that any buyer would have to be ready to hand over slightly more than $2bn to add Newegg to its shopping cart.

Online retail M&A

Period Number of deals Total deal value
2005 30 $1.27bn
2006 53 $3.78bn
2007 36 $2.62bn
2008 45 $1.36bn (excluding the sale of Getty Images)
2009 YTD 55 $2.34bn

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

Barnes & Noble: buy and build (but slowly)

Contact: Brenon Daly

Nearly six months after picking up a startup that developed an application for reading e-books, Barnes & Noble put some of that technology to work last week as it opened what it is calling the world’s largest electronic bookstore. In early March, Barnes & Noble acquired Fictionwise for $15.7m, which allows the company to offer books for users of Blackberry phones, iPhones and other devices. The firm also plans to expand the devices available early next year, when Plastic Logic’s e-Reader is released.

That’s all well and good, but we wonder why Barnes & Noble is moving so slowly into the digital realm. The world’s largest bookseller won’t even have it’s ‘Kindle killer’ in the market until about a year after the Fictionwise purchase, by which time will have hundreds of thousands of its e-book readers in customers’ hands. (Meanwhile, Sony has had a version of its e-book Reader out for nearly three years, although it has had rather muted success.)

Granted, the digital book sector is a tiny slice of the overall $25bn book market. And clearly, other retailers have struggled with balancing their online sales strategy with the brick-and-mortar reality. But we would think that Barnes & Noble would want to push into this growth segment more aggressively. After all, it recently guided that sales at its bookstores open for more than a year will decline by some 4% in 2009.

Will mobile payment startups pay off?

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen, Chris Hazelton

In 2006 and 2007, mobile payment startups were a favorite among venture capitalists. The promise of dethroning the credit card companies by bypassing them had VCs and strategic investors throwing hundreds of millions of dollars after such startups. During this time, a few lucky vendors managed to secure lucrative exits. Among other deals, Firethorn, a company backed with just $14m, sold to Qualcomm for $210m and 3united Mobile Solutions was rolled up for $70m as part of VeriSign’s acquisition spree. Recent prices, however, haven’t been anywhere near as rich. Consider this: VeriSign unwound its 3united purchase last month, pocketing what we understand was about $5m. Similarly, Sybase picked up PayBox Solution for just $11.4m, while Kushcash and other promising mobile payment startups have quietly closed their doors.

Last week, Belgian phone company Belgacom took a 40% stake in mobile payment provider Tunz. Tunz has taken in a relatively small $4m in funding since launching in 2007, but with VCs sidelined, we believe this investment was a strategic cash infusion to keep alive the company behind Belgacom’s mobile payment strategy. It may well be a prelude to an outright acquisition. With valuations clearly deflated and venture capitalists nowhere to be seen, we believe mobile service providers are set to go shopping for payment companies. Who might be next?

Yodlee, mFoundry and Obopay are three companies that have made a name for themselves in the world of mobile banking and payments. Each has secured deals with the major banks and wireless companies, but still lacks scale. Further, all of them are facing increased competition from deep-pocketed and patient rivals such as Amazon, eBay’s PayPal and Google’s CheckOut. Still, we believe they are attractive targets for wireless carriers or mobile device makers, who are increasingly on the lookout for additional revenue streams.

In fact, Obopay received a large investment from Nokia last week as part of its $70m series E funding round. Nokia’s portion is unclear, but Obopay tells us the stake gives Nokia a seat on its board. (Additionally, we would note that this investment comes directly from Nokia, rather than its venture arm, Nokia Growth Partners, as has typically been the case). This latest round brings Obopay’s total funding to just shy of $150m. Although we wonder about the potential return for Obopay’s backers in a trade sale to Nokia, the mobile payment vendor would clearly be a great complement to Nokia’s growing Ovi suite of mobile services. (We would also note that Qualcomm put money into Obopay and considered acquiring the company, but instead went with Firethorn.) Likewise, Yodlee and mFoundry’s roster of strategic investors and customers reads like a short list of potential buyers: Motorola, PayPal, Alltel (now Verizon), along with other large banks and wireless providers. Yodlee says it has raised more than $100m throughout its 10-year history, and mFoundry has reportedly raised about $25m.

Betting on casual gaming

-by Thomas Rasmussen

Casual gaming is a serious business. Amid a decline in M&A across the overall gaming industry, casual gaming acquisitions are trending up slightly. So far this year there have been 28 social and casual gaming deals inked, which compares to 25 for all of last year. This is in stark contrast to a sharp decline of more than 30% in tech and gaming M&A in general. What might the reason be for this and what does it portend for the year to come?

The past month has authoritatively invalidated a long-held belief by those in the gaming industry: It is not a recession-proof sector. In fact, lackluster earnings from Electronic Arts (EA) and others have the industry anxious. EA posted a negative EBITDA of $310m, provided dire forecasts and announced across-the-board job cuts for the most recent quarter ended September 30. The bright spot, however, is the continuing growth in casual gaming among not only the big videogame companies such as EA, but other companies, as well. For instance, RealNetworks’ recent third-quarter earnings report boasts another 20% increase in its gaming business compared to last quarter. As the casual gaming industry continues to be seen more as a viable business model, we expect the shopping to continue for not only the gaming conglomerates, but also for large media companies looking to get in the game. Amazon’s recent acquisition of Reflexive Entertainment is an example of new acquirers shopping in the space.

Not that it is a hard trend to spot, but for what it’s worth, VCs, angels and serial entrepreneurs have been touting this development to us all year, and are putting their money where their mouths are. Among some of the startups to receive sizable funding recently are Playfish, which raised a $17m series B round last month for a total of $21m to date; Social Gaming Network Inc, which has won about $20m in funding so far; and Zynga Game Network, which has taken in $39m. That is a lot of money for companies in an industry previously regarded as a niche. And given the heavy consolidation experienced in the traditional gaming industry, all of these vendors are likely to be part of the many names mentioned in M&A chatter in the near future.