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Squall Hits 'The Atlantic'

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Less than three months ago, The Atlantic had a lot to celebrate. Thanks to an infusion of digital ad revenue, 2010 had been a good year for the magazine, one in which it turned a profit for the first time in at least a decade. And in December, The New York Times provided the perfect capstone: a prominent story about how The Atlantic had managed to flourish at a time when most magazines were flailing.

Now, the mood is surely dimmer. All last year, executives were emphasizing the key role that The Atlantic’s digital reinvention had played in pushing one of the nation’s oldest magazines into the black. This year had barely begun when one of the key components of that digital reinvention decided to jump ship.

Andrew Sullivan, who’s leaving The Atlantic and taking his blog, The Daily Dish, to Tina Brown’s Newsweek-Daily Beast mashup, has been the magazine’s single biggest traffic contributor, accounting for some 20 percent of The Atlantic’s 5.1 million monthly unique visitors. (That percentage goes down to 19 percent if you throw in the Atlantic Wire, a companion site that aggregates news and opinion from around the Web.) The Atlantic itself calls Sullivan “one of the world’s most widely read bloggers.”

And, likely, one of the brand’s more lucrative.

The Dish presumably had 5.2 million page-views per month, based on an average of 4.7 pageviews per person. A media buyer told Adweek that the Atlantic quoted a CPM of around $30; on that basis, Sullivan’s blog could have brought in $1.5 million to more than $2 million a year. But assuming a more likely CPM of $5, given industry pricing for Web content, the haul over a year’s time could be closer to $312,000.

The Atlantic’s overall digital ad revenue totaled $6.1 million last year. Educated guesses suggest that Brown offered Sullivan north of $500,000 in order to secure him, and his ad dollars, for herself. (Sullivan and NewsBeast wouldn’t comment.)

The Atlantic publisher Jay Lauf said he’s not concerned about a loss of ad revenue related to Sullivan’s defection, pointing to digital growth in areas outside The Daily Dish.

“I’m deeply confident you’ll continue to see us grow in traffic and revenue,” Lauf said. “Am I sad to see Andrew and the Dish go? Yes. Am I worried? No.”

The title is banking on the aforementioned Atlantic Wire to replace that traffic. Gawker alum Gabriel Snyder was brought in recently to relaunch the site, which now gets 700,000 monthly uniques. Separately, the main site’s tech channel is up to 1 million monthly uniques since it launched last summer, making its traffic almost equal to Sullivan’s. A photo blog that The Atlantic launched last month is already tracking 400,000 uniques as well.

Other projects have been delayed. The Atlantic was planning a paid tablet app that would bundle select online content for readers, but it’s still in the works. Also unrealized are  plans for a business site, which it hired Michael Kinsley to launch more than a year ago. Lauf described that site as being “on hold.” Kinsley recently left The Atlantic to write a column for Politico.