When Business Insider founder Henry Blodget opened up about his website’s traffic and business model a few months ago, we noted that he didn’t reveal the most important thing about it — namely, whether it was profitable. And now we know why: a profile of the former Wall Street analyst by New Yorker writer Ken Auletta says the site lost $3 million in 2012, or about a quarter of the revenue it pulled in, most of which came from online advertising. So if there is a recipe for how to create a profitable online publisher, Blodget doesn’t seem to have discovered it yet.
Update: The Business Insider founder said on Twitter that the site turned a small profit in the first quarter, although he wouldn’t say how much.
Much of what Blodget says about his business to the New Yorker also appeared in the slide presentation he published as part of his experiment in “opening the kimono,” as he described it. The site has about 24 million unique monthly visitors, according to Google Analytics, which puts it ahead of traditional outlets like the Financial Times and BusinessWeek — although comScore says it only has 9 million (Blodget says the discrepancy stems from BI’s large non-U.S. audience).
On Twitter, Blodget called the $3 million worth of red ink that Business Insider racked up in 2012 an “investment” rather than a loss. According to the New Yorker piece, the site has only spent about half of the $13 million it has raised in financing, which came from investors like Kevin Ryan (Business Insider’s chairman and co-founder of the Gilt Groupe) as well as IVP and Marc Andreessen. Ryan tells Auletta that for $7 million “we’ve created the new Wall Street Journal.”
Although Blodget mentioned in his recent presentation that programmatic ad buying and other forces are putting increasing pressure on advertising returns for publishers, the New Yorker piece says about 85 percent of Business Insider’s revenue still comes from ads, with the rest coming from conferences and its proprietary research arm. The site has also been experimenting with various forms of “sponsored content,” including sponsor-focused slideshows.
Blodget describes the site’s approach — which focuses primarily on short, newsy pieces that often feature salacious details about and/or slideshows of celebrities — as being “halfway between broadcast and print,” and tells Auletta that it is designed to be “conversational.” He also argues that the model of aggregating content from other sites is sharing rather than stealing, although others have disagreed about that interpretation rather strongly.
And what does the future hold for Business Insider? An unidentified board member tells Auletta that he expects the site to be acquired, and Blodget says it “either will become part of a larger enterprise or become the larger enterprise.”
Bonus fact: Blodget, who played tennis while at the upscale Phillips Exeter Academy, plays doubles with his father — a successful banker — and the two were recently ranked nationally in the Super-Senior Father/Son Tournament.
Post and thumbnail image courtesy of Flickr user TechCrunch