Business Insider is known for its clicky mix of business and gossip content, delivered in the form of rapid-fire posts, slideshows and videos. In six years' time, Henry Blodget has put BI at the front in the traffic race with established brands like CNN Money and Forbes Digital. While some may deride its content as click bait, Blodget says BI's audience growth is proof that digital journalism is alive and well, pointing to new comScore figures showing that the site topped no less than The Wall Street Journal in December in overall traffic (desktop and mobile combined), with nearly 23 million uniques.
"It's just wonderful to see a six-year-old site have a larger readership than an amazing publication," he effused. "What we're doing is resonating with digital consumers."
But Business Insider also has, in effect, a paywall. Its year-old BI Intelligence research unit provides data and analysis in the area of video, social mobile and payments for $499 a year, and BI has ambitious plans for the unit.
Traditional media outlets have increasingly turned to paywalls to make up for declining print dollars and slow-growing online revenue. As others more experienced in this area, like Bloomberg LP and Dow Jones, can attest, producing a product unique enough to sell for a premium is no easy task.
Blodget said BI's Intelligence unit isn't propping up the free site, which he insists is in a "very good financial state," even as it pours more money into online video and long-form journalism. Today, he said, subscribers number in the "thousands." But he said he saw an opportunity with BI Intelligence to develop a second income stream.
In fact, Blodget plans to double the unit's subscriptions and revenue this year. This year, BI expects to grow its staff to 20, from six now. The new hires will include, for the first time, a small team of reporters to write articles to augment the unit's data and analysis offerings.
"We think it can become a much more meaningful part of the business, so it's a dual-revenue business," Blodget said. "There's a lot of demand for targeted reporting and analysis in different industries."
As for the free site itself, it will continue to focus on increasing views via more video, where BI has recently doubled its staff, for a total of eight; and long-form pieces. Since hiring former New York Observer editor Aaron Gell to oversee those stories, BI has been publishing an additional long feature a week, using existing staff and freelancers.
"There's a huge demand for the stories Aaron has been producing," Blodget said.
That might seem counterintuitive, given half of BI's traffic is coming to the site from mobile devices, but as Blodget (and BuzzFeed's Jonah Peretti) has discovered, long-form content actually does well on mobile devices that people pull out while waiting in line or in other captive situations. "We're seeing good readership on mobile and the website for these stories," he said.
BI has recently been the subject of speculation that it's for sale. Blodget waved off that talk, and described a day when the site will be no less than a global force. One-third of the traffic is coming from overseas now, and he plans to launch at least one European edition this year following last year's pilot international launch in Australia.
"Ultimately, we hope to be a 24-hour source for business readers," he said.