Media Moves

The Xconomy.com coverage and expansion strategy

April 5, 2011

TALKING BIZ NEWS EXCLUSIVE

Bob Buderi, a former technology editor at BusinessWeek magazine, founded Xconomy.com — a news site that covers technology and innovation — nearly four years ago and remains its editor in chief.

Since that time, the site has expanded from its base in Boston to include reporters and bureaus in Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Detroit and beginning this week, New York. Its reporters and editors have come from the Seattle Times, Technology Review, the San Diego Union-Tribune, New Scientist, the Associated Press, Reuters and MedCityNews.com, among other media.

Before launching Xconomy, Buderi was a research fellow in MIT’s Center for International Studies. He previously served as editor in chief of MIT’s Technology Review, leading the magazine to numerous editorial and design awards and overseeing its expansion into three foreign markets, its introduction of electronic newsletters, and its organization of highly successful conferences.

Buderi served on the Council on Competitiveness-sponsored National Innovation Initiative and as an advisor to the Draper Prize Nominating Committee. He has been a regular guest of CNBC’s “Strategy Session” and has spoken about innovation to many organizations, including the Business Council, Amazon, eBay, Google, IBM, and Microsoft.

Buderi talked Monday and Tuesday by e-mail with Talking Biz News about Xconomy and its expansion plans. What follows is an edited transcript.

How did you get the idea for Xconomy?

I’ve spent most of my career at the intersection of business and technology. I was technology editor at BusinessWeek in the early ’90s and editor in chief of Technology Review magazine after that. And I have written three books about technology and business, R&D and the like. High-tech innovation is what drives growth in the economy. I felt there was a great need and market for a media company dedicated to covering this field. We set out on June 27, 2007, our launch date, with the modest goal of becoming the world’s most authoritative voice on the business of technology and innovation.

What did you see in terms of business news that wasn’t being covered elsewhere?

All the publications aimed at this space—Red Herring, Business 2.0, etc—were either dead or a shell of their former selves. We set out with a different model — online only, hyperlocal coverage in key technology clusters; cover not just IT, