Becoming by Automatad, Inc.
Becoming Series – If They Can Do It, You Can Too
Being a publisher has never been harder. Both the users (time) and the buyers (money) are spending on the duopoly and other walled gardens. Even with the header bidding and adoption of video ads, most publishers find it difficult to move the needle.
As you all know, we’ve always wanted to educate publishers about the opportunities and what’s happening in the ad tech.
Now, we’re pleased to continue our offerings to you by starting a new series – Becoming.
So, What’s Becoming?
It’s a series where we’ll cover how top digital publishers reached where they are today. What steps did they take, and most importantly, how you can replicate it. You will find interesting ad revenue numbers and strategies implemented by the publisher.
Don’t worry, we will include both the ups and downs and try to cover the growing stage of a publisher so that you can relate more. Okay, enough talking.
Let’s Get into the stories!
The persistence and individuality of the publisher are inspiring. It’s not easy to sustain and grow your presence across the globe while battling against the downward sloping revenue graph. In fact, The Guardian’s survival was in question a few years back as the publisher was burning cash consecutively and on the verge of going bankrupt. But now, it’s in the path of breaking even by 2019.
Though they’re not a bootstrapped publisher and has been raising funds for years, we decided to cover their story because of two reasons.
– They were born and raised in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis. It’s not easy to raise funds and continually build a community when the market is collapsing.
– The uphill battle faced by the publisher, especially against the likes of ESPN, NBC, etc. is dramatic. This means we all can bag a lot of lessons from it.
Everyone in the adtech knows the ft.com for its whooping readership and successful paid membership model. But there’s more than what meets the eye.
They pioneered the online news space and have initiated the paid subscription model. They took the necessary risks and of course, had their struggles during the early years.
It took 7 years for Financial Times to get into the black
In fact, they still do. Even last year, they only managed to get just £6.2m profit on revenue of £310.7m (Src).
When we hear Pitchfork, we often tend to see the grand events and impressive revenue numbers. As always, there’s more than what meets the eye.
Pitchfork was started by a high school kid (just after graduating), Ryan Schreiber with no prior experience in writing and online publishing.
This means you won’t see any staggering traffic or revenue in the beginning. The hockey stick graph of Pitchfork took time and a clean strategy to hit the apex.
The legendary publisher and media giant have seen it all – Men walking on Moon, Cap. E. J. Smith sinking with Titanic, the Civil Rights Movement, and more. Though the publisher began its run with a newspaper, it won over the digital-only publications by a landslide. The publisher’s traditional roots succored the digital spin-off and now, NYTimes.com is the most valuable part of the whole company.
Apparently, it’s hard to even imagine The New York Times without its online presence. Here’s what we found compelling while working on the piece – NYTimes.com will push you to take calculated risks – on both editorial and monetization fronts.
Without any further ado, let’s dive into the story of The New York Times….
Business Insider, turned a profit in just 3 years, sold at a whopping $442 million valuation, and is often cited as one of the successful digital media startups that have ever existed. The journey to success wasn’t easy though.
We’ve previously studied how Bleacher Report, a sports publisher started in the same year sold for $175 million to TBS. Both have some common grounds, see for yourself.
Business Insider had ~1000 readers a day when they started in 2007 and competed against the likes of Bloomberg and Reuters as it targets business people and investors, rather than a general audience. Besides, the 2008 financial crisis exacerbated the situation for small/mid-market media companies.
Don’t you think it’ll be interesting to see how they have turned around to hit a $450 million valuation? That’s what we thought and it is, indeed, pretty interesting. See for yourself…
When Forbes.com went live, it didn’t have the audience or the content prowess, as we know today.
It was yet another print publisher ended up launching a website, at least that’s what it looked like at first. Soon, even with bouts from the TIME (Fortune Inc.) and Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal, and The Financial Times, Forbes managed to stand out and become one of the best publishers for business news.
There was a time when Forbes employees worked one week each month without remuneration and sent on leaves because of the scarcity of resources. But recently, the publisher announced a special bonus to its employees which amounts to 4.5% of the total income of their annual salary (Src). Forbes stood the test of time and in fact, won in all aspects of the media business – Reach, Revenue, and Remuneration.
