Spanfeller: ‘Web advertising works’

Former Forbes.com CEO Jim Spanfeller believes the page view-driven, ad-supported model that helped build Forbes.com into a digital powerhouse for financial news will work in other vertical markets, beginning with the food sector.

Spanfeller’s media startup, Spanfeller Media Group, announced yesterday that it has secured funding for its first topic-specific website, covering “all things food.” The site is scheduled to launch in October; the company will announce the site’s name and editorial director next month.

In a phone interview, Spanfeller described a business model built around great content that attracts lots of eyeballs, which can be monetized through advertisers. It’s the same model that Forbes applied to rapidly grow its digital business over the past decade; Forbes’ digital properties were pulling in around 18-20 million unique visitors a month when Spanfeller left in mid-2009.

Spanfeller believes there’s still plenty of life in the ad-supported online model.

“The bottom line is, Web advertising works,” he said. “We can better define how it works and continue to push the boundaries to make it work better. But I don’t think it’s radically different than the way it’s been through the ages. First you have to generate attention and audience. That’s why advertisers will come to you.”

The food sector, he said, offers an opportunity to go “deep and wide” with coverage of everything from recipes and cooking tips to restaurants, entertaining, and food-related travel.

The site will offer a mix of original content, aggregated content, curated content, consumer content, and plenty of multimedia.

Spanfeller said paid content may be an option for specific, “high-value” content. “It won’t be a huge part of the revenue mix, but there’s an opportunity for it in all of our verticals,” he said.

The bulk of the revenue model, however, is being built around advertising. Because the food sector is more brand-centric than direct response-oriented, the new site will give brands “a more elegant solution for advertising, rather than spank-the-monkey-type ads,” he said.

Spanfeller did not specify other what verticals his company is considering, though he did note five areas that they will likely avoid: News, finance, spectator sports, entertainment and technology. “These are not impossible, but they’re harder to go into,” he said. “We’re a fledgling startup, so we want to go where it’s easier, not harder.”

The initial focus is on consumer topics, though he did not rule out B2B verticals down the road.

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