Blue Light Special on CDNow

Well folks, it finally happened, albeit anticlimactically. CDNow
found a dance partner with Bertelsmann AG. The German media
giant dictated terms to the tune of $117 million in cash and will assume an
additional $42 million in CDNow debt so
the music e-tailer can pay the light bills until the acquisition is finalized.


The buy works out to $3 a share or about fair market value for the
struggling dot-com. With only a handful of day traders left to sift through
the rubble, there was no surprise that investors gave a collective yawn to
the deal, as shares nudged 1/32 higher on twenty times average daily volume.


Co-founders Jason and Matthew Olim will sell their collective 6 million
shares as part of the deal. That means, instead of two newly minted
gazillionaires, the brothers will have to settle for about $18 million in
cash between them. Not bad work if you can get it.


After the dust settles, CDNow will continue operating under its current
name, while occupying a spot on Bertelsmann’s fireplace mantle as a
wholly-owned subsidiary of its e-commerce group. But perhaps more
importantly, Bertelsmann puts to rest a series of embarrassing missteps and
eroding fortunes for the Internet graybeard.


Earlier this year, CDNow started a highly publicized search for a buyer,
following scrapped negotiations with Columbia House, jointly owned by
Time Warner and Sony . The
two powerhouses decided to invest $20 million in cash to keep CDNow afloat,
in exchange for an 8% stake in the company. In hindsight, it proved a poor
investment, resulting in a paper loss of two-thirds the original investment
in just over four months.


In May, CDNow managed to hook up with Carlos Slim Helu, convincing Mexico’s
Mr. Moneybags to part with $50 million in exchange for a 10% stake in the
music seller. The billionaire bought some 3 million shares of stock at
nearly $17 apiece. Same result, different story. Just two months removed, Slim’s paper loss is somewhere
in the neighborhood of 80% of his original investment; which, incidentally,
is about how much most plain vanilla e-tailers are off of their 52-week
highs. So what’s $40 million between friends?


In March of this year, when CDNow for the first time slipped into the
single digits, and the company had just begun its search for a sugar daddy,
Jason Olim proclaimed the company “a bargain.” I suppose yesterday’s sale
at a paltry $3 a pop makes it look like a blue light special.


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