A site people we know would like to read

Neither of us have particularly good histories of working for other people, our prospects were grim, and so we decided that we would make the kind of site people we know would like to read,” Mr. Sicha said of Mr. Balk and himself. Strong voices and a literate sensibility made The Awl an attractive, sticky place.

This is from a NYT article about the Awl (http://www.theawl.com). Apparently they are making money and whenever this happens in media, especially online only, it warrants an article :-)

This tidbit early on re-teaches the lesson that we should already know. When it comes to building a successful online content business, you don’t necessarily need to focus on a specific niche. You just need to have a strong voice and a clear idea of who your readers are.

Chicagoans, does this sound familiar to you? It probably does if you ever read GapersBlock.com. There is no niche focus there either, but like The Awl, it has a strong voice and a certain editorial sensibility.

One of the things I learned at a recent conference for local news websites was just how important it really is to know your target readers. And in the online news world, a target reader is not “urban male 25-35.” No, no, no. You have to get much, much more specific. An imaginary reader now might be… “a woman in her early 20’s who lives in the city and loves politics, hates pop culture, is interested in fashion, but not in celebrities. She is passionate about education, but had no children of her own. She is single and career-minded, but is looking for someone special.” And one could even get a lot more specific than this. What kinds of shows does this person watch on TV? What movies and music do they like? What segment of the left or the right do they call home politically? As you can see, this can be nearly never-ending.

The founders of The Awl obviously knew their readership intimately, instinctively and they were able to serve them extremely well. Of course a large readership is not necessarily followed by a large profit. But it’s a darn good start.


  1. Robin Phillips October 25, 2010

    No niche, strong voice, eclectic mix of stories…. is it a zine or journalism’s answer to a literary magazine?
    Nice post.

  2. Anna Tarkov October 25, 2010

    A “zine” is a good way of describing it actually. And as many as we have in print and online, I think there is a lot of room for new entrants. Just today I was driving along thinking that as a woman, I don’t feel there is a perfect magazine (or website) for me. Perhaps I’ll start one :)

  3. Robin Phillips October 25, 2010

    I’ll subscribe. :=)

  4. Anna Tarkov October 25, 2010

    As in, pay money? :) That’s a delicate proposition online…

  5. Robin Phillips October 25, 2010

    Well, subscribe = follow = put in my reader. We’ll have to chat about that cash-exchange idea.

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