NEW YORK, NEW YORK — LiveScience cranks out a high-volume mix of newsy and fun science curios in its efforts to chase after the fickle attentions of Internet wayfarers. Readers are voting approval with their clicks—an impressive three million-plus uniques per month—and the site, with a full-time editorial staff of five, has the relatively rare distinction of being profitable. As part of a rapidly expanding parent company, TechMediaNetwork, which includes about ten targeted news sites (as of January 2011) and a major consumer reviews site that doubles as a Web retailer of software and electronics, LiveScience has multiple revenue streams that are leveraged across the network, a formula that is apparently working. Its founding editor, Robert Roy Britt, who is now editor-in-chief for the network’s news sites, has lived through the ups and downs of Web journalism since he joined SPACE.com in 1999. “Everybody has been trying to figure out how to make money in online journalism,” he said, “and we have figured it out.”
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LiveScience is a purebred Web animal, primarily featuring one-off stories and photo galleries produced at high speed by its mostly young staffers, almost all of whom have journalism degrees. If you are looking for resource-intensive expositions of global warming, for instance, or thickly narrated journeys into the research process, LiveScience will disappoint. The site carries the big science news of the day, but its strength lies in the quirky diversity of its other content—oddball studies overlooked by major news organizations, intriguing science-related listicles, and features with a service journalism bent. Recent offerings under the “editor’s choice” tab were: “7 Amazing Superhuman Feats,” “Cancer-fighting Foods: Facts and Fiction,” “The Most Popular Dog Breeds,” “10 Things Every Man Should Know about a Woman’s Brain,” and “Gay Animals: Alternate Lifestyles in the Wild.”
Britt, a former reporter at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, is frank about his approach and makes no apologies for the journalism he encourages. “We don’t give people a month off to work on a story. We don’t chase Pulitzers or contests,” he said. “We spend the bulk of the day thinking about the reader; we write with that in the back of our mind. We have fewer stars, and probably a higher volume of content per person than some places, but it’s a high level of effort and quality and reporting every day.”
LiveScience launched in November 2004 as a way for its then-parent company, Imaginova, to branch out from SPACE.com into general science news. From the start it featured all original content, and leveraged existing syndication agreements with Yahoo!, MSNBC.com and others to drive traffic and raise the new site’s profile. Initially staffed by just Britt and two interns, LiveScience quickly grew its readership to 1 million uniques per month, Britt said, and raised that to 2 million uniques after a couple of years. Then, in November 2009, TopTenREVIEWS, a highly ranked consumer reviews Web site that also sells the products it considers, decided to get into the news business. It bought LiveScience, SPACE.com and comic book site Newsarama, all owned by Imaginova, and rebranded the new entity as TechMediaNetwork.
In the past year, Britt has launched seven new sites, including TechNewsDaily, Life’s Little Mysteries, MyHealthNewsDaily, and BusinessNewsDaily, and traffic across the network as a whole has jumped more than 600 percent. Britt works from his home in Arizona, as do some other contributors and freelancers, but TechMediaNetwork operates a newsroom in midtown Manhattan that employs more than forty full-time journalists. The keystone consumer reviews site is based in Utah, as is much of the corporate staff. All told, the network employs about 160 people.
LiveScience and other sites share content whenever their subjects overlap, and advertising is sold across the entire network. The collective reach—projected to hit 18 million uniques in December 2010—helps ad sales reps pitch marketing campaigns to bigger clients than any one of the sites could tempt alone, Britt said. In 2010, TechMediaNetwork began consulting clients on strategies to monetize their Web sites, based on its own profitability. And other revenue streams have sprung up across the network as well. “If you have a tech article about malware racing around the internet, it makes perfect sense to link to [TopTenREVIEWS’s] antivirus reviews,” Britt said, and thereby, perhaps, sell some antivirus software.
Britt is confident that the network has hit on a sound strategy to pay for online reportage, and the company plans to keep expanding. “We have a solid growth pattern supported by revenue; we’re investing in something we now understand,” he said. But whether similar strategies can support the kind of journalism that draws people to the trade is an open question.
City: New York
Revenue Sources, other: Retail revenue from parent network.
Principal Staff: Robert Roy Britt, editor-in-chief; Jeanna Bryner, managing editor.
Affiliations: Distribution agreements with Yahoo!, MSNBC, AOL, and Fox News.
CMS: LiveScience’s first CMS was built in-house by Imaginova in 2004 and rebuilt about 4 years ago to accommodate a new design and modular layout. They are building a new CMS now “to better handle the ever-changing web infrastructure, including social media applications and better search engine optimization,” Britt said.
CJR on LiveScience:
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