The New York Times has an interesting profile of The Awl, a culture website that recently spun off its own humor site (dubbed Splitsider) and seems to be succeeding despite breaking all the “rules” of building a successful media business online. Here’s an excerpt:
The very idea of a little digital boutique flies in the face of all manner of conventional wisdom, chief of which is that scale is all that matters in an era of commoditized advertising sales. The Awl is attempting to tunnel under those efforts by building a low-cost site that delivers a certain kind of content for a certain kind of audience. And the owners don’t have to get rich — The Awl has no investors — they just have to eat.
“I’m surprised that there aren’t a lot of independent, owner-operated editorial Web sites out there,” Mr. Sicha said. “We will be two years old in April, and we are self-sufficient and stable. That’s pretty fast.” (Disclosure moment: I know Mr. Sicha socially in a New York media sort of way, and he has written for The New York Times in the past. The mysterious Mr. Balk, who is never interviewed for quotation, not so much.)
The Awl confronts the tyranny of small numbers in an age when Web behemoths, like Gawker Media and The Huffington Post, get most of the attention. A lot of ad agencies don’t want to deal with any sites under a million unique visitors, and many brands are not necessarily interested in cutting deals with boutique Web sites.
It’s the job of Mr. Cho, a veteran of College Humor and Radar, to solve this, which he’s done in part by cutting sponsorship deals with Ann Taylor, Yahoo Search Terms, Kia Motors, Gillette and Merge Records. Those deals mean The Awl is no longer solely dependent on selling display ads.
Read the full article here.