What You Can Learn From Profitable New Media Companies

It ain’t easy being in the media business these days, or so they say.  There are in fact lots of people allegedly, or actually, raking in digital dollars, according to this article from Fortune. They’re all content producers with a journalistic twist. They are all different in their own ways, but you can parse out some ingredients for financial success in the industry. 

Not surprisingly the top, profitable companies are: The Huffington Post, Gawker Media, The Awl, Business Insider, SAY Media, Vox Media, and BuzzFeed. 

So what sets them apart?

 1. Niche, Niche, Niche

Choire Sicha of The Awl says they only want to be read by ‘smart people,’ and as it’s grown, it’s added other niche sites to its cache, like the female focused The Hairpin. Business Insider lives off of business and technology news and gossip, straight from the mouth of editor ‘Wall Street bad boy’ Henry Blodget. Gawker peddles snark, and BuzzFeed caters to culturally in-tune Millenials and their parents. HuffPo is grandfather of all of them — they have the verticals and dedicated, SEO hungry, writing staff for everything. By dabbling in it all, they essentially cater to segmented, yet focused, audiences. All of these organizations are like the good old magazines of the paper days: each site has a distinct look, feel and tone, reminiscent of say, Sassy or even Spin. It’s no wonder that Jane Pratt is part of the profitable crew under SAY Media. All of this ties into the next thing profitable companies have in common… 

 2. Reader Engagement

For me, reader engagement isn’t all about how long they spend on a site, hovering over an ad (though that’s important). What most of these sites have is a strict audience: are you a Gawker guy? Or do you wake up to BI’s ‘What You Need To Know’? Do you know what Buzzfeed listicle was trending yesterday? Does it happen to you on xojane? All of these profitable content creators boast strong followings and vibrant commenting communities. Most even ask their readers/users to contribute. Having laymen blog is the HuffPo way. With Gawker’s Kinja platform or Buzzfeed’s Community pages, users are encouraged to post and comment on anything, with the hope of it being picked up for the homepage. For some, it can be for fun; for recent journalism school grads, it’s the only way to get an interview. None of the profitable media companies are strictly news — they are a mix of straight news, commentary on news, and what could be generally called lifestyle pieces. They’re great magazines on the most traditional way — they could theoretically make people subscribe, but why would they?

 3. Not Being Afraid to (Blatantly) Make Money

None of these entities are afraid of cashflow, weaving advertisements and sponsored content into their pages. Half of HuffPo’s articles take so long to load because of all of the links to other places, that are paying for the privilege. Business Insider and Gawker have done a great job integrating sponsored content. And BuzzFeed, the ‘viral content creating machine’ is at the forefront of making native and sponsored content work. Heck, they’re even giving workshops on how to tell stories online — for brands. It’s surprising that Vice Media isn’t on the list, with their hands in a little bit of everything as they try to become the network for all things young, edgy, and well, interesting.

It will be interesting to see where each of these companies are in five years. With strategies like theirs, I’m guessing ‘even bigger’ will be the tagline. 

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