Publishers have traditionally heard “niche” and thought small. These days they hear it and think “opportunity.”
This fall, The Boston Globe plans to launch Stat, a standalone news site focused on health, medicine and life sciences. Aimed at general-interest readers, the site’s early output has included coverage of measles vaccines, heart disease studies and crowdfunded medical devices. It’s the third of such standalone sites for the Globe, which launched its technology focused BetaBoston last March and Crux, its Catholic news site, last September.
The sites are all part of the Globe’s play for a broader national and international audience, which it has pursued since Red Sox owner John W. Henry bought the company from The New York Times in 2013.
“These are the things for which Boston is known for and what we think we can own,” said Boston Globe Media Partners CEO Mike Sheehan, explaining its newfound focus. “When we go into verticals in which we’re were dominant, it expands our overall audience, which helps boost everything else. You’re never going to see us start a site focused on consumer packaged goods.”
While articles from Crux and Stat regularly appear on The Boston Globe, they’re meant to stand on their own. The Boston Globe branding is almost entirely absent on Crux, and the company plans to apply the same approach to Stat, which, unlike The Boston Globe’s core site, won’t have a paywall. It’s a different approach from that of The New York Times and Washington Post, whose vertical properties are designed live on their main sites. “We don’t want to dilute the brands by having all of these in the same place,” said Sheehan. “There’s more revenue opportunity in them being their own things.”
The Boston Globe’s standalone sites are not to be confused with side projects or experiments. While Crux’s team has grown to six reporters over the past year, Stat, which doesn’t launch for another few weeks, is already at 35 people. That’s likely to increase to 50 by the end of the ear. The formula is off to a decent start: Crux got 255,000 unique visitors in March, according to comScore, and has 108,752 Facebook likes and 14,000 Twitter followers.
The Globe’s standalone site formula mirrors that of Atlantic Media, which has found a successful formula with Quartz and Defense One, which cover global business and the defense industry, respectively. The two companies also share DNA: Andrew Perlmutter, Boston Globe Media Partners executive vice president, helped develop and launch Quartz back in 2012.
The Boston Globe and the Atlantic aren’t the only legacy publishers to pursue niche coverage, either. In August, Cox Media launched Dawg Nation, the first of its planned niche sites, which focuses exclusively on University of Georgia football. Last year, The New York Post launched entertainment site Decider, which is focused on helping readers find things to watch on the Web’s streaming sites. The idea behind these efforts is in part to mimic the models of companies like Vox Media and Gawker Media, which are built around a constellation of highly focused sites with engaged readers. That might be an easier sell at a time when audiences are fracturing and general-news sites are getting squeezed.
“This is all just a reflection of the way this market is evolving,” said Kreisky Media Consulting founder Peter Kreisky. “There’s a lot that can happen when you create these kind of well-targeted offerings aimed at specific audiences. You can get a level of loyalty and regular engagement that’s harder to get otherwise.”