DirectoryM, an online directory publisher that had raised more than $20 million in funding but was later sold back to its employees at a big loss for its backers, is officially trying once again with a new name and revised business model. The company, now called nSphere, is generating local guides which it is syndicating to more than 700 online brands, including JDPower and Hachette Filipacchi’s Car And Driver. The guides — which nSphere automatically generates by pulling information from various private and public databases — include aggregated articles on specific local topics, like “Seattle boats” or “Seattle travel,” along with related local event listings and ads.
Some of the pages are of poor quality. For instance, the nSphere-syndicated page on the JDPower website about autos in New York City (see it here) repeats the same listing for a local car show five times and features a very-odd mish-mash of articles on classes of vehicles, which don’t appear to have clear local tie-ins.
But in an interview with paidContent, CEO Panos Bethanis said that the quality of the pages will improve as the company adds more data sources. He also pointed us to these nSphere-made guides on PetPlace.com and these on RV enthusiast site Woodall’s, which he said were of higher quality. Bethanis also noted that the quality of the pages is high enough that a significant percentage of visitors are choosing to share them on social networking sites.
The pages are also getting lots of traffic, primarily through the sites of its syndication partners; Bethanis says they are getting 20 million unique visitors monthly, along with 25 million page views. The revenue model depends on the partner, but Bethanis says ad revenue, which comes from Google’s AdSense as well as through a self-serve ad platform, is typically split. The company is profitable and is generating in the “double-digit millions” in revenue, he says.
As DirectoryM, the company’s pages were primarily straightforward listings from paying advertisers. Bethanis says that iteration failed because it was too capital intensive since it involved having a local ad sales force. Bethanis and other employees bought the company back for $4.5 million four years ago and have been working on rebuilding it since.
Two-and-a-half years ago, MediaPost outlined the new strategy in this piece, but the company has been mostly silent since, while it was refining it.