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Newser says out loud in its slogan what many aggregation sites hope their users will infer: “Read Less, Know More.” Its co-founder and executive chairman, Patrick Spain, says the site aims to limit its stories to 120 words. “The most time-consuming part of editorial is identifying which stories we are going to carry,” he says. “And we have to identify the one, two, or three major sources to use to write the story.” Wolff asks, “If you are a consumer, why would you go to a single source?” The New York Times, he says, “used to be seen as a broad view of the news” but is now regarded as “parochial and limited.” Newser publishes about sixty stories, or digests of stories, per day, though it has at times published as many as 100. “Cost is less of a driver than the affect we are looking for,” says Spain. “If you have hundreds of articles, it is not an editorial function; it is a fire hose function.”
Newser has business offices in New York and Chicago, but its writers are freelancers. They live in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, and generally work from home. There are four full-time and about fifteen part-time staff members who perform editorial duties, working at rates of $20 to $40 per hour. Spain says “this is a gigantic edit staff compared to Digg” (a site where story placement depends on readers’ votes). “They have no editorial people. But this is tiny compared to The New York Times.”
For its other functions, Newser has eight full-time employees who work on marketing, administration and management, and technology. Its total operating costs are about $1.5 million per year, for a site with 2.5 million unique visitors a month. Spain and Wolff have both said that in 2011 they expect to break even—that is, to get to the point where advertising revenue is high enough to cover operating costs, though not to start paying back the initial investors.
Nymag.com does original reporting, as in the case of the Ailes/Palin story, but since 2007 it has also had a strategy of growing through four blogs that use third-party content combined with original reporting: Grub Street (on food), Daily Intel (political and media news), Vulture (culture), and The Cut (fashion). “These niches need editorial authority to be successful,” said Michael Silberman, general manager of nymag.com. In a given week, the site publishes only about thirty-five articles from the print magazine but 450 to 500 blog posts and thousands of photos. As a result, only 14 percent of the site’s page views are of content from the magazine. “Every time we increase the frequency of the blog posts, we can drive up the numbers of audience,” Silberman says. And since 2007, nymag.com’s audience has grown from 3 million unique users to 9 million.
The site has been particularly adept at going beyond its local roots. About 30 percent of the print magazine’s audience comes from outside New York, but 70 percent of the website’s readers live beyond the home market, which helps the site attract national advertising. Its restaurant section, Grub Street, expanded in 2009 and is now in six cities.
The evolution of nymag.com’s cultural news site, Vulture, from a small feature to a destination with 2.5 million unique users demonstrates how powerful aggregation strategies can be. When it started in February 2010, Vulture was getting 700 to 800 unique visitors daily. After its official launch in September 2010, Silberman found that it “filled an editorial hole in the marketplace.” One of its most popular features is “clickables”—a stream of twenty short posts per day, featuring, among other things, viral videos and music albums leaked ahead of official release. Vulture now has ten full-time editorial employees and get lots of support from New York magazine back-office departments in finance, human resources, and technology. The magazine has decided to spin off Vulture as its own site with a separate web address sometime in 2011—a move that Silberman believes will help generate sales of entertainment and other national ads to companies that feel that a close tie to New York City can be an impediment.