Case Study: Artsjournal (USA)

Based on an interview with editor-publisher Douglas McLennan November 16 2010

The name of the publication and / or company

ArtsJournal

Established

September 13th 1999

Web address

http://www.artsjournal.com

Describe your site or business in few words.

An aggregator of cultural news and a host for 66 arts bloggers. Aggregators look at 200-300 publications and 2000-plus stories per day and pick out the most interesting 20 to 30 stories across the arts; music, dance, theater, visual, publishing, people issues and. It’s a kind of digest that you can quickly see what are the crucial things in the cultural world that are going on.

Staff numbers

Who’s creating the content

Content creators, paid full-time

2, The editor-publisher Douglas McLennan and an assistant.

Content creators, paid revenue share

66 bloggers.

Business, marketing & sales, paid full-time

1, business manager

How is your time divided between doing business and content?

Around 50/50. The other half of Douglas McLennan’s time goes to supporting his bloggers, selling ads and responding to different request and ideas from potential business partners. He also does a lot of consulting and speaking.

“We do two shifts of gathering stories a day; one very early in the morning, starting about 5 O’clock in the morning and the other one in the evening which ends about 10 O’clock at night. I do probably 2/3 of the news gathering work on the site, assistant does 1/3.

One of the first things that I learned in this is that you get bombarded with people who want to make deals with you or have a great idea for this or whatever. The difficult is to attain a kind of discipline that allows you to ignore 99% of all that comes by. You have to be really focused and to understand in a very sort of, visceral way, what is your purpose; what is it that you’re actually really trying to do? So you must have a real discipline about figuring out what to pay attention to or not.”

How they make money

Revenue models and sustainability

Would you say your business model is sustainable?

Site has always been profitable since the first year, mainly because it was at the height of the .com boom. Clients were paying $1000 a week for the rights to publish ArtsJournal content on their sites. Within a six-week period in April 2000 there was the .com crash and every client ArtsJournal had went out of business. So then they had to switch to another model.

Now it’s premium subscriptions to our newsletter, display ads and consulting plus speaking gigs that ArtsJournal has generated.

Yearly revenue

“More than six figures.” Meaning it makes more than $100,000.

Where does your revenue go?

Hosting is less than $100 a month. Bigger expenses are phone bills and personal broadband that allows to work from home. McLennan does most of the basic design and coding by himself, saving in developer costs.

How much do you pay to your contributors?

Bloggers get 75% of the revenue from ads sold on their blog.

What about profit?

Save it and invest in developing the site, pay developers to do programming that McLennan isn’t able to do himself.

“But I’m just very careful about where to invest.”

Do you see your publication as your main product?

In 2010, Douglas McLennan did more than 60 talks around the country and flew more than 200,000 miles. Half of the revenue based on ArtsJournal comes through these engagements. This is also the reason McLennan still does the early morning shift reading the stories around the web: he hired assistants to do that but realized quickly that he was losing his touch on what happens in the art world and thus the opportunity to speak and consult.

“What happened for me was that when you look at 2,000-stories everyday you start to see them almost as clouds on the horizon and you start to see, ‘Ah, you know, here I san issue on Australia that they’re dealing with and this is how they’re dealing with it’ and, ‘Oh, you know what? That is going to happen over here in Germany next week and they’re dealing with it in a very different way’ and you start connecting dots and you become this sociologist of arts.”

What would be the most important thing on your road to sustainability?

“If I was to say if there is one sort of, key thing to success in doing this it’s that you can’t assume that the business model or the revenue model that you conceive at the beginning is going to be ‘the way’ you’re going to make money; that is a recipe for disaster. You have to be open to constantly shifting your revenue models. Sometimes advertising makes almost everything at the site, sometimes memberships, premium subscriptions or selling your news feeds. You can’t construct this kind of business with a rigid business model, you know. “