CHICAGO—While the morning’s opening keynote on day one of the 2008 Circulation Management Conference here Tuesday proclaimed audience is king, by lunch the message reverted to more of a content is king delivery.
Jonathan Weber, founder, publisher and CEO of Montana-based NewWest.net, and former editor-in-chief of the Industry Standard, delivered the day’s luncheon keynote and argued that the success of a publication will be driven by its editorial appeal.
“What I always felt was the core of the success of the Industry Standard was it was editorially-driven, which is why I, as the editor-in-chief, was the number-two person in the company,” said Weber, who has subsequently parlayed that content-focused approach into his two-year-old venture, NewWest.net—a media company consisting of a network of regional Web sites, a print magazine and events focused on business and life in the Rocky Mountain West.
In building his new media company, however, Weber has continued along a decidedly organic growth pattern, launching the online network first, then introducing events and—almost grudgingly—expanding the brand into print. The Web site, a combination of high-profile reporting, blogs and user and community-generated content, leveraged a network approach, featuring regional content supported by local sites covering six communities around the area. “It was important to have local and regional together, but we realized advertising was difficult in local, so we structured it as a network approach,” said Weber.
Marketing, however, was kept to a minimum. Traffic was generated primarily from stories that garnered links from other outlets. “In the online world, scale is important. So you have to have significant traffic. Where that scale comes into play is search engine ranking.”
NewWest.net managed to attract about 100,000 unique monthly visitors about 6 to 8 months after launch. “Good stories attract links to your site, and that remains to this day the single most important method,” said Weber.
That audience was then leveraged into an event business, which, in turn, elevated the brand in the minds of potential advertisers who could see it in action in a face-to-face environment. “It helped solidify the brand identity. It didn’t drive that much traffic, but helped us with advertisers, who weren’t too sold on us in the beginning,” Weber said.
Next came the magazine, New West, which is an 8,000-circ quarterly with a 10 to 1 controlled/paid ratio. Interestingly, the magazine, said Weber, is positioned as a marketing vehicle for the Web site. “The cost to produce it can almost be justified on that basis,” he said.
Weber also highlighted the dramatic decline in certain cost structures inherent in building an online business today. “At the Industry Standard, we spent more than $1 million building the Web site. At New West, we spent $15,000.”
Currently, said Weber, New West derives about 40-50 percent of its revenues from the Web site, 30 percent from events, and the remainder from the magazine.