What's the Deal With the Daily Deal?
By Angela Key

(FORTUNE Magazine) – The Daily Deal newspaper, brainchild of investment-banking bigwig Bruce Wasserstein, is trying to find its niche on Wall Street. The tabloid seeks to differentiate itself from other business dailies by covering mostly M&A (that's mergers and acquisitions, for the uninitiated). But is this niche large enough to sustain a daily? And does Wall Street really need another financial pub?

The paper made its debut in September after a million-dollar promotional campaign that included pricey ads in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times and a glitzy launch party at New York's glam Four Seasons restaurant. Its staff includes editor Robert Teitelman, former head honcho of Institutional Investor, and ex-Variety reporter Richard Morgan. And then there's Wasserstein, chairman of the Daily Deal's parent company, American Lawyer Media.

Wasserstein has always had a keen journalistic interest--he was the editor of his high school and college newspapers, and even worked one summer at Forbes. Now he's got the Daily Deal. From the vantage point of his day job at the helm of investment-banking boutique Wasserstein Perella, he noticed that only deals worth $1 billion or more regularly receive extensive coverage in most daily financial papers. So he came up with the idea of a newspaper that reports the beginning, middle, and end of all deals--national and international--but focuses especially on those that fall below that billion-dollar mark. Those are the ones on which most M&A professionals and decision-makers, such as bankers and lawyers, actually work.

While this target audience is narrow, it is also powerful and wealthy. You'd think advertisers would love that combination and thus might be willing to overlook the paper's piddling circulation of 25,000 (a full 20,000 of which are giveaways). But ads for luxury items such as BMWs or Rolexes--the types you would expect to see in a newspaper read mostly by rich people--are largely absent.

Wasserstein bought American Lawyer Media two years ago for $63 million from Time Warner (FORTUNE's parent). For the first half of this year, the company lost $9.4 million, on revenues of $66 million (it's been bleeding red ink for years). American Lawyer CEO Bill Pollak faces many challenges, but as far as the Daily Deal goes, he wants it to become the Ad Age of M&A. (Good luck. Ad Age boasts a circulation of more than 70,000 and ad revenues of $40 million.) Satisfied so far with the Daily Deal's distribution and content, Pollak is revving up the ad-sales campaign and expects the paper to be in the black in the near future. But he has a way to go before he reaches another of his goals--to make the Daily Deal a must read.

FORTUNE called all over Wall Street, and though many of the pros contacted have heard of it, only a few have read or formed an opinion about the Daily Deal. And those who have read it have read only a few issues. So what's the deal? Clutter. The paper may not have a broad enough appeal to warrant even a portion of the busy M&A professional's time. And although the content is decent (if a tad dry), and the $3.50 cover price and $750 annual subscription rate are chump change for this crowd, those interested in detailed information about smaller deals can get it elsewhere: in trade publications such as Buyout or Mergers & Acquisitions Report. "People have enough to read already," says one prominent investment banker.

While the paper does a good job covering smaller deals--valued between $50 million and $500 million--that the major dailies won't touch, it often gets scooped when the Wall Street Journal decides to weigh in on a merger or acquisition. "We will never be able to compete with them," admits Pollak. That is not to say that the Daily Deal never gets a scoop. In its inaugural issue it beat the Journal by five days in reporting that VoiceStream Wireless might merge with cellular phone company Aerial Communications. What was not mentioned was that Wasserstein Perella has a banking relationship with Aerial. Was the story a leak? Says Pollak: "No, it was not leaked. We have built a rather high and thick wall between our editorial staff and Wasserstein Perella. But we cannot ignore Wasserstein deals."

Even so, it's the perception that counts. If readers start to think of the Daily Deal as Wasserstein's personal pulpit, that could prove another credibility drag. After all, who wants to read a vanity publication?