The rise of profitable, niche news sites

AdAge profiles The Toast, a “ladyblog” that became profitable within three months after launching. While news sites with large financial backing — FiveThirtyEight, Vox, First Look Media — have been receiving all the media attention lately, there have been a number of bootstrapped, independently-run news sites that have sprung up and quickly turned a profit (Gawker was an early example. The Bleacher Report another. The Awl a third). With display advertising rates tumbling, it makes sense that sites launching without the top-heavy, institutional baggage of traditional news publications are able to thrive. They have much lower overhead and so any revenue can flow pretty much directly to the writers and publishers.

[The Toast publisher Nick Pavich] last year began using vertical ad networks including LitBreaker, BookRiot and Blogads, and employed native advertising. He also brought in digital library Jstor, Warby Parker and several iPhone apps. More than 50 percent of the site’s revenue comes from display ads.

The Toast gets about 2 million clicks per month and a consistent monthly bump of about 150,000, per Quantcast. Traffic-wise, it lags a number of competitors, including Bustle andxoJane. But according to Pavich, the site performs well in metrics such as pages per visit (2.9), time spent on the site (3:14) and unique visitors (16,367).

The site’s unique positioning may be its key to long-term success.

“They have a better chance of success as a niche blog than if they were all things to all women—otherwise, there would be a lot of competition,” says Jim Lin, vp at Ketchum Digital.