The Slate Group, The Washington Post (NYSE: WPO) Co.’s online-only unit house Slate.com, The Root.com, and ForeignPolicy.com, says that combined ad revenue from all those sites gained 33 last year. In an interview with paidContent, John Alderman, The Slate Group’s GM and the flagship site’s publisher, and Jacob Weisberg, Chairman of The Slate Group, pointed to a better mix of commenting and social media, more video and a broadening out of verticals from the core politics stories as the reasons behind their success.
Of course, Slate’s revenue growth also came amid an advertising recovery that lifted most digital media sites in 2010. Earlier this year, by way of comparison, Slate’s rival in high brow culture and sophisticated news coverage, The Atlantic, claimed its first profit “in decades” as ad revenues rose 37 percent, with online up an impressive 70 percent last year.
“A number of sites that posted high numbers for 2010 were ones that had a particularly tough 2009 due to the recession,” Weisberg said. “But we were positive in ’09 and we’re coming off a very good year.”
Slate’s ad growth has appeared to mirror the increased numbers of comments on its stories. “The amount of comments has doubled in the past year, ” Weisberg said. The not-so-secret key to its success was relying on Facebook and other social media sites to encourage less anonymity and more respectable, thoughtful exchanges.” All of which helped to spur more ad spending. And as Facebook rolls out its newer commenting plug-ins available for most media sites big and small, Slate will have a pretty good chance to try to repeat its good fortune with both readers and advertisers.
“Advertisers have gravitated toward the social aspects of the site because past fears of doing so have dissipated,” Alderman said. “The ease of going by people’s real names and addresses makes people act in a more publicly responsible way and the advertisers have loved it.”
The social element has been most important in consolidating Slate’s business, technology and women’s sites. “When Slate started 15 years ago, there were very few female visitors, but that has changed as well.”
Commenting is considered so crucial to Slate’s current identity, there will be new commenting features on the revamped site, as well as its mobile and tablet version will come with a range of sharing options.
Right now, with online video the fastest-growing as aspect of online display ads, Slate’s three-year-old Video channel will also get some work done as part of the revamp, most of which will be technical in nature, not so cosmetic.
Despite the positive numbers all around for the last two years, the is past summer, The Slate Group decided to discontinue business blog The Big Money. A few months before that, it had shuttered its female-focused site, DoubleX. Both properties were quickly placed within the flagship site. “The inclusion of those two properties [in Slate.com] has allowed both to reach a larger audience and has rounded out the site’s personality,” Weisberg said.
So far, acquisitions plans or the use of e-commmerce are distant thoughts, Weisberg and Alderman said. But you never know. “We’re always open to possibilities on either front,” Alderman said. “But we’re going to concentrate on the site redesign right now and then see what happens.”