Ad-supported Digital Native Publishers Grew Dramatically in 2013, Driven by Niche Content

Vox Media recently announced a plan to launch a new unnamed site, with Ezra Klein from The Washington Post as chief editor and Matthew Yglesias from Slate as a founding contributor. This event follows the recent re-launch of AllThingsD as Re/code as well as what seems like a flurry of activity from publishers that have recently risen to prominence. Is there an audience for another ad-supported digital publisher of first-party content? Our data suggests there is. The share of ad-supported digital publishers comprising the top 250 Quantified sites, or sites directly measured by Quantcast, grew 68% from 2009 to 2013. Not only are there significantly more ad-supported digital publishers today, they’ve grown their audiences nearly 50 percentage points faster than the remainder of the top 250 sites. In this report, we examine the dramatic rise of ad-supported digital publishers.

2013: The year of digital native publishers

The incredible success of ad-supported digital publishers in the past few years has been well reported, from BuzzFeed to Upworthy to Gawker Media. However, in the past year, the trend has intensified, with seemingly more interesting new publishers emerging every month. To understand the data behind this trend, we examined the top 250 Quantified sites from 2009 to 2013 and identified ad-supported digital native sites that primarily publish first-party content, which excluded both pure content aggregators and the digital presences of offline media properties.


We found that while these sites comprised less than a quarter of the top 250 Quantified sites from 2009 to 2011, they grew dramatically to 38% of the top 250 sites in 2013. The average audience for these sites grew significantly as well, increasing 96% over the same time period, compared to a 46% increase for other sites in the top 250. In four years, ad-supported digital native publishers have swelled in number and audience reach.

Growth by category: Niche content finds a large audience

To learn what types of content are driving this growth of ad-supported digital publishers, we first examined their categories.

News was the largest category, including sites dedicated to general news, local news and opinion. Entertainment was the next largest, including sites covering celebrity culture and gossip and those with reviews of television shows, movies, music and games. The remaining large category was Lifestyle, which includes sites focused on food, home, health and men’s and women’s interests.

Next we identified the categories of the ad-supported publishers with the most significant growth from 2009 to 2013.

Entertainment, Lifestyle and News categories grew the most in number of sites, and Sports grew the most in percentage. The number of Entertainment sites grew 75%, led by general entertainment and gossip sites. Notably new in the category since 2009 are sites covering African-American culture, such as Bossip and Global Grind. The number of top Lifestyle sites grew 90%, driven by the addition of women’s interest sites such as Jezebel and health sites such as MindBodyGreen. The largest category, News, saw large growth in general news sites and the addition of sites focused on niche political content. Notable in the Sports category, Rant Sports reinforces the theme of more specialized content—in this case, for specific sports and teams.

The takeaway: digital publishing is healthy—and growing

The digital publishing landscape has evolved rapidly since 2009. Today Facebook and Pinterest are huge sources of traffic, and on the advertising side more dollars are being directed to digital via native ads and performance display. Are these linked to what we observe in the increased success of more specialized content publishers? Whatever the cause, it is clear that more ad-supported content publishers are reaching larger audiences, and by that measure, digital publishing has never been so healthy. We look forward to seeing the trend continue.

Posted by Art Prateepvanich, Head of Product Marketing, Publisher Solutions and Samuel Lo, Data Anthropologist