The Bloomberg was often seen inside the company it built as a sort of heavenly body. Dan Doctoroff likened it to the sun, a “life-giving force” that sustains its orbiting planets of business and media ventures. The CEO kept a model of the solar system near his desk, with a tiny replica of The Bloomberg affixed to the sun. The analogy might have even been too limited. There are now 324,000 Bloombergs in operation. Each brings in more than $20,000 in annual subscription fees per user. Bloomberg’s annual revenue is about $9 billion, with gross profit approaching $3 billion, according to Douglas Taylor of Burton-Taylor International Consulting, a market research and consulting firm that closely tracks the privately held company. The lion’s share of that profit comes from the terminal, which Bloomberg’s media operation and its 2,400 journalists exist to serve. Started by Winkler as a supplement to the terminal, the wire service has evolved into an essential feature. Taylor estimates that Bloomberg’s terminal business would suffer a 30 to 50 percent hit if Bloomberg News were to disappear.
To stay solvent today, almost every media outlet strikes a devil’s bargain with its business model, some more offensive than others. (BuzzFeed, for instance, has deleted posts that big advertisers object to.) The difference with Bloomberg is that its news service doesn’t merely grapple with that questionable compact—it was born from it. Bloomberg News was created to fuel the sun, not to be sustained by it in virtuous orbit. That is a tension that may never be resolved, a gap between business and influence, Owner and Mayor, a conflict inherent in the DNA of the company created in Mike Bloomberg’s image.
Which is why everything at Bloomberg, ultimately, begins and ends with what is going on in the black box of a billionaire’s brain. It has always been thus. Bloomberg is, as many of his employees told me, a brainy, unpredictable, sometimes irrational actor driven by ego. He has never been able to let the media professionals take over.
—Politico Magazine senior correspondent Luke O’Brien reports on the existential problem facing the 73-year-old billionaire’s eponymous company as he returns to run it.