Agreed, it had its fair share of flops. And, that’s why we’ve decided to study the growth of Forbes. After all, no one pulled it off successfully without some failed experiments.
Without any further ado, let us show you how much the publisher has grown – in terms of both reach and revenue…
BuzzFeed was launched as a side project, exactly at the same time, by a media veteran and co-founder of The Huffington Post – Jonah Peretti. We believe it’s more than enough for us to see how they managed to become a $2 billion media giant. Besides, it moved against the grain, right from the start.
Online publishers have been known to define and publish content in a specific structure/format. But BuzzFeed stayed away from all the traditional journalistic methods. It created listicles, viral stories, and covered news and didn’t confine itself to a specific topic.
Because BuzzFeed opened a platform that focused on sharing most-viewed pieces of media across the globe and it knows people share when they like something, regardless of the topic. Many of the top-performing publishers thought the emoticon-website wouldn’t last that long. But the publisher did it anyhow.
See the story of BuzzFeed…
Cheddar Inc. is just a three-year-old startup established in 2016. We could have chosen any other publishing behemoth for our next becoming story. But here’s why we wanted to cover Cheddar.
– Cheddar Inc is a quasi-CNBC channel and it means the publisher had to compete with the well-known business news network right from the start. Doesn’t it sound difficult and interesting at the same time?
– Surprisingly, the publishers relied primarily on licensing fees. That being said, it embarked on programmatic advertising and sponsored events/ads after a year. The revenue is diversified as opposed to depending on any single source.
– Cheddar’s annual revenue hit $27M in a short span of 2.5 years (Src). That’s a growth we all would like to replicate. Without any further ado, let’s dive in…
Mark Bricklin introduced the print version of Men’s Health in 1986 and just after 10 years, the magazine made its online debut @menshealth.com. Since its debut, Men’s Health has surpassed many great traditional men’s fitness and lifestyle magazines including GQ and Esquire.
Despite facing competition from behemoths in the market, Men’s Health managed to exist and thrive for more than 2 decades. So, we wanted to know how they’ve grown and especially, outpaced their established rivals. What are all the strategies they have been working on since the launch to become the #1 fitness destination for Men?
This study aims to include some of the interesting tactics the publisher used to grow its audience and revenue (not restricted to digital)…
If you’re a tech nerd or running a technology startup, then chances are high that you already know about TechCrunch. Not only did the publisher change how the industry used to present the tech news, but they’re also one of the fastest-growing companies to emerge in the early 2000s. And we’re amazed at every level – from the marketing strategies to content model to subscription engines.
So, we did thorough research to know and understand how TechCrunch has been growing at a rate that most publishers can only dream of. This case study aims to answer all the questions related to their growth strategies and tactics. Hop on and let’s get started…
Seeing publishers who have experienced the same exponential growth as Tasty is quite rare. For context, besides being a niche site, Tasty acquired over 10 million monthly unique visitors in less than five years. But that’s not the reason we’ve decided to cover Tasty in our Becoming. There’s something more interesting.
Are you fond of fashion and lifestyle content? If yes, then, you are likely to be aware of Vogue. Vogue is one of the notable online fashion magazines with a cult following and stable and distributed revenue streams.
Why we picked Vogue? The publisher that started as a social gazette in the late 19th century, has now become a top lifestyle magazine today. We aren’t charmed by the sight of fashion on the website, but by the unique growth strategies. Let’s dive in..
Of all the other why picked the Times for our next Becoming study? Well, when we looked at the Times history, it was an easy ‘yes’ for us.
- The Times did a great job of converting its 21M+ web visitors and 1M+ print readership into a turnover of £326.4 million in 2019 (Src). Compared to the year 2018 where the company lost £8 million, The Times made an annual profit (after-tax) of £9.6 million in 2019.
- The publisher lost 81% of the total traffic when it introduced a paywall. Still, it survived and as of today, The Times has more than half a million digital subscribers and 21 million monthly visitors to the site.
If you know sports, you know ESPN. Be it about the Super Bowl or an Australian Open, people from all walks of life visit ESPN or tune into its TV channel to check the sports events.
