Re-thinking online publishing

by Andy Howard on December 29, 2012

The Wirecutter

Publishing less can be worth more. ‘Buffeted by the Web, but Now Riding It‘ over at NYTimes tells the story of an online publisher publishing less. As editor of Gizmodo, Brian Lam boosted the site’s traffic to a peak of 180 million page views from 13 million in the five years he was there. He broke the infamous ‘How Apple Lost the iPhone 4‘ story. Then the Google game burned him out:

I came to hate the Web, hated chasing the next post or rewriting other people’s posts just for the traffic.

Traffic, aggregation, Google gaming, dissemination. These can become the objectives for publishers when their business is maximising advertising impressions. From ‘How The Huffington Post ate the Internet‘:

The ethos of the HuffPost newsroom was winning the Google search. “That,” says a former employee, “was the thrill.” Not the origination of the content, but the dissemination. Huffington Post, they understood, was not an enterprise whose core purpose was the creation of works of journalism—as significant or mundane as that can be. It was in the content business, which created all sorts of possibilities of what it could gather and, with a new headline and assorted tags, send back out, HuffPost’s logo affixed.

Back to our burned out Gizmodo editor. Ad-supported media business models all depend on scale – advertising rates go lower all the time. Online publishing success, like that of HuffPo, relies on constant publishing. So Lam pursued a different model:

He came up with his own version of a gadget site. But instead of chasing down every tidbit of tech news, he built The Wirecutter, a recommendation site that posts six to 12 updates a month — not a day — and began publishing in partnership with The Awl, a federation of blogs founded by two other veterans of Gawker Media, Choire Sicha and Alex Balk.

The Wirecutter recommends the best product for each gadget category. No options, no ratings. Just the best product. High quality evergreen content. The site hosts fewer than 350,000 unique visitors per month, which is fine for the business model – most of the site’s revenue is earned from affiliates (mainly Amazon). Revenue is currently around $50,000 per month and doubling every quarter. The pace of the business is slower, more manageable, more sustainable. And perhaps the greatest satisfaction for the publishers is the production of high quality, optimised, evergreen content. Sounds more fulfilling than gaming Google.

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