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“Publishers are going to live or die based on their relationship with readers”: How Quartz is rethinking its membership offerings
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Aug. 21, 2009, 8 a.m.

Why did Newser’s traffic fall off a cliff?

Michael Wolff, whose two-year-old site, Newser, is frequently cited as a model for the future of journalism, titled a typically provocative blog post yesterday, “I’m Proud to Kill the News.” He made the usual case that news aggregators understand the web better than newspaper websites. Readers, he said, “come to Newser, rather than the New York Times, probably because they want what we are offering: short articles from many more sources.”

Which is fair enough, except that very few people are coming to Wolff’s site these days. As you can see in the chart above, Newser’s traffic has tumbled since peaking at 1.6 million people in May. It now stands at 546,000 monthly visitors, according to Quantcast, well behind other news aggregators with which it’s frequently lumped, including: The Huffington Post (13.2 million), Topix (9.3 million), and Mahalo (8.2 million).

Emailing on Tuesday from London, where he was on assignment, Wolff told me the “traffic falloff reflects our replacement of several distribution deals,” which he described as “primarily traffic exchanges.” I haven’t been able to get further details, but Compete shows that Newser’s leading source of referral traffic after Google is Optimax Media Delivery, which is an ad server. Wolff assured me: “We’ll be back up to normal levels within [the] next two weeks or so.”

Now, I wouldn’t normally highlight this, but I think it helps to demonstrate that not all traffic is created equal (just as “not all links are created equal“). Even when Newser was doing just average, two thirds of its readership was apparently the product of syndication deals. Similarly, while Politics Daily has been praised for amassing a huge audience in its first few months, the majority of that traffic comes from the site’s corporate parent, AOL.

And there’s nothing wrong with those arrangements, but they’re a far cry from loyal readership. When the firehose is shut off, the traffic disappears.

POSTED     Aug. 21, 2009, 8 a.m.
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