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Jan. 18, 2018, 12:58 p.m.
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LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Christine Schmidt   |   January 18, 2018

Seven topic streams, 11 newsletters, zero $10,000 subscriptions, 27 seconds on average to read a “Smart Brevity”-style article, more than 90 employees, and 365 days: Axios is officially one year old. Has it become, as its name’s Greek origins suggest, worthy?

When Axios cofounder Jim VandeHei spoke with my colleague Shan Wang before the organization’s launch last January, he described the initiative as a “rolling R&D lab” helping serious news readers — which he pegged as 15 to 20 percent of the adult population — efficiently consume news and information.

WANG: Where will Axios be by January 2018? What else will have launched? What else is in place?

VANDEHEI: I’m always hesitant to predict anything. But I can tell you we hope that Axios is seen as an innovative and respected source of news and information and that we’ve built a successful new way for advertisers to reach a very interested audience. And that we’ve by then launched our subscription side business. If we can achieve that by January 2018, I would consider that success.

The high-end subscriptions still have not yet materialized, though VandeHei insists they will, perhaps by the end of Axios’s second year. The addition of subscriptions for exclusive, need-to-know industry content drove the dollars for VandeHei’s previous creation of Politico, which he and political reporter Mike Allen grew for ten years before leaving to launch Axios. But in addition to building the Axios brand, the organization has made serious progress in solidifying a Twitter-esque format for a news site besides standard “articles on the Internet”, in its streams of topical content. Laura Hazard Owen described the differences as shown in Axios’s inaugural interview with then-President-elect Donald Trump.

But the interview isn’t presented as an hour-long video, or a 3,000-word transcript. Instead, there are multiple posts about it, the longest of which is 643 words. Another piece from the interview, about healthcare, consists mainly of one big quote. A third post, “The toplines from Trump’s Axios interview,” is 431 words and consists of three “big picture” bullet points followed by a list of 16 brief items. There’s even a post on “What Trump didn’t say.”

Allen, who brought the email newsletter to a new level with his Politico Playbook, has led the company’s newsletter offerings with his twice-daily Axios AM and PM emails. Their reporters have broken some stories, such as Trump telling confidants the U.S. would be leaving the Paris climate deal.

Axios hasn’t tried to limit itself to VIPs only. VandeHei wrote in his year one summary that “we can create an amazing news ecosystem, open to all.” Late in 2017 the team launched a referral campaign similar to what THe Skimm proved with its Skimmbassadors, where people who convince friends, family, etc. to sign up receive varying amounts of swag. (Top prize, if you get 250 referrals, is being flown to Axios headquarters for a lunch with an editor of your choice, plus swag. No word from Axios’s PR yet on its success.)

For its second year, VandeHei said that the company will be building out an unpaid contributor network of 200 experts worldwide. But it won’t be in the style of HuffPost (may its contributor blogging network rest in peace), he told Digiday: “As a news organization you can’t afford to have boots on the ground in all these countries. But all these people are vetted, and heavily edited. This is not at all like what HuffPost or Forbes did. It’s not about opinion. We’re not looking for scale. It’s about who can get the best possible information, distilled smartly.” Axios has designed software it’s calling EVE (Expert Voices Editor) for the contributors to write in the organization’s news and “why this matters” style.

Axios will also focus on developing video in the “smart brevity” style. It tripled the size of their video team over the summer, though today its About page only lists three people in video. But the company wasn’t caught up in the “pivot to video” publisher craze, VandeHei said. “You should never build a business on someone else’s benevolence. We’re not at all Facebook-dependent. Twenty percent of our traffic is direct; 20 percent is Google; we get a lot from Flipboard. We do well with Facebook. Some Reddit.” He also hinted at launching an Axios app later this year.

So has Axios proved itself worthy? As VandeHei told Nieman Lab last year:

“The fundamental challenge is with more good information than ever before shooting at you from a thousand different directions, what you need is true expertise to help you navigate and narrate what matters most in those areas.”

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