Where are the U.K. publishing startups?

The U.S. market has seen a spate of journalism startups, from Mic to Business Insider to Buzzfeed t0 First Look Media. But the U.K. hasn’t seen the same activity, for a variety of reasons.

While there are certainly exceptions to the rule investor enthusiasm for digital journalism has been comparatively tepid in the U.K. The Business of Fashion, for instance, is an anomaly. Started in 2007 as a blog, BofF has grown into its niche as a modern digital media company focused on the lucrative global fashion industry. That allowed it to attract venture capital to the tune of $2.1 million last year.

“A traditional media-based startup is a relatively low-margin venture for an investor compared with backing a software or something with more scalability, ” says James Bilefield, startup adviser and former head of digital at Condé Nast International. “During the last dot-com boom of 1999/2000, there were a lot of media-based startups and a lot of investors got their fingers burned. There’s a slight case of ‘once bitten, twice shy’.”

While there are some new startups, none of them have quite reached the scale or profile as those in the U.S. A recent Twitter conversation started by The Next Web’s editor-in-chief Martin Bryant recently gave plenty of reasons why. For one, the U.K. advertising market is simply smaller, so there’s less investment into media business. About £6.3 billion ($10.6 billion) was spent on digital advertising in the U.K. in 2013, less than a quarter of the U.S. market.

Even at that size, the U.K. media market remains crowded, with a comparatively vibrant national newspaper field, commercial TV channels and a public broadcaster. That’s meant strong incumbents. The 2014 Digital News Report suggests traditional U.K. news brands have suffered less disruption from new entrants online. The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and Business Insider are, however, three notable examples of U.S. sites which have moved to the U.K. to compete for share of voice and ad spend.

“The formats may have been changed to put mobile first, data may be being used more, and writing styles may have been funnied-up, but these are basically more sites doing what we already have — and arriving late to a market already dominated by US-based content producers,” said journalism lecturer Sue Greenwood .


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