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’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.

There are few secrets on the Internet, and even fewer barriers to entry. Each innovation that works instantly attracts imitators and improvers. (LinkedIn, the professional networking site, launched LinkedIn Today in March 2011 to curate content not just by topic but also by what people in a user’s network or industry are reading.) Because aggregation is so much cheaper than original content, it has an automatic economic advantage, but the attractiveness of aggregation brings more and more competitors into the field. So merely being an aggregator is hardly a guarantee of economic security.

A few publishers have successfully sued sites that steal their content outright. That has led others to toy with the idea of getting news sites to unite and deny aggregators access to their content. Even if that kind of cooperation were legal—and it might not be—it would be impossible to sustain or enforce. There are just too many sites producing original content. The economic benefits of aggregation and being aggregated are significant, even if they differ widely from one site to the next.

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Bill Grueskin, Ava Seave, and Lucas Graves are the co-authors of "The Story so Far: What We Know About the Business of Digital Journalism." Grueskin is dean of academic affairs at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Seave is a principal of Quantum Media, a NYC-based consulting firm. Graves is a PhD candidate in communications at Columbia University. For further biographical details, click here.