Buried in a glowing American Journalism Review article about the success of The Politico — a politics-only news website that launched a couple of years ago and is getting 25 million page views/month — is the fact that 60% of its revenue comes from its laser-targeted, thrice-weekly 27,000 circ print edition, without which, the site would “be losing catastrophic amounts of money.”
The success of Politico actually seems like an incredibly discouraging sign for the media. Here you have this forward-thinking, primarily virtual venture to create a political news organization that marries old-school reporting values to the speed and the immediacy of the web and it actually works. A year-and-a-half after launch, it’s getting 3.5 million unique visitors per month and 25 million page views. And yet not only is it unprofitable, but 60 percent of its revenues come from advertising in the 27,000 circulation print version. In other words: Politico got the online readership it dreamed of, but it hasn’t come even close to figuring out how to monetize it. So they’re reliant on the Congress-section of their print paper, which can extract huge rates from lobbying organizations and pressure groups. Were they actually web only, they’d be losing catastrophic amounts of money. If The Politico was an experiment to see if people would read more stuff about politics, it was a success. But insofar as it sought a new business model that would bring economic viability to online reportage, it’s as adrift as everyone else.