Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Topix to lose one of its three daddies

The sale of Knight-Ridder to McLatchy will have a non-zero knock-on effect on the online world in at least one sense: KR was one of the three newspaper companies to buy 75% of McClatchy wants to break up the conglomerate and keep the small market rags, which presumably would mean that it wants to offload its quarter stake in Topix.

So, who wants to buy a piece of Topix? Rich Skrenta says in the comments to Susan Mernit that it doesn't matter, which is probably true. None of Topix's innovations since the buyout, like geovisualisation and photo tagging, have leveraged synergies from the tripartite equity partners. Perhaps if McClatchy does sell, it would be to a company which actually can provide a value-add for Topix. If not, Topix doesn't lose anything.

Topix has not made any major jumps in reach lately, especially compared to its competitors, as shown by this (salt-grain-compliant) Alexa comparison. Break it down to the last three months and you can see that Newsvine had a spike when it graduated out of beta but has a way to go to pass Topix, and might even be suffering a post-launch letdown. Newsvine has been the one getting the press - although strangely it got a lot more press during its beta and very little when it did actually launch - but Topix still has the solid numbers.

With sparse fanfare, Topix has quietly been building its forums into a formidable traffic juggernaut. While the general topic forums are much like any other forum on that subject, Topix's location-specific forums feature a sprinkling of citizen journalism on many local stories. Nevertheless, I have doubts about whether forums are really all that important from a business standpoint for ad-driven sites, because history has shown that regular forum users don't click on ads at all. The most lucrative readers to have for advertisers are those who jet in from a search engine, spend as little time on the site as possible, and then click on an ad to leave again. What we used to call "stickiness" only matters if your site has a transactional element, so unless those forum readers are ponying up the dough for forum accounts, or e-commerce is somehow involved somewhere, forums are at best a loss leader.

But at least Topix has a revenue source, which is more than can be said for some of the megahyped memetrackers. Is it just me, or are the memetrackers' reach figures looking a little stale?


Anonymous Rich Skrenta said...

We actually have multiple points of integration with Tribune, Gannett, and Knight Ridder. We're integrated into 177 of their newspaper sites, see Other integrations drive traffic from Topix to them.

Our daily unique IPs have risen 50% in the past two months, but the Alexa hasn't budged. Don't know what's up with that graph, but we're trusting it less and less.

I've seen the conventional wisdom about search pass-through hits supposedly having a higher value than repeat makes sense to me too but we have lots of data which is at odds with that theory though. In-bound news widget referrals for us have an ad eCPM twice that of inbound searchers, for instance.

And yeah, we do many money from our forum pageviews. A higher eCPM than most news sites get on their ROS inventory. It's more about targetting the ad and the user properly than the length of their session.

1:38 pm, March 15, 2006  

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