Curbed’s growth strategy: broader and more national

Curbed, Vox’s Media’s real estate and architecture site, has taken on many forms since its launch in 2004. What started as a local neighborhood and real estate site has now become broader and more national (and will soon be international as well).

That formula continues to evolve. Curbed, which Vox acquired in late 2013, now has a footprint in 14 cities, including New York City, Los Angeles and Detroit. But its ambitions have also gone beyond its local city focus to larger, more universal topics that include interior design (“This Vintage Shop Owner’s Home is Peak Midcentury Modern“) and architecture (“The PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics Will Have a Hotel Shaped Like a Futuristic Roller Coaster”). While there’s no shortage of design and architecture sites on the Web, Curbed says its differentiating factor is that it’s able to cover the topics in a way that’s accessible, witty and lighthearted. And its goal is to take a similar approach to international coverage as well.

“We’d be doing a disservice to our readers’ curiosity and intelligence if our coverage were limited to the U.S. only,” said Curbed editor Kelsey Keith who joined in March. “There is a lot to glean from stories about architecture, design and urbanism abroad, and in today’s global market, it’s crucial that we maintain a broad perspective on what Curbed covers.”

Curbed doesn’t have any current plans to add international staff writers or freelancers to its current stable of 22 editors but isn’t ruling out the idea as it continues to expand. It is, however, making progress on the national side. Earlier this month, it hired Architectural Digest editor Asad Syrkett to be its national editor. Syrkett’s job is to help Curbed create more original content, including home stories, long-form features and architecture criticism.

The approach makes sense. Broad editorial mandates offer many benefits for publishers, who can cover a wider array of topics and, in turn, draw more readers and advertising dollars from a wider array of advertisers. The likes of Business Insider, Refinery29 and Vox Media’s The Verge have tried a similar approach in recent years, to varying degrees of success.

And Curbed, the smallest site in Vox Media’s portfolio, could use the growth. While its monthly unique visitors have increased by 52 percent over the last year to 2.3 million, Curbed is much smaller than SBNation or even Vox.com, which got 20.2 million and 12.1 million unique visitors in March, respectively, according to comScore.

But Curbed is also held back by the basic reality of its local coverage model, which is notoriously hard to scale. A story about parking lots in Detroit may matter to local residents, but it’s far less relevant to the vast majority of readers online. Compare that to the coverage from The Verge, whose gadget coverage is relevant to a far larger audience. This inherent limitation to local coverage is why even city newspapers such as The Daily News and The New York Observer are eyeing more general interest stories to grab national attention.

But going national isn’t a sure route to success. Going broad may drive scale, but it also risks losing revenue from deeper coverage, according to Steve Goldberg, partner at Empirical Media, who said that local publishers always risk losing their focus when expanding their editorial mandate to a national scale. “It’s hard to think of anyone who has pulled this off well,” he said.

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