Rolling Stone Gets Traffic Boost From Boston Bomber Controversy

Payoff's uncertain, though

Boycotts or not, Rolling Stone struck newsstand gold last month with its controversial Boston Bomber issue, which saw sales nearly double versus the previous year. And that buzz seems to have translated to the magazine’s digital platforms, too.

Rolling Stone posted a preview of the cover on on July 16 and posted the cover story “Jahar’s World" the following day. (The practice of posting cover articles online is relatively new for Rolling Stone, which has been upping its digital game lately.) Together, the stories brought a sizable traffic surge. During the week ending July 21, the website attracted 1.5 million unique U.S. visitors, according to comScore—a 41 percent increase over the previous week’s traffic. For all of July, traffic was up 20 percent year over year, with 3.6 million uniques.

The Boston coverage also garnered plenty of user engagement. More than 105,000 readers “liked” the articles on Facebook and another 5,600 shared them on Twitter directly from the Rolling Stone website. Combined, the platforms received more than 12,500 comments.

Despite all the eyes on in July, the website may have not benefitted financially all that much. It’s notoriously difficult for news outlets to monetize such traffic surges, whether they’re unexpected (in which case they can't be sold to advertisers ahead of time) or connected to a controversial topic, as this one was. (Condé Nast's Ars Technica actually developed a Project Isaac Award-winning program called The Accelerator that can predict and monetize those stories that go viral, but so far has only been using it on its own website.)