For readers, ESPN is a hub to provide them with sports news and updates about the favorite players. For us, ESPN is an interesting story with tons of takeaways. We know it isn’t just fandom that makes ESPN initiatives a great success — the publisher does it right every time.
Gone are the days when children and students need to hide their comic books from the parents and teachers in order to enjoy them secretly. Thanks to webtoons, folks can read comics anywhere on the Internet. But have you ever come across a publishing platform that primarily posts webtoons and generates substantial revenue from ads?
We bet you haven’t if you are not a comics geek or from Korea. In Korea, 1 in 3 people is reading webtoons on the smartphone every week (Src). And when you ask a person about his/her favorite webtoon platform, chances are high that you’ll be introduced to Naver’s Webtoons, a publishing portal for comic lovers.
The Verge is the perfect example of successful content expansion. The Verge is a technology news site and it was founded by SB Nation which was a sports blogging network. Most business pundits would say that it’ll be a tough task for a sports-based publisher to succeed in a tech-based niche, The Verge Proved it to be wrong. It won 5 Webby Awards just after a year of its launch.
What happens when a publisher decides to put all of its content behind a hard paywall? And how did they attract millions of visitors every month when the whole Internet is crowded with free content. Well, this is what we had in our mind when we chose The Wall Street Journal for our Becoming series.
The Journal is one of the leading publishing houses that has tried different subscription/membership strategies and experimented with every possible tactic to grow its audience base as well as overall revenue. The Wall Street Journal can be accessed via newspaper or magazine, website, and mobile applications.
The Genius is perhaps the most recognizable publisher known for its online annotation platform for music lovers. The website Genius.com ranks #4 position on Similarweb. But have you ever wondered how a bootstrapped startup established in 2009 outranked behemoths like Pandora, Rolling Stone, and Billboard?
We did. And there isn’t a single reason that encouraged us to select Genius for our next Becoming series. What most of the music publishers missed, Genius built. The publisher came up with a platform that transformed the static, flat lyric pages into an interactive, vibrant art experience.
Allrecipes is a lot more than a recipe site; it’s a social network for food lovers. Since its inception in 1997, the publisher launched 38 successful cooking-related sites before combining them all to form Allrecipes. It has a two-decade-long journey behind it which shows us how a small site can grow up by leaps and bounds to become the largest food website on the internet.
During all these years, Allrecipes has implemented many unique strategies that helped it grow faster than its peers. The graph below shows the exponential rise of the site in the last two decades. It’s one of the best publishers if we want to learn the art of winning a niche.
PopSugar is a fashion and lifestyle digital publishing company founded by media entrepreneurs Brian Sugar and Lisa Sugar in 2005. Since then, PopSugar has grown into a global lifestyle brand and a media powerhouse boasting audiences of 19 million (Src).
Coming from humble beginnings, PopSugar now touts an army of money-making ventures including its Swipe Shop, The Pop Shop, Beauty by PopSugar, and more. The publisher tested a plethora of growth strategies and workarounds that were aimed at acquiring users and hooked them to the content as well as the brand’s products & services.
And guess what? PopSugar was one of the first publishers to:
- Embrace affiliate marketing strategy where it added shoppable posts to the content strategy in 2006.
- Launch a subscription box in 2012.
- Embrace Snapchat to grow its eCommerce business.
- Monetize social video by turning it into a sponsored-content channel.
When it comes to brands and their growth strategies, no two are similar. We can say the same for PopSugar. For this very reason, here we are with another case study — Becoming PopSugar.
Politico has a serious reputation in the news market. Its founders used to work in The Washington Post but today, Politico stands neck and neck with the legacy news brand. It’s quite a feat considering the fact that The Washington Post started in 1877 whereas Politico started in 2007. That’s a gap of more than a century between the two.
Politico has also made some unconventional moves— giving out its printed newspapers and magazines for free, selling subscription services for a minimum of $1000, using Apple wallet to distribute news, etc., and succeeded with them. Its approach to building a publishing business was different from most of its competitors.
Politico was the brainchild of Jim VandeHei, who started his career in the small town of Brillion when he was just 19. The first newspaper he worked with had a single editor so he moved to Washington where he got the opportunity to work with prominent newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.