Commentary

Online News Publisher 'Quartz' Becomes Profitable

After several years of optimism fueled by fast growth and big investments from legacy media companies, the past few months has been hard on pure-play digital publishers: closings, layoffs and “strategic repositioning.”

But it’s not all bad news. Some of the new generation of online publishers are reaching that rarest of milestones – profitability.

On that note, after four years in operation, online business news publisher Quartz has joined the elite club of companies that are actually making money, according to an internal memo from editor-in-chief Kevin Delaney and co-president and publisher Jay Lauf.

Launched by Atlantic Media as a free, ad-supported publisher in 2012, Quartz’s core editorial products include its Web site, qz.com, which attracts around 20 million unique visitors per month, and a popular app, the Daily Brief, as well as a number of regional pubs serving India and Africa.

Last year, the company added new products, including Atlas, a chart-sharing platform, La Agenda, a Spanish-language pub, and Quartzy, a weekly lifestyle guide for its well-heeled readers.

In November, Quartz announced it is creating a new studio to experiment with the use of bots and artificial intelligence technology in journalism, funded in part by a $240,000 investment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

On the advertising side, it has specialized in creative display ads, content marketing, and brand sponsorships of its various editorial products, driving a 60% increase in revenue from 2015 to 2016 (the memo didn’t share dollar figures).

Quartz’s announcement of profitability is good news; as noted, online publishers haven't registered much uptick recently. Many continue to struggle to find a viable digital ad model in a world dominated by a few huge platforms.

The setbacks include a broad round of layoffs, with Mashable cutting 30 staffers in April, Fusion cutting 250 and The Huffington Post had 38 in November, and Woven Digital lost 20 in October. Mode Media, which pioneered the audience extension model, closed in September, and BuzzFeed separated its news and entertainment divisions after lowering revenue projections for 2016.

This year, publishing platform Medium axed its Promoted Stories product and laid off 50 staffers in January of this year.

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