Would Vox/TheVerge really go analog?

Vox Media – the company behind SB Nation and TheVerge – has been one of the fastest-growing new digital-only properties of the last few years.

Back when it was just SB Nation, Vox fueled growth by rolling up local blogger talent (like the hilarious Jeff Sullivan of Lookout Landing), creating a community-driven network of popular sports blogs across every major league sport imaginable.

Later, the company adopted a strategy of hiring national talent with large followings, first with Rob Neyer from ESPN and later Joshua Topolsky of Engadget fame. Topolsky brought a bunch of tech-blog talent along and launched TheVerge, a fast-comer in tech media which has shot up the Techmeme and traffic rankings over the past year.

Most recently, Vox is following the same exact formula as it did with TheVerge in launching a video game site, cherry-picking game blog talent from Joystiq and Kotaku for Polygon.

All this has resulted in some of the fastest growth in a digital-media publisher this side of Buzzfeed, which why I was intrigued when I read Jim Romenesko’s post that Topolsky and TheVerge were considering a dead-tree media edition.

According to Romenesko, here is what Topolsky said:

Could we do a monthly that’s a round-up of our features for the month that’s published as an iPad magazine or even as a physical magazine? Those are all things I think would be completely reasonable and possible and we’ve talked about and thought about. …We’ve talked about doing a quarterly or a monthly. I would love to do that.

While I still like a little physical media, like many of my generation (Gen-X) I’ve started to reduce the fiber in my reading diet. Whether its e-books, news or magazine content, most times I’m reading through a browser or digital magazine app like Flipboard nowadays.

And judging by declining numbers for most magazine publications, I’m clearly not alone.

So what possible reason would a forward-leaning digital publisher like Vox/TheVerge possibly want to get into the physical media business? Here are  few quick thoughts:

Prestige – I think one of the things that digital first pubs suffer from slightly – and I mean slightly – is that they don’t have a tangible, physical deliverable. There is still, for many readers, something to a physical edition of a book or magazine that gives it a bit more prestige.

A hipster vinyl equivalent – Like I said, TheVerge is forward leaning, both in coverage and presentation. This has helped them expand readership and page views very fast among a fickle tech-reading audience, and the same audience might also like the idea of a physical magazine. Think a hip throwback to the past, a form of tech editorial vinyl record.

Crowd-powering a new line of business?: I think given TheVerge’s huge audience, they could easily Kickstart their way to a profitable physical edition. Certainly there are a quite a few idle physical newspaper and print plants with capacity as well, so they could likely contain costs fairly effectively.

New audience – clearly there are still quite a few baby boomers and even gen-X’ers who like paper.  Many hold powerful positions in terms of marketing and ad spend. A prestige quarterly best-of could potentially give something tangible to this audience and could be the on-ramp for new advertisers who are biased against digital-only publications.

Will they do it? I wouldn’t put it past them. In fact, I think you’ll probably see more digital-only publications start to do limited physical edition runs, either quarterly or monthly, as they increasingly take on the titans of traditional media.

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Michael Wolf

Chief Analyst NextMarket Insights

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