Publishers trying to figure out how they are going to diversify revenue would do well to look at the smaller, niche publishers that had to diversify years ago.
These examples, who serve a mixture of business- and consumer-facing audiences, attack the problem from different angles, but they have all figured out how to thrive in a digital media ecosystem that pessimists say is inhospitable for everybody.
An enthusiast publisher serving hobbyists interested in crafts including woodworking, homebuilding, cooking, gardening and sewing. Most of Taunton’s individual titles reach small numbers of people — Threads.com, the digital presence for its sewing magazine, averages 250,000 unique users per month — but each boasts a wide and healthy variety of revenue streams, which Taunton’s sales teams are comfortable threading together; Fine Cooking, Taunton’s magazine for home cooks, has won MPA awards for best advertising program two years in a row.
Launched: 1975, by husband/wife duo Paul and Jan Roman
Revenue streams: Print and digital advertising, newsstand sales, book sales, digital and print subscription revenue, podcast advertising, TV show production, event tickets and sponsorships
Sample headline: “Uncommonly sharp: How to sharpen 13 tools that don’t fit in your honing guide”
A magazine for watch obsessives, by watch obsessives, Hodinkee has embedded itself in the firmament of the luxury watch market. While Hodinkee earns some revenue from digital and print advertising, it earns a major share of its revenue from e-commerce, not just by securing exclusive items from watch manufacturers but by collaborating with watchmakers on limited edition products, which can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. It has moved even further into e-commerce lately, developing seasonal buying guides and even designing a quiz designed to help new customers figure out what kind of watch they should buy.
Founded: 2008, by Benjamin Clymer
Funding: $5 million in 2017
Revenue streams: E-commerce, brand licensing, print circulation, print advertising revenue, digital advertising revenue, branded content
Sample headline: “Auction report: Jones & Horan to sell Howard Davis & Dennison No. 3 pocketwatch”
A B2B-focused site aimed at the travel industry, Skift earns most of its revenue from conferences, such as the Skift Travel Forum, and branded content sponsorships. But it has been diversifying its revenue streams steadily through a mixture of product development and acquisition; it purchased a newsletter about the airline industry in 2018, for example, and in 2019 Skift launched its first awards program.
Founded: 2012, by Rafat Ali
Funding: $1.1 million over two rounds
Revenue streams: Conference ticket sales and sponsorships; branded content sponsorships; research subscriptions; premium newsletter subscriptions and advertising; awards show; podcast advertising.
Sample headline: “Why the obsession over hotel logos?”
A 7-year-old startup that dives deep into the minutiae of antitrust and competition activity as well as mergers and acquisitions in both Capitol Hill and Brussels. The content, which is entirely paywalled aside from some sample articles hosted on Capitol Forum’s homepage, is intended for institutional investors, law firms, policymakers and think tanks, and is produced by staffers with legal training; many of the Capitol Forum’s reporters have served as either lawyers or lawyers. The Capitol Forum also hosts quarterly events. Subscription prices, which are typically sold in enterprise deals, can vary, though they typically carry a price tag in the mid-five figures.
Founded: 2012, by Teddy Downey
Funding: No outside investment
Revenue streams: Pricey subscriptions.
Sample headline: “Praxair/Linde AG: On-Site, Merchant, Issues Drive Antitrust Risk”
A portfolio of 16 niche B2B titles, Industry Dive covers deeply unsexy industries like recycling and solid waste management. The industries Industry Dive coves are not big, they are stable, and coverage of their goings-on is limited enough that the audiences Industry Dive offers its advertisers have not been commoditized. Founder Sean Griffey said Industry Dive makes money when it helps site sponsors have productive conversations within their space.
Founded: 2012, by Sean Griffey
Funding: A $500,000 angel investment
Revenue streams: Site sponsorships
Sample headline: “Delays mount at Denver airport over concrete concerns”
Food might seem like too broad a category for this list, but Food52 has spent years building and developing content and products specifically for its audience of home cooks. Food52 now earns a majority of its revenue from commerce, and it continues to diversify into a growing array of home goods, ranging from cutting boards to dryer balls. It produced a dessert cookbook last year that featured recipes offered up by its own readers. More recently, it began expanding into video series and launched its own cooking channel on the ad-supported video platform XumoTV.
Founded: 2011, by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs
Funding: $13 million over four rounds
Revenue streams: E-commerce, branded content, video advertising, digital advertising
Sample headline: “The world’s best shortbread is no longer sold — but we got the recipe”
After acquiring the DC insider publications CQ Roll Call for $180 million last summer, FiscalNote folded the two publications into a suite of products aimed at lobbyists, multinational corporations and law firms, which includes a legislation tracker that keeps subscribers abreast of changes made to bills making their way through Congress and a white-labeled app builder that allows advocacy groups to distribute calls to action and messaging to stakeholders more efficiently.
Founded: 2013, by Timothy Hwang, Gerald Yao and Jonathan Chen
Funding: $50 million over four rounds
Revenue streams: Digital advertising, digital content subscriptions, services subscriptions
Sample headline: “Abortion-rights groups lay out 2020 races they plan to target”
M. Shanken Communications
The home of booze bibles Wine Spectator and Whisky Advocate, as well as Cigar Aficionado, M. Shanken founder Marvin Shanken earned his recent MPA lifetime achievement award by building a media company that catered to both B2B and BC2 audiences. In recent years, M. Shanken has pressed on both sides. On the B2B side, M. Shanken announced in February that it would launch a daily newsletter focus exclusively on cannabis’s move into the food and spirits industries. On the B2C side, it continues to expand its events business with its WhiskyFests, and a freemium mobile app that offers subscribers access to a library of Wine Spectator reviews, has been downloaded over 2 million times.
Founded: 1972, by Marvin Shanken
Funding: No outside investment
Revenue streams: Event sponsorship and ticket revenue, digital and print subscriptions, digital and print advertising, paid app downloads
Sample headline: “The best whiskies for grilling season”