Politico’s Dirty Little Secret

Several million people will read the website Politico next month. Yet only a tiny fraction of these folks will actually pick up a hard copy of the publication, which circulates for free throughout the Washington D.C. area. Here’s why I note this. According to a case study by CSJ, Politico’s newspaper accounts for nearly two-thirds of the publication’s revenue. The circulation number cited in the study is something like 27,000. I wonder where or what shape Politico might be in if it didn’t have its print component. On the one hand, it’s essential to the site’s business model (a model that’s still operating largely in the red). On the other hand, it remains a secondary consideration for John Harris and Jim VandeHei, who dreamed up Politico only four years ago. They envisioned a publication exclusively on the web. They were reluctant to accept a print side to Politico, even at their financial backer’s urging. Eventually, they gave in. And, if we look at the streams of revenue, probably for the better. It leaves me scratching my head. How essential is print to our online ecosystem? And to what extent does print revenue still propel the news gathering and content that becomes the source for online consumption?