'Atlantic' hits new highs for web traffic, revenue
TheAtlantic.com offers hope for publishers who believe improving editorial quality isn't an outdated digital strategy. The publisher announced that its website set new traffic and revenue records in the first half of 2010, and Jay Lauf, vice president and publisher of The Atlantic and TheAtlantic.com, credits quality editorial content as a big driver.
"A lot of people give lip service to that kind of thing but it's really at the heart of everything we do,” he says.
For the month of June, TheAtlantic.com generated 4.2 million unique visitors, representing the highest numbers for the website since the presidential election. Since undergoing a website redesign in February aimed to better engage readers, TheAtlantic.com audience has grown by 25%. Its sister site, The Atlantic Wire, which launched in September, saw 1 million unique visitors, representing a 20% increase from the previous month.
Revenues are also on the upswing. For the first half of this year, TheAtlantic.com and TheAtlanticWire.com boasted a 166% increase in ad revenue compared with the same period in 2009, thanks in part to strategies such as custom ad programs. For instance, Shell is sponsoring a “roving reporter” to pose questions submitted by readers at the Aspen Ideas Festival. After the conference, the answers will be fed back through ad units on the website, Lauf explains.
In order to engage readers with advertising, Lauf says the company stays "open minded," paying attention to what strikes a chord with the readership. "We're just poised to constantly experiment and I think we've gained the trust of our advertisers to learn along with us,” he says.
Lauf, who joined The Atlantic in 2008, says digital revenue has grown from about 9% of overall advertising revenue at the end of '07, to 16% in '08, to almost a third (31%) by the end of '09. He expects that percentage to reach 40% by the end of the year. Meanwhile, print revenues are up 15% this year.
Revenues from mobile advertising account for less than 1% of digital revenue for The Atlantic, Lauf says. Although advertisers have yet to show much interest, The Atlantic is still investing in mobile, offering free iPhone and iPad apps. Even without the metrics, there's a premium for new platforms, he says.
"We are putting resources behind developing applications and just making sure that we are going to be on every platform,” he says. "I don't think you're going to find moss gathering on The Atlantic."
No Paywall (for Now)
The Atlantic took down its paywall a few years ago, offering magazine content and archives for free. Lauf says the strategy works for now, but that doesn't mean the publisher won't re-consider a paywall.
“It's not that we won't and that we don't consider it almost every day … For now that's the model that we've embraced; it's a model that's working for us," he says. Anyone who acts as if they know the right model, Lauf adds, “is kidding themselves.”
Though it might be counterintuitive for a 152-year-old magazine, The Atlantic does not make its magazine the focus of the web, Lauf says. The Atlantic's web strategy is to complement the magazine with a high quantity of original and immediate content — far from a “repository for print,” he says.
Lauf says the success of the site is proof that there's a market for quality as readers drown in commodity content.
"I think you're going to continue to see growth from The Atlantic,” he says. “We see huge potential to become an even more mass appeal over the course of time.”