Finding Profits Online, Finally

Business models are finally coming of age for online journalism, and some sites are even reporting — gasp! — profits, said speakers during the fifth annual International Symposium on Online Journalism on Friday on online media business models.

With the passage of time often comes wisdom, and that certainly is the case for online journalism. Whereas the old question for online journalism may have been, “When will we see profits?” the new questions are about increasing profits and where to go for more.

Increasing readers is one key to attracting more advertisers. William Grueskin, managing editor of the Wall Street Journal Online, described how breaking news stories bring in new readers, some of whom become repeat readers as a result.

“When traffic spikes after a breaking story, the level (number of readers) it returns to is always higher than the previous number of readers,” said Grueskin. “We have a new normal.”

Peter Zollman, founding principal for the Classified Intelligence and Advanced Media Group, described the vast future of profits for online journalism waiting to be tapped.

“In a 100-yard dash we’ve gone five to 10 yards,” Zollman said.

Zollman spoke of the transition of online new sites from “just a newspaper to an information company” by providing additional services for the reader, on the Internet.

Zollman also noted the availability of self-service ads for advertisers– do-it-yourself online ad creation kits– and their impact on profits. Those who take advantage of the service end up buying larger ads, too. He talked about ongoing changes in the $100-billion-a-year classified ads business. “Every penny is in play,” he said.

John Granatino, the final speaker in the panel, explained the role played by registration and targeting audiences in increasing profits for businesses like The Dallas Morning News online edition.

Granatino, vice president of news and operations for Belo Interactive, spoke about the change in focus from targeting topics to targeting users. Instead of selling the content of the paper as the attraction, through registration and behavioral analysis of the readers, Belo is able to provide a more specific customer (reader) to the advertiser.

Through better understanding of its readers and their individual preferences, Granatino said, online journalism can tailor advertising to be more effective, and hence increase profitability.

ISOJ 2004: Online News financial Independence, from Knight Center on Vimeo.