Bustle Digital Group Has Been in the Business of Acquiring Publications. Now, It’s Creating Them

Why BDG thinks its new CMS will draw readers and entice advertisers

Bustle Digital Group
BDG went live with the framework today with a new tech site called Input. Bustle Digital Group

Key Insights

Bustle Digital Group has a reputation of swooping in on media’s dying door and “saving” titles by purchasing them for pennies on the dollar. But now, the publisher is reinventing itself as a modern media organization, creating its own publication and a new and improved, custom CMS to be used across its portfolio for a cohesive feel for readers and advertisers.

BDG’s plans to save itself from the same fate as the publications it cobbled together lie in its CMS, called TypeSet, which is structured around a feature BDG is calling a “card story” format that offers the newsroom a new type of storytelling and the ad sales team a new space to entice advertisers.

The rollout of the feature comes with the launch of Input, a new tech site from Josh Topolsky, co-founder of The Verge and founder of The Outline, who joined BDG in April when BDG acquired the latter title. While the site softly rolls out today and there are no advertisers on the site, the company says branded content cards will be available come February.

Investing in the CMS and making it the company’s backbone is the next stage of BDG’s maturation. It paves the way for other merging publishers, especially as the trend of combining assets will continue with only the context of how other, traditional media conglomerates navigated the space before them.

“It’s a really challenging time in digital media,” said Jason Wagenheim, BDG’s chief revenue officer, of the CMS’ card feature. “We know what works and what doesn’t. And we feel really confident that this is going to be a game changer.”

The current plan is to use the CMS on all of BDG’s brands by June 2020. Under that scenario, brands can advertise across BDG’s sites, including the women’s lifestyle collection—Bustle, Romper, Elite Daily, Nylon and the Zoe Report—as well as the “culture and innovation collection” under Topolsky’s editorial direction, including Mic, The Outline, Inverse and Input.

Competitive media landscape

BDG’s new tech site enters an already crowded field of tech media with brands rooted in magazines like Wired, established tech websites like Recode and soon-to-be-launched tech sites like Protocol from Politico. It’s also going up against other media companies that are combining forces like Vox Media and New York Media.

It’s a business model BDG built itself on. If the 2000s were about big media consolidation—AOL/TimeWarner; NBCUniversal; CBS/Viacom (the first go ’round)—the age of digital media consolidation is upon us.

“You have all these brands and they all feed up to the parent. It’s a good model, but it isn’t the cheapest model,” said Tim Smith, IPNY’s director of communications and media planning. “The real deal becomes at what point does the model stop. At what point is there too much?”

This year, BDG acquired three companies and is now operating with a portfolio of nine editorial brands, an events company in Flavorpill and an archive of work at Gawker.com that executives said would relaunch this year before they changed their minds.

BDG also attracted big names to the executive team which has grown this year to include not only Topolsky, but also Emma Rosenblum, previously the executive editor of Elle, as editor in chief of the lifestyle collection, and Elizabeth Webbe Lunny, previously the vp of media and the publisher of T Magazine, as evp of revenue. This did come with a handful of layoffs among the editorial staff, however.

In 2019, BDG’s portfolio captured an audience that reached over 75 million unique visitors, according to the most recent ComScore figures. BDG expects the culture and innovation collection alone to reach 20 million unique visitors by the spring of 2020.

“Anything that we build or acquire now has to be transformative for our business. And that’s what we think this represents,” Wagenheim said, adding, “We’re not going to be the company that goes and launches a shoe line or does a lipstick line. We’re going to diversify our revenue by being able to compete everywhere.”

That strategy included hiring Topolsky, who joined BDG on April Fool’s Day, and picking up on his plans to create a new tech site in Input. The Outline’s CTO, Ivar Vong, joined BDG and helped create the technology behind the CMS, in conjunction with the company’s engineering team, for BDG’s brands and with agency Code and Theory on the design. Input has hired people including former reporters and editors from Mashable, DailyMail.com and engadget.com.

Building a CMS for Bustle Digital Group

It was always the “dream” at The Outline, Topolsky said, to build a CMS that could be used across brands. “We couldn’t get there on our own,” he said, while sitting in an airy, well-lit conference room looking out over a floor occupied by BDG edit staff inside the company’s Manhattan headquarters.

“Everybody's brain now moves at Twitter speed. I think we've been doing a lot of publishing that still at newspaper speed."
Josh Topolsky, editor in chief of BDG’s culture and innovation collection

@SaraJerde sara.jerde@adweek.com Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.