Six months after launching digital business site Quartz, Atlantic Media is preparing to roll out its fifth brand and second "digital-first" property. Defense One, a news and information site for the national security community, will be the latest output of the company strategy to launch verticals aimed at influentials in the digital form in which they've grown accustomed to getting their news.
Set for a mid-summer launch, Defense One is a natural extension for Atlantic Media, since it already serves some 60,000 senior-level subscribers in the Department of Defense through its Government Executive and National Journal brands. "Given we're very interested in influentials, and given defense is close to a number of brands we have now, we began looking at this marketplace," said Atlantic Media president Justin Smith.
As first reported by Nieman Journalism Lab, Defense One will go up against existing products like Jane’s, Gannett’s Defense News and Army Times, and Breaking Defense. (Incidentally, Breaking Defense is owned by Breaking Media, which Smith co-founded and remains involved in as a shareholder and board member, although he said he recused himself from the purchase of the site, then known as AOL Defense).
Defense One will import the Quartz model, if on a more niche scale: It will be ad-supported and free to the reader, and offer marketers native ad, mobile and non-standard display advertising as well as events sponsorships. The site hasn’t hired an editor, and it’s running sales out of its Government Executive group for now, but it’s secured its first launch underwriter, Northrop Grumman.
With paywalls all the rage, the Atlantic Media’s free-content route stands out. Smith said that the free, ad-supported approach made sense for a couple of reasons. First, it would be easier to gain a foothold in the market with a new, unknown brand such as Defense One by not asking users to pay. The ad economics also favored this approach, he said. “Because it’s a niche that’s very valuable, the advertising pricing is generous and has not depreciated along with mass general advertising,” he said.
And by Atlantic Media accounts, the model is working for Quartz, which has 2.5 million monthly users and is growing advertising at a nice pace. Atlantic Media likes the model so much that it's planning on putting out a third digital-first brand, likely next year. The subject area hasn’t been decided, but technology and high-end lifestyle are high on Atlantic Media’s list of interests. The digital-first strategy that helped get the flagship Atlantic in the black is now a companywide mantra; this year, more than 60 percent of the advertising across the company is budgeted to be digital, up from less than half in 2012, according to Smith.
Not that Atlantic Media is uninterested in consumer revenue. It recently launched a new e-book division off the Atlantic brand, where a small, dedicated group is working on identifying other paid content opportunities. And the company is looking to launch a paid content strategy for Quartz next year.