Why BusinessWeek shouldn’t ape Time.com

By Felix Salmon
November 23, 2009
Ryan Chittum writes about "his eye-popping numbers at Time.com", with pageviews rising from 400 million in 2006 to an estimated 1.8 billion this year, while Marion Maneker says that "he had tremendous success in building Time.com’s Web traffic over a few years".

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Why was Josh Tyrangiel hired to be the new editor of BusinessWeek? One reason, the pundits agree, is that he successfully dragged Time — another weekly — onto the web. Ryan Chittum writes about “his eye-popping numbers at Time.com”, with pageviews rising from 400 million in 2006 to an estimated 1.8 billion this year, while Marion Maneker says that “he had tremendous success in building Time.com’s Web traffic over a few years”.

I’m an admirer of Tyrangiel too. But it would be depressing if Bloomberg’s brass hired him on the basis of his pageviews, because Time.com is an object lesson in how not to boost traffic. Reading Time.com is an exercise in frustration: the stories there are hugely painful to read. Barely-relevant links to other stories interrupt the flow on a regular basis; slideshows are everywhere; and in general it’s almost impossible to get through a whole story without being forced to visit multiple pages in doing so. Revealingly, no one’s talked much about Time.com’s uniques over the past few years, just its pageviews.

The last thing that Bloomberg should ever want to do with BusinessWeek.com is use such tactics. It might make sense for Time.com to operate in the CPM-driven junk-mail paradigm, where revenues rise with pageviews and therefore you maximize the latter to maximize the former. But BusinessWeek’s high-end readers won’t and shouldn’t put up with such shenanigans.

Tyrangiel’s job at BusinessWeek.com will be to build strong bonds with the readership — to make them loyal readers and to constantly exceed their expectations of what a website can deliver. That will help give Bloomberg the prestige and glory it wants from its consumer-media operations, and will also allow Bloomberg’s business-side staffers to position themselves happily at the high end of the market, selling relationships with readers rather than simply eyeballs-by-the-million. If BusinessWeek.com becomes half as annoying to read as Time.com is today, it will have failed, and Bloomberg is going to have to be careful to make sure that Tyrangiel undrinks the pageview Kool-Aid he quaffed so gluttonously at Time.

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I read 21 national business news homepages for my blog about business journalism every weekday, the big nationals, ones you would expect. The one I have the most trouble deciphering is Reuters’.

Time lays out all of its business stories in one place where it is easy to find them and tell which ones are new. Reuters makes this a mess. Finding Matt Goldstein can take multiple clicks (although you are usually buttoned on top). There are days I only look at the top story because it’s the only one I can tell is new.

My cross-eyed list of most helpful homepages is:

1) The New York Times Business Section
2) The Wall Street Journal “In Today’s Paper”
3) Bloomberg News “Exclusives” section
4) Fortune.com homepage
5) Portfolio.com homepage (the one thing they did right)
6) NPR Marketplace homepage
7) Time.com business/tech homepage
8) Newsweek.com business/tech homepage

The ones that annoy me because it’s hard to figure out what’s new and featured…

1) Forbes.com (do any actual journalists contribute?)
2) Reuters.com (so much content, so hard to find)
3) BusinessWeek.com (so much content, so hard to find)
4) CNBC (a little busy and the highlighted stories are mostly not highlights)
5) CNN/Money for making it so hard to find Paul LaMonica.