Op-Ed: Jewish Web needs cooperation, consolidation


NEW YORK (JTA) — “The Internet will save you!” seems to be the refrain these days when it comes to the American Jewish media. While many Jewish newspapers have grabbed for this lifeline, the process has been hectic and uncoordinated. We may be trying to save ourselves, but we’re floating around in private digital lifeboats, bailing water for dear life.

Where has this strategy gotten us? Where do we go from here?

To answer these questions, my company 4Wall, in conjunction with its Jewish initiative JInsider, recently released a report titled “The Jewish Internet Metric Study” that takes a business-oriented, top-level look at the Jewish Web. With this “McKinsey-style” analysis, the community can fully understand the business issues, the competitive situation, and the hurdles and opportunities for sustainability on the Web.

The report offers a basis for productive discussion on what individual or cooperative strategy might be considered. It also includes an analysis of Jewish educational and religious sites, and Jewish search terms.

The problem for the American Jewish media is not quality of content — it’s scale and coordination. Just compare traffic and engagement patterns of several major Jewish news Web sites in the United States (JTA, The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, The New York Jewish Week, the Forward, the Jewish Exponent and The Jewish Press) and the most popular English-language sites of Israeli newspapers (Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post).

For a Web site to be self-supporting, it is critical to attract a significant enough share of clicks to sell a wide range of ad packages. Jpost.com and Haaretz.com have achieved a high level of visitation. But the findings of several traffic-analyzing sites (Mondo Times, Echo Media, Alexa.com and Compete.com) suggest that Jewish media outlets in the United States are lagging behind.

JTA.org and JewishJournal.com are at the head of the American pack, yet no clearly dominant or go-to source for American Jewish news has emerged online. The sum of all the major U.S. Jewish news sites, however, does approach the level of traffic generated by the Israeli sites.

Beyond just unique site traffic, visitor engagement patterns (generated by Quantcast.com) also suggest that the American Jewish news industry is too fragmented on the Internet. Not only do visitors spend significantly more time per visit when perusing the Israeli sites, but many more of those visitors are “regulars” (those who visit more than once per month) and addicts (those who visit more than 30 times per month). Because of this “addict” phenomenon, a quarter of the traffic to Haaretz.com and JPost.com is generated by just 2 percent of their users. In contrast, only JTA.org has any sort of measurable traffic generated by “addicts” — 11 percent. A better strategy for U.S. sites would involve more regular updates (not weekly or semi-regularly), and a wider and deeper offering to encourage habitual readership.

The full study goes into detail about linkage, referrals and social analytics, but the takeaway point is this: The American Jewish media need to coordinate and combine their assets online. The Web is a winner-takes-most environment where a brand has to be dominant or readers will click elsewhere. While JTA and the Jewish Journal are market leaders whose growth is outstripping their American competitors (together their traffic grew 85 percent from 2008 to 2009), currently there is no dominant U.S.-based Web site — and thus no economically sustainable one.

All the newspapers can still offer the great niche local coverage they do best, but in terms of an online brand, no one paper is strong enough.

By combining and centralizing the Web presence of many of these brands, media outlets would create advantages that would extend beyond the basic aggregation of their traffic. A centralized U.S.-based news site would benefit from economies of scale, a greater ability to attract the best talent and stronger ad sales. A dominant Web brand also would enjoy exponentially increased readership and engagement. Significant traffic from “regulars” and “addicts” would be within reach.

With that in mind, the following strategies should be considered immediately:

* Create a cooperating organization with sufficient multi-year funding to help coordinate and integrate Internet media assets.

* Launch a Huffington Post-style (no politics implied) central Jewish news site. The site would house local brands and local coverage, as well as serve as a focal point for national and international Jewish news. The Jewish Journal’s new Web site is a good example of a basic implementation of this strategy. There may be opportunity to build off it.

* Use this centralization to create a definable, trusted brand for Jewish news. As part of this brand, develop well-known columnists who will serve as experts and go-to sources for the secular media.

* Create an advertising and marketing platform for the main and cooperating sites. This will reduce the cost to reach the Jewish community en masse and increase ad sales.

* Cross-promote education sites with the Jewish news industry.

* Secure widget and content distribution on other key Jewish Web sites.

* Deploy efficient tools such as a centralized calendar and newsletter system.

The remaining question is how to accomplish these goals. Unlike Conde Nast, which recently hired the consulting firm McKinsey & Company to look at its business, the Jewish community has no lead family or centralized management team for consultation and execution. Lacking a clear organizing body, a feasible way to bring this vision to reality is through a graduated ladder of involvement — media outlets would move from sharing articles and links to sharing promotional ads to creasing multi-site ad packages to sharing common databases and information to sharing resources such as reporters and facilities.

Ultimately, the increasing cooperation would culminate in the creation of a holding company bringing multiple entities under one organizational roof.

What the community definitely needs is action. We encourage funders and media stakeholders to use this study as impetus to get together now. We may be concentrated on bailing water from our own leaky lifeboats, but together our lifeboats could make one watertight ship ready to steam us ahead.

(Mark Pearlman is the founder of 4Wall and JInsider. To contact him about his new study, please send an e-mail to connect@jinsider.com.)

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