Monday, June 30, 2008

Borrowing from Huffington ...

The Huffington Post is one of the success stories of the past few years in the digital publishing world. With a current valuation around $200m and over 100m pageviews last month (from 5.6m users) the Huffington Post is solid proof that online news can be more than just Amy Winehouse crack videos and stories about reality contestants.

What's more ... it has managed these figures in the US ... which has no shortage of strong, respected online news sources. Unlike Australia, the respected mastheads such as the Washington Post and NY Times haven't diluted their online offerings to simply be the source of funny zingers office people talk about around the dishwasher.

Wired summed up Huffington Post very well ...

"More important from the point of view of the miscellaneous, the Huffington Post has an abundance of bloggers and commentators, representing a wide range of progressive interests, who provide an infrastructure of ideas, facts and opinions that adds context to any story. "

Traffic for Huffingtonpost is available here -->

In AU online news is limited mainly to 3 players - Fairfax, News and ninemsn - and I think there's scope for more choice in the market and there is the potential to create a niche for credible, respected news online.

What makes Huffington Post strong is it has a very robust group of contributors - from all areas. The style of journalism is more akin to blogging than traditional newspaper writing ... it doesn't rely on feeds and its content is exclusive. It moreso breaks stories and starts debate rather than reacting.

These are generally things that ALL good news sources have ... it's just locally the style of journalism has gone down the quick, easy, disposable route.

Yes, this has a place - a definite place - but it can't be the be all and end all. And right now it is. With the exception of The Australian, masthead news titles online are swimming dangerously close to tabloid waters.

I believe advertisers are looking for an alternative. Agencies and their clients are looking for great, respected titles online to reach the right audience in the right, trusted environment. And with the phenomenal amount of options available online, and the massive surfing habits of consumers (who are looking at hundreds and thousands of pages each) high end environments which allow brands to connect with users are a scarce resource. I am not saying the current options aren't strong, they are, it's just there is room for others.

Huffington Post is a win for users and advertisers.

Users like it as it brings diversity of opinion, news commentary AND coverage across politics, sport, environment, current affairs, world, media, business and lifestyle. It is not a brand people are impartial about - they either love it or they don't ... which is what you're after as an advertiser.

Advertisers like it as it has a great audience - educated, wealthy, discerning and loyal. It has a clean interface and some interesting ad executions.

So could something that follows the Huffington model work in AU. Absolutely. A merger of 5-6 online publications in AU (across news, current affairs, sport, fashion, technology, business could create something that would really challenge the industry and provide something advertisers are screaming for if they slightly amended their editorial model to create more of a dialogue/discussion than just 1 way editorial.

The next challenge to this hypothetical group would be pitching their offering to both consumers and advertisers - and if this was nailed - anything would be possible. My feeling is if the group could generate around 700k-1m unique users per month it would become a much powerful force than if the titles continued to work independently.

The model is nice - it allows more choice than the mastheads ... but it gives this huge pile of news a sense of order. It's a mix of RSS and Blogs (which can offer too many options for the regular user and can become chaotic) and masthead online efforts (which often offer not enough options and generally offer reporting only)

It'd be a great opportunity.


TomH said...

I'd say the nearest player to HuffPo in AU currently is Crikey, but its growth is strangled by the subscription model.

I've been thinking for a while it must surely be more profitable for Crikey to go fully open/free.

HuffPo is way more than a blog, but their rapid rise has been driven largely by the blogosphere. Crikey barely rates a mention in the blogosphere - at least in the bits I read. Their model means they're just not part of the conversation.

If they were to tear down the walls they'd be prime candidates to become Australia's answer to Huffington. Until then, as you say, the door's open for someone else to do it and leave Crikey on their current path to terminal irrelevance.

Ben Shepherd said...

I agree

Crikey and Bus. Spectator both have the depth of writers needed ... but are still 1 way media and as a result haven't really been embraced outside of that space.

crikey, business spectator, gizmodo, lost at e minor, theroar, cnet with syndicated content from huffpost, slashdot and selected o/s sites across the key categories would go down very well.

Zac Zavos said...

My sense tells me Crikey will pull down their subscription model - people know that it's an archaic model so getting new subs must be hard.

They kinda do have user-generated content in that many of their contributors aren't paid and started as readers, from what I understand. So they're kinda there and I agree are well placed to take this opportunity.

But the main thing they would need to change would be a platform that embraced an architecture of participation and an internal process and belief around this too. User generated doesn't have to equate to poor quality content.

There's a clear opportunity for strong opinion (rather than news) in the Australian online landscape.

It will be interesting to see it unfold over the coming months or years.

Zac Zavos said...

BTW - interesting podcast from Arianna Huffington on the future of journalism here: [via]