The Newsonomics of Quartz’s — Obsessive — Explainer Business Mod el

Posted on May 2, 2014


The Newsonomics of Quartz’s — Obsessive — Explainer Business Model

Posted: 01 May 2014 08:41 PM PDT

Follow Newsonomics @kdocto

First published at Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab

Quartz, at the tender age of 19 months, can hardly be considered a father to Vox, FiveThirtyEight, and The Upshot. Clearly, though, it’s a major influence. It marked and followed an explanatory way forward way back in September 2012 (“The newsonomics of Quartz’ business launch”), and its model tells us a lot about this widening field.

Fast innovator Atlantic Media wrote the playbook for Quartz. That playbook almost seemed too fashionable:

✓ Designed for mobile and web-native
✓ A browser app only, not available as iOS or Android native apps
✓ No small-unit banner ads, with native ad “posts” the primary format
✓ Focused on visuals, with big photos and lots of sharable charts
✓ A global focus, in coverage and in audience, from the start

quartz-qz-logoEven the name Quartz seemed a bit avant-garde, its url a little unorthodox. We knew what a Fortune, a BusinessWeek, a Wall Street Journal, an Economist, a Financial Times meant, both directly through their names and through their long histories. Quartz seemed to be going up not only against all of those, but Bloomberg, Forbes, and Thomson Reuters as well. All those business brands seemed formidable and more greatly staffed in journalists than Quartz.

And yet, before its second birthday, Quartz has found a niche. Let’s look at its newsonomics and how they provide a window into the hot “explainer” movement.

In short, its influence on today’s digital news world derives from three things: Its impressive audience and advertising strategy; its own “obsessive” model of mobile-friendly, explanatory journalism; and the wider sending of Atlantic/Quartz talent off into positions of influence in the next news, and its influence on a wide range of sites that have launched since Quartz’s birth.

Let’s take the talent point.

Justin B. Smith, Atlantic Media’s then-president, was a key shaper of Quartz. Smith is now CEO of Bloomberg Media, with a huge staff, deep pockets, and lots to figure out. His fellow co-conspirator at Atlantic Media and with Quartz, Scott Havens, just joined the soon-to-be-new Time Inc. as senior vice president for digital, after five years at Atlantic. Andrew Perlmutter, an Atlantic strategist at the time of Quartz’s launch, was named executive vice president of Boston Globe Media Partners by new owner and publisher John Henry. Just last week, well-followed Quartz writer Christopher Mims (from his bio: “He believes that the most interesting things about the universe have yet to be discovered, and that technology is the primary driver of cultural change. He is often surprised and delighted by what people will say on record”) took on the WSJ personal tech column job that Farhad Manjoo had vacated in January by leaving for The New York Times. That’s a confluence of influence that speaks to the thinking and execution at Quartz and elsewhere within Atlantic Media.

So, let’s look at the numbers Quartz reports:

§ About 4.7 million monthly unique visitors.

§ 40 percent of readers are from outside the U.S. The top five countries, in order: U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and India. Given the India audience, Quartz is launching its first non-U.S.-centric site, Quartz India, in June, partnered with

§ More than 60 percent of the audience is executive level (according to Bizo), with 90 percent of the U.K. audience at that level.

§ 70 percent are male, and with an expected skew to tech, sometimes standalone tech and often tech within a variety of companies.

§ 40 percent of its traffic is from mobile, with mobile heaviest on evenings and weekends, as at other news sites. Smartphone usage dominates the early morning, and out-distances tablet usage overall about 4-to-1.

§ Fully 70 percent of traffic is driven by social links.

§ 70,000 readers have signed up for The Daily Brief newsletter. The newsletter has been an important driver of habit and usage — and registration data.

If the audience is high-demo, its ad sell comes down to a single word that Atlantic Media brandishes well: influentials. From Quartz to The Atlantic to National Journal and Government Executive, its pitch is not based simply on wealth or spending ability, but that its readers as deciders, agenda setters, and idea connectors (“The newsonomics of influentials”).

Quartz is a high-end play, differentiating itself from the more mass-oriented Business Insider and

The site has already booked 600 percent the revenue for the first half of 2014 as in the same period for 2013, says Jay Lauf, co-president and publisher of Quartz and a veteran of Wired magazine. The site’s native ad strategy fit its time of birth well. It has never run traditional banners — why jump aboard a slowing train? Advertisers include Boeing, Chevron, Cadillac, G.E., and Bank of America; more than 40 percent of advertisers are in financial services.

Lauf says the site is getting an 80 percent ad renewal rate, after first being tagged as the “hot new thing.” In total, Quartz has counted about 45 “blue chip” advertisers. That’s a big number, and shows how much Fortune 500 brands are embracing “share of voice” and native advertising. Quartz aids these content marketers in their creation, ranging from full creation to “light touch” help — a variation of content marketing digital services, a major growth area for all the national and regional publishers investing in capacity to do that work.

A Goldman Sachs look at top innovations of 2013 is the kind of advertising that plays to Quartz’ strength. It’s a major client, and its white paper-like offerings fit the thought-leader vibe of the site overall.

Only 30 percent of Quartz’s ad revenue comes from those native ad posts that caught so much attention when launched (and which The New York Times borrowed from for its new Paid Posts in NYT Now and elsewhere); 70 percent comes from larger-format “Engage” ad units that dominate web pages.

Advertisers pay rates in the range of $60 CPM or higher (cost per thousand impressions). That’s 2-4× what banners will bring in on national sites. Figure that Quartz is on a run rate to produce $8 million-plus in revenue this year.

In addition to native ads, events are becoming a bigger part of the revenue strategy. They’ve long been an Atlantic Media strength, and now that Quartz has developed sufficient audience, it will host seven or more in 2014. Key here are two revenue strategies, attendee registration and sponsorship. “The Next Billion,”its June 2 event in Seattle is priced at $599 (without an advance discount) and is sponsored by Intel. As the news events space heats up, the smartest plays here are extensions both of the journalism a company does and its connections to brands with good “influentials” budgets.

That journalism is framed around the idea of obsessions. “I’m a big reader of magazines, and the magazines I liked best had defining obsessions in what they covered and sometimes over-covered,” says Quartz editor-in-chief and co-president Kevin Delaney. The obsessions framing was at first internal; it now acts as the branding, and in some ways, the taxonomy of the site. On a practical level, it allows a smaller business news staff to cover a wider world, to think and act bigger. Quartz certainly picks its spots, covering some stories, while letting others go. (Even much larger business news organizations, though, do the same thing. Compare Tuesday’s widely-covered Twitter quarterly financials report — Quartz’ provocative angle was “Twitter is now in danger of being crushed by Facebook”— with the paucity of analysis of Time Warner’s.)

The big idea for newsies: Get outside the silo of beats and embed the macro context into anything the site writes. As an editor, Delaney knows that the 15 current (though changing with the news) obsessions — among them, “Indian Elections,” “Future of Finance,” “Ukraine Crisis,” and “New U.S. Economy” — push journalists “to think through what’s most important in the stories, not just process the news.” Not processing the news means avoiding the mushy middle of stories between 500 to 800 words; Quartz’ stories run short or longer.


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