BREAKING NEWS & VIEWS
Beyond Banners: Tech Media Network Sticks to Own Content, Says 70% of Revenue Is Non-Display
Thursday, January 6, 2011
The Tech Media Network begs to differ with that assumption. The owner of Space.com and longtime proprietor of TopTenReviews.com and nearly a dozen other tech and science sites claims its revenue doubled last year even as the site championed in-house content creation and the costly development of quality content. “Seventy percent of revenue is non-display,” says president Stan Bassett. “We couldn’t have done it if we relied strictly on display.” The secret sauce was diversifying the ways in which every piece of content is getting credit for tech content’s place in the consumer purchase funnel.
“Our revenue really exploded in 2009 and 2010 because we aggressively worked on diversifying our revenue,” says Bassett. “We mix it up with display and remnant [ad network] inventory, performance-based models, lead generation, white paper downloads.”
The site has affiliate relationships with e-commerce vendors so that TMN gets a share when a consumer reading a product review on one of its sites clicks through to purchase the item. On many pages of Top Ten Reviews, for instance, the reader will not only get an impartial and often critical review of a product but also see an opportunity to purchase the product from a specific vendor. Every page is scrutinized for monetization opportunities, and it may be a buy button on the page, relevant text ad links to vendors for cost-per-click revenue, a video asset that accelerates the user’s purchase decision process or a downloadable piece of content that requires a signup (lead gen).
Part of the model requires editorial with longer shelf life, because it allows the company to extract more value from a single expenditure on creating that content. “We try to look at a great piece of content and look at the ways to monetize it,” Bassett says. The company makes extensive use of A/B testing of different configurations to understand how traffic flows in and out of the page and how the users move most efficiently toward a purchase decision.
Bassett contrasts the labor-intensive and costly process of making and monetizing quality content he prefers to the “content farms” that rely on low-cost user-generated content that is well-optimized for search discovery and designed to swamp the engines with relentless volumes of searchable content. “We will find out pretty fast in the media business whether I am right or whether Demand Media [a user-generated content aggregator] is right,” he says. “They are volume driven. They believe Google’s algorithms will be permanently skewed to volume, not quality. We take the other side. Let’s take quality. The volume won’t be there but we think the quality will trump quantity.”
Last year, TMN acquired Space.com, Newsarama and other science brands from Imaginova. Bassett says that the science information sites complement the tech review sites by giving their users informative and entertaining content between purchases. Unlike the gadget blogs and traditional tech sites, he is targeting that mass audience that is interested in tech but not consumed by tech.
But even at sites like Space.com, TMN is creating revenue share opportunities off of affiliated e-commerce relationships with suppliers of relevant equipment like telescopes. Despite the integration of e-commerce and lead-gen opportunities, Bassett says that the TMN sites maintain total editorial independence and are kept segregated from the business and ad-sales decisions. Ultimately, he believes that reliable and deep editorial will grab audiences. His collection of 13 sites, syndication deals with Yahoo, CNBC and scores of partnered sites generate over 19 million unique users a month.
The company has long-standing ad relationships with HP, Kodak and Toyota, among others. “As long as we drive great traffic, then the back-end drives the revenue,” Bassett says.
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