This week TheWrap‘s Lucas Shaw exalted Politico‘s current business model with high praise and backed it up with numbers. In his 965-word story, he pegs Politico far ahead of other Capitol Hill competitors, with The Hill in second and Roll Call below that.
In Shaw’s mind Politico is God. At least for now.
What Shaw doesn’t explain is context. When Politico first landed on the scene in 2008, there was curiosity and then fear. Until then, longtime fierce rivals, Roll Call and The Hill, never fretted about a third competitor. Life moves on, but it was exceedingly odd that The Hill‘s former Editor-in-Chief Martin Tolchin was helping to launch a new competitor to a publication he parented for years. Newsroom chatter was full of talk of how surprising this was. The real fright set in after Capitol Leader changed that initial horrid name to Politico. Autumn VandeHei, wife of Executive Editor Jim VandeHei, was responsible for the change. Today they compete for ad dollars and Hill dominance, though Politico considers its real competitors to be Bloomberg, NYT and WaPo.
Shaw also fails to mention that Roll Call is behind a subscriber pay wall. Some media insiders claim he’s comparing apples and oranges, that it’s abhorrent to use their metrics to illustrate Politico‘s competitive edge. Still, other observers see it as right on target and insist that Roll Call putting their work behind a pay wall shows a lack of business savvy. “Roll Call will argue ‘not fair! We’re behind a firewall!’ But they’re missing the point that being behind a firewall is keeping them out of
the conversation and hurting traffic,” said a media source on condition of anonymity. “They use that excuse at their own peril.”
Shaw explained to FishbowlDC, “The story’s focus was more on Politico finding a revenue model that seems to be working (for now) and less about their beating the competition. As you know, traffic really only plays one part in attracting advertisers and an even smaller one in generating revenue, but the numbers are still relevant.”
The numbers indicate that Politico is on top, followed by The Hill followed by Roll Call, which, at least according to the author’s analysis, now languishes in last place amongst the three.
An excerpt: According to comScore, Politico.com has drawn more than 4 million unique visitors for months, rising from around 3.8 million monthly uniques earlier this year. That’s far more than notched by TheHill.com or RollCall.com all year. In July, the most recent month available, traffic shot up at TheHill.com to 1 million uniques, but still lagged behind the 4.2 million at Politico.com. And RollCall.com? It attracted 0.69 million uniques in July.
Like a cherry atop a large hot fudge sundae, there is major snuggling up to Politico‘s Mike Allen for his Playbook. CBS News Senior Political Reporter Brian Montopoli told TheWrap: “When I write a story or if I get mentioned in Playbook I’ll get 10 emails from people saying ‘I saw you in Playbook.’ It becomes a measure of success.”
Shaw added, “I hope the main point still appeared to be the growth in the online business and how profitability has enabled the site to launch new initiatives. Unfortunately, I could not get revenue figures since Politico is not a public company.”
We’ve requested comment from Politico, The Hill and Roll Call on TheWrap’s assertions. We’ll report back to you should we hear from them.
FishbowlDC’s Matt Dornic contributing to the reporting of this post.
UPDATE: A clarification is in order. The Hill‘s Editor Hugo Gurdon found an error in TheWrap’s original story. He writes, “ComScore didn’t measure Roll Call‘s July traffic at 690,000 but at only 69,000, so the story was out by a factor of ten,” he wrote. “The comparison shows The Hill‘s traffic is 15 times higher than Roll Call‘s.”