NEW YORK In the past year, green-themed Web sites have sprung up like weeds. But perceived consumer enthusiasm for the green movement hasn't translated into major traffic for most publishers in this fledgling space, making some wonder whether the media business overestimated the trend. Meanwhile, publishers said that many consumers' interest in green has shifted this year from "How can I save the planet?" to "How can I save some cash?"
In 2007 alone, both MSN and Yahoo! unveiled green channels, while Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive (Sprig.com) and Hearst (The Daily Green) launched stand-alone green content sites. Meanwhile, Discovery Communications snatched up Treehugger.com, former cable net/Web property Lime.com was sold to green retailer Gaiam, and a handful of green ad nets (Burst, SustainLane) popped up. Thus far, traffic reports for these properties are less than promising.
Initially, it appears as though the portals have scored the most success, with the 10-month old MSN Green approaching about 1million uniques, per Nielsen Online. Yahoo Green eclipsed 3.8 million users this past June according to Nielsen -- though inexplicably, its traffic has recently tanked. Meanwhile, Sprig has yet to register with either researcher, while The Daily Green reached an anemic 200,000 uniques in August, according to comScore. Since its sale, Lime's audience has dived below Nielsen's reporting minimum.
Adam Seymour, vp, director of strategic communications at Optimedia, expects the category may be due for a shakeout. "It's difficult for these sites to really get the audiences they need and the premiums they want to charge," he said. "A lot of these sites are really tiny. It depends on how niche a client wants to go."
Still, most sites in the category claim steady audience growth and continued advertiser interest. For example, Yahoo Green has run campaigns for The Home Depot, Sharp and Pur Water, while MSN Green has spending from Toyota, Honda and Procter & Gamble.
Not surprisingly, no one inside the category believes that the bloom is off the green garden.
"We have grown steadily in terms of traffic and turned the corner dramatically this year," said Sam Silverstein, editor of Yahoo Green. "This is definitely not a fleeting cause."
Lisa Tiedt, director of MSN Green, said that the site's audience has doubled this year. Still, she said that what initially drew Americans to the eco-movement has shifted. "The conversation has evolved," said Tiedt, adding that two distinct audience segments have emerged: the more hard-core, altruism-driven "dark green" users and a much larger base of "medium green" mainstream users.
And while those medium green users may have had their interests sparked by Al Gore, now they're responding to spiking gas and home heating prices. That, coupled with a faltering economy, has nudged sites, and brands, to shift focus. "Green has made it cool to be cheap," explained Erin Carlson, director of Yahoo for Good.
For example, auto brands are now emphasizing gas mileage. Plus, there's been a major shift away from high-end organic products, said Chuck Cordray, vp, general manager, digital media for Hearst Magazines. "That's out of favor. Instead there's been a big shift towards money saving," he added.
Hopefully for sites in this category, advertisers don't undergo the same kind of shift.