Many digital media businesses chase readers on the largest scale possible, all the better to attract advertisers that want to spread their messages widely. But big reach comes at a cost -- in quality, in resources -- that isn't always justified by the ad rates online.
Unfortunately the niche game isn't much easier, just as rife with competition and demands on limited resources. So it's good news for smaller publishers that Quartz, the Atlantic Media brand primarily dedicated to covering the global economy, seems to be on the cusp of making it work, at least according to a person familiar with the business.
Quartz is on pace to bring in more than $30 million in revenue this year, having already booked $25 million, the person said. It is selling high-polish display ads for a CPM, or cost per thousand impressions, above $60 range, as well as content marketing services and sponsorships of editorial products, according to the person, who was not authorized to discuss the brand's finances.
Last year Quartz's revenue was $18.6 million, up from $10 million in 2014 and $3.8 million in 2013, its first full year in existence, the person said.
Asked whether Quartz was turning a profit, however, the person declined to comment.
Quartz has never run the standardized display ads encouraged by the Interactive Advertising Bureau as a way of simplifying online ad buys. Unlike many other publishers, it does not make money by embedding article-recommendation widgets powered by services like Taboola and Outbrain. More than 50% of Quartz's ad deals have a content marketing component, according to the person.
The brand regularly releases new editorial and technological products, usually sponsored by a well-known advertiser. This week, for example, the company introduced The Quartz Index, "a collection of metrics that show how the global economy is fundamentally changing." Quartz Index is sponsored by IShares by BlackRock; GE served as launch sponsor for chart platform Atlas, while Mini did the same for Quartz's iPhone app.
In December, the Financial Times reported that Quartz "held talks with a number of potential buyers" about either buying or investing in the publication. Quartz did not deny the report at the time.
But there are no sale talks going on now, the person familiar with Quartz said.
Quartz has a large staff -- about 175 people, globally, a Quartz representative confirmed to Ad Age. With such a sizable team, media observers might wonder why Quartz's website brought in only 9.17 million U.S. multiplatform unique visitors in May, according to ComScore. Digital-native, business-focused competitors like Business Insider (44.04 million) and CNBC.com (26.37 million) fared far better for the month.
For comparison's sake, Business Insider brought in about $43 million in revenue in 2015, according to parent company Axel Springer's annual report.
But, while traffic is often used as a shorthand for success, Quartz has made a bet that the quality of its audience is more important than the sheer size of it. And, if it decides to reverse course, the company can point to the fact that May's traffic number represented a 96% year-over-year increase.