As first noted by media pundit and journalism professor Jeff Jarvis, it seems that just as classifieds once provided the baseline revenue for print newspapers, cat memes are now providing the eyeballs funding modern news sites.
Printed classified ads of course have since been disintermediated by Craigslist, Gumtree, Realestate.com.au and Carsales. Research indicates that Cragislist alone cost newspapers in the US $5.4 Billion from 2000-2007. This, combined with broader changes in the digital advertising landscape have been linked to increased newspaper subscription prices, decreased display advertising rates and required changes in how newspapers have executed their digital strategies.
The latest estimates suggest that Buzzfeed currently has around 150 million unique visitors per month and is tracking towards $120 Million in annual revenue. Buzzfeed derives three quarters of their traffic from social sites (which requires lots of fresh content to stay at the top of news feeds). They have approximately 200 editorial staff publishing 400 articles per day. Whilst they are well known for their cat memes and 'Top x' articles, they also generate meaningful longform content such as www.buzzfeed.com/bigstories.
So previously, the listing for your garage sale or used car funded investigative journalism and now the advertising revenue from cat memes and native advertising is funding the creation of quality articles.
This trend towards popular content supporting more meaningful work isn't unique to Buzzfeed as highlighted by The Chaser team on their Media Circus program with consumer insights on the most read articles on news.com.au. See their take on it below:
So is this a new funding model that we should all accept for quality content to be created or is it a sign of the continued decline in quality journalism?
Time will tell...