Salon.com editor-in-chief Kerry Lauerman posted good news for readers of the progressive online news magazine Tuesday, announcing that it has hit record highs in web traffic over the past few months.
Poor finances have plagued the San Francisco-based e-zine for years, but it reached a monthly audience of more than 7 million unique visitors in December and January according to internal metrics. Outside sites place the number lower.
Lauerman finds this noteworthy not just for the number, but because his staff has accomplished it while producing fewer stories.
“33 percent fewer posts; 40 percent greater traffic,” as he put it.
Lauerman told TheWrap that the site was drawing in the range of 5 to 5.5 million uniques through August, when "we ditched a lot of our aggregation and rethought our pace." As of the Salon Meda Group's September earnings report, the site claimed an average of 5.7 million monthly unique visitors.
In his post, Lauerman credited the site's aforementioned ditching of aggregation for the growth of its audience.
“We've tried to work longer on stories for greater impact, and publish fewer quick-takes that we know you can consume elsewhere,” Lauermen wrote.
“It sounds simple, maybe obvious, but: We've gone back to our primary mission and have been focusing on originality.”
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While the traffic numbers and the focus on originality are bound to draw praise, there is one paragraph – buried near the bottom – that is cause for concern.
On the “business side of things,” Lauerman wrote that CEO David Talbot and others are “still…trying to figure that out.”
That suggests that the traffic boost has not corresponded to a commensurate increase in advertising rates, and thus revenue is still below where it needs to be.
Lauerman directed TheWrap to the company's earnings reports — Salon is a public company — rather than addressing the subject further.
According to its most recent filing, dated to the period ending September 30, 2011, the site was still operating at a loss and advertising revenues had continued to decline.
Net revenues were down 31 percent in that quarter, totaling $0.9 million — as opposed to $1.4 million in the same period of 2010. Advertising was the main culprit since revenues from that part of the business dropped 36 percent.
Talbot stepped back into CEO duties for the third time last July hoping to steer Salon toward more solid economic footing. Richard Gingras, who has been serving as the Salon Media Group's chief executive, had left for a job at Google.
At the time, Lauerman told TheWrap that the company was on a “great trajectory” with regard to traffic. He argued that as long as costs remained low and the traffic continued to grow, Salon would thrive.
The traffic has continued to grow, but whether the revenue follows is, no pun intended, the money question.