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Social media levelled the playing field for digital publishers, says Business Insider founder

Digital publishing made it possible for startups to compete with legacy publishers. Few have better proven this than Henry Blodget, founder and editor-in-chief of Business Insider, one of the fastest growing websites in the world. In a recent podcast with Media Masters’ host Paul Blanchard he explains why social media is one of his best allies.

With 100 million readers and over 300 employees, business news website Business Insider is one of the world’s most successful publishing fairytales. Starting out as a freelance writer, Henry Blodget moved into corporate finance, making his name predicting the rise of amazon.com. In 2007, Blodget found Silicon Alley Insider, the news website that later became Business Insider, one of the most-read business and tech news sites in the world.

Blodget explains that part of his success is his approach to social media aggregators such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. He views each individual platform as a news distributor. “It is the same way that a cable network or a satellite network is a distributor in the analogue world.”

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Today the route to the Business Insider website is via social media referrals. Yet, warns Blodget, no matter how small the percentage of readers who still log on directly to businessinsider.com, “they’re our most direct, invaluable and frequent users, which is great. We love to have that. But Facebook is tremendously important, so is Twitter, so is LinkedIn, so are all the different platforms.”

It’s this symbiosis between quality content and social media as an outlet that creates the current opportunities for publishers. But the key is to be everywhere. Some followers only use the Business Insider app, others only follow the daily early morning email. As Blodget explains: “... in digital, to be successful, you have to do all of that – and it is really no different than a TV programmer saying, ‘I’ve got this great TV programming that I’ve made. Now I have to partner with distributors in different markets and I’m going to partner with the satellite and the cable company.

He continues: “There’s always this tug of war in each case, like who’s the most important? Is it the distributor or the content? The answer is that you need both. And all that has to happen for it to work is that there has to be some sharing of economics. If you look at Google, we look at traditional media companies that complain about Google aggregation, and we cannot understand what they’re talking about.”

All of this creates huge opportunities, according to Blodget. “... people can discover your stories that weren’t actually looking for you, they were just looking for a story on a particular topic…” He credits Facebook, saying the social media site is helping them and “hopefully we are helping them too by providing cool stuff for people on Facebook to look at. They spend more time there, Facebook can make more money. Ultimately it’s this symbiosis of distribution and content that makes everything work.”

Ultimately, says Blodget, digital publishing is evolving just the same way that traditional media is evolving. But this evolution is so different that it is driving legacy media companies crazy because they don’t have the same “choke power” they used to have. Blodget explains: “It’s something new that you have to learn...you can’t just go out and buy it...Fortunately for us this has created the opportunity...we never would have been able to compete if it was all about billions of dollars that you can just pay somebody to put the content in front of people’s faces.”

He says Business Insider is continuing to evolve. “It’s growing very rapidly, we are now the largest business publication of any kind in the world, we have about 100 million readers globally. That includes nine international editions including one or two in a local language like BI Deutschland in German”.

As for revenue the main source is currently advertising, which is broken into several different kinds of advertising, from standard banners and buttons to big partnerships with major clients.

By exploring business development partnerships Business Insider now has a large variety of advertising models but subscriptions are also growing increasingly important. Blodget says this model reflects the evolution of traditional media. For example, most traditional media newspapers have both a subscription revenue stream and an advertising revenue stream. Likewise as digital publishing develops as a medium Business Insider is moving more towards two revenue streams.

Blodget firmly believes readers are prepared to pay for quality journalism. With this he means journalism that will help professional and business readers to do their job better. But to guarantee quality journalism journalists need to be paid properly. It’s one of the reasons he stands firmly against ad blockers and has started to ask Adblock users to unblock for Business Insider.

Not every user responds to this request kindly but advertising income is the way to compensate journalists for quality work. “If you don’t want to see ads that’s totally fine, but there are other sites that you can read. Or, in our case, we also launched a subscription version with no ads, which is great for people who don’t like adverts.”

Listen to the podcast here.

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