The Atlantic Plans To Use Acquisitions To Build Web Traffic

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imageA year after The Atlantic.com completed its print and digital makeover, the online news mag is considering some acquisitions to spur growth. I spoke with Justin Smith, president Atlantic Consumer Media, who said that there are no active deals in the works, but confirmed tips we’ve heard that David Bradley, the owner of the Atlantic Media Company, is planning to buy or invest in content sites that can complement TheAtlantic.com’s coverage.

“We’ve moved away from the general nature of commentary on the site and have been looking to do more breaking news, like the item we ran on Hillary Clinton’s campaign staff e-mails,” Smith told me. “And we’ve been able to prove that long-form journalism can work on the web, as long as you have a blockbuster piece. For example, Nicholas Carr’s cover story, Is Google Making Us Stupid?, from last July, got 1 million pageviews. More recently, a piece on the economic collapse, The Quiet Coup, got 1.5 million pageviews in just five days.” More after the jump.

Branching out verticals: When it comes to fitting in new sites, whether through acquisitions, partnerships or creating new verticals in-house, Smith said that the content will revolve around “individual voices.” The site recently expanded its food coverage into a vertical surrounding the writing of Atlantic Monthly epicurean Corby Kummer. It also launched two verticals this year: In January the site started its Politics channel around Marc Ambinder, and TheAtlantic.com just unveiled <a href="http://business.theatlantic.com/" title="The Atlantic

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WebQuant

This story could have used a little more editing when it comes to the Web traffic numbers. E.g.:

"For example, Nicholas Carr’s cover story, Is Google Making Us Stupid?, from last July, got 1 million pageviews." Page views during what period? Since last July? That's only 110,000 page views per month on average.

"More recently, a piece on the economic collapse, The Quiet Coup, got 1.5 million pageviews in just five days." This number is clear, but it implies that The Quite Coup did far, far better than Carr. Why? Also, The Quiet Coup is paginated on http://www.theatlantic.com into four pages. It could mean that as few as 375,000 visitors read the piece (if each visitor read all four pages).

"Citing internal traffic number from Omniture, TheAtlantic.com had an average of 500,000 uniques 18 months ago and since October, it has been tracking between around 4 million uniques, Smith said." What’s with that "between around"? Are the numbers been given as _monthly_ unique visitors? "Unique visitor" is not a meaningful term unless a time period is specified. Let’s assume that Smith is comparing monthly uniques from 18 months ago and today. The increase is 800%. That’s amazing growth if true – how much of that increase is due to the blogs the Atlantic launched in the period, and how much to re-purposed print content? The article uncritically accepts the claim that the traffic growth stems from "long-form journalism" primarily.

"Comscore’s numbers tell a different story: it finds that February traffic has declined roughly 50 percent year-over-year to 314,000 uniques." The sentence implies that the Comscore number deals with monthly uniques, although it would be better to say so explicitly. Assuming the metric is monthly uniques, the disparity between Omniture and Comscore is so massive — 13 to 1 — that one side or the other is purveying data that is deeply flawed. To help explain such a striking observation, the article should point out that Comscore and Omniture use two totally different methods of data collection, and each method has problems.

In short, for a story about web traffic, the presentation of the basic facts is imprecise and credulously conveyed.

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