Vox Media, parent company of popular websites The Verge and SB Nation, is growing quickly. It recently announced the launch of a new website, Vox.com, led by prominent reporter Ezra Klein, and it’s starting to beef up Curbed Network, an acquisition Vox Media made last November.
Curbed site Eater.com is a local restaurant guide that’s now branching out into full-on restaurant reviews site. Eater has hired former Bloomberg writer Ryan Sutton to be its New York food critic. The Village Voice’s Robert Sietsema is also joining Eater as an ethnic food critic in New York. In addition, Atlanta Magazine’s Bill Addison is joining Eater as a Restaurant Editor, flying around the country to review the best places to dine. Eater generates about 2 million of Vox Media’s 45 million monthly uniques, according to ComScore.
We caught up with Jim Bankoff, CEO and Chairman of Vox Media, about his company and the digital industry industry.
Below is the lightly edited Q&A with Bankoff.
Business Insider: You were an AOL executive who co-founded entertainment site TMZ. Now you run Vox, which has completely different, more serious content than the gossip site. Why the 180 in your career?
Jim Bankoff: It’s important to note that TMZ was a joint venture between AOL and Time Warner Telepictures. The other thing to be clear about is that it was really Harvey Levin who ran the editorial direction and who made TMZ what it was and what it still does to this day.
While sure, the Vox properties don’t do anything remotely close to what TMZ does, what we have in common is we believed (when I joined Vox) that publishing was changing. It was becoming more social. It was becoming more real-time, personality and voice-driven. TMZ is certainly all of those things.
Business Insider: Vox sites don’t do slideshows, listicles, or punchy headlines. How does that affect traffic? How much social traffic does Vox Media get?
JB: We get a lot of social referral traffic. Like most publishers, it’s a high-growth part of what we’re doing. We think it’s great. A saying around here is “substance is viral.” People are sharing our stuff on Facebook and LinkedIn. We really pride ourselves on being able to convert that social traffic over time.
What we don’t try to do is game the algorithm. We didn’t do that in search and we don’t do that in social. Having said that, word of mouth or social media is critical. It’s an important part of being relevant. We believe whole-heartedly in not gaming it or dumbing our content down. Ultimately, we think Facebook and Twitter as platforms don’t believe in that either. Success will be found by companies creating the best stuff, not those who are doing something artificial to change that.
Business Insider: What’s Vox Media’s traffic like?
JB: Traffic is booming across all of our verticals. In 2013 we were the fastest-growing publisher across the ComScore 100.
*ComScore numbers show SB Nation’s traffic was at an all-time high in January 2014 with 30 million monthly uniques. Curbed.com’s traffic also increased from December to January. The Verge’s traffic dipped from 10 million uniques in December to 8 million uniques in January; other Vox properties fell during those months as well. But over the course of the year, all of Vox’s media is trending up nicely.
BI: Vox Media has raised $US61.1 million. That’s more than Business Insider ($30.6 million), Gawker (bootstrapped), and BuzzFeed ($46.3 million). Does that ever worry you and is it necessary?
JB: We think the biggest media companies of this generation are being built right now. Every generation has its own set of brands on mediums that are built specifically for them: magazine brands, TV brands, and now Interactive brands. We’re building them across several consumer verticals. We want to make sure we take full-advantage of that opportunity. We’re not the only ones who want to build the biggest media site for this generation.
One could argue there hasn’t been enough investment in creating this opportunity across the industry. We’re happy to be one that’s pursuing they industry aggressively.