GQ.com Filled With ‘Glee’

Controversial content can drive traffic for magazines, but does it pay off financially?

GQ took some heat for publishing the sexy Glee photos in its November issue, but it racked up 33 million pageviews on GQ.com in the first week. (Not bad for a site that only launched a year ago.)

By way of comparison, GQ.com usually gets around 2.5 million pageviews for popular stories in the first week. When sibling pub Vanity Fair posted its steamy photos of a bare-backed Miley Cyrus in 2008, it got 19 million pageviews over two days.

To keep the Glee momentum going, GQ.com Nov. 1 plans to post behind-the-scenes video of the Glee shoot—material that GQ had originally saved for its iPad edition.

“It’s going to be the gift that keeps on giving,” said vp, publisher Peter King Hunsinger.

A risk, of course, is that the Web traffic will cannibalize newsstand sales, a department where GQ could use a hit; its single-copy sales dipped 12.4 percent in the first half of 2010, per the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Two of its first three issues in the second half sold below the average for the year-ago period.

Hearst’s Marie Claire also saw traffic spike after a blogger published a post (for which she later apologized) about being “grossed out” by overweight people, although a rep for the magazine said it’s too early to give exact numbers. As of Friday, the entry had drawn 2,724 comments (and a well-placed ad for Weight Watchers).

Popular content can serve to expose new visitors to the site, but the main payoff may end there. Short-term traffic spikes are usually more beneficial to advertisers than to publishers. If advertisers buy ads around the content in advance, they’ll end up getting more traffic for the same outlay.

As more ads are bought through real-time exchanges, though, publishers can increase their chances of selling inventory around the popular content that otherwise might have gone unsold, pointed out Dave Martin, svp, media at Ignited.