Atlantic Media Elevates Digital Chief

New role comes as company prepares for business site launch

The Atlantic Media Co. has given its top digital executive responsibility for corporate finance, signaling the importance it sees digital media playing in the company’s future.

In his new role, announced late Monday, Scott Havens becomes svp of finance and digital operations, from vp of digital strategy and operations. With this move, the company will also hand over day-to-day control of its digital operations to its three business units: The Atlantic, National Journal Group and Government Executive.

The Atlantic Media has made digital growth a big focus lately, launching online-only properties like The Atlantic Wire and Atlantic Cities. That determination helped push the firm into the black in 2010 for the first time in years and lift digital ad revenue to 41 percent of company ad revenue for all of 2011, which is unusually high for a traditional media organization. Justin Smith, president of the Atlantic Media Co., said he expects online revenue’s contribution to near 50 percent by the end of 2012.

“With the exception of marketing services business, which is more of a services model, the bulk of the opportunity we’re looking at is digital,” Smith said. “We thought it was really, really important that we put in charge of finance someone who really understands digital media.”

Havens’ promotion comes as the Atlantic embarks on its most ambitious digital project yet, a new global business news site. It’s also looking at other such digital-only products.

And in what would be a major about-face for, Havens said the company was also thinking about bringing back the flagship site’s paywall to restrict access to The Atlantic magazine content. used to wall off most of its content to all but paying subscribers. It took down the paywall in 2008 to strengthen its readership and ad revenue. Paywalls haven’t succeeded for most publications because the additional revenue from customers willing to pay for access doesn’t make up for the loss in ad revenue associated with a smaller audience.

But now publishers, including The Atlantic, are charging for their tablet and e-reader apps while continuing to give away content on the Web. 

“We are thinking about it because we have this app, and we’re asking people to pay for it, but they can flip over to the Safari browser and get it for free,” Havens said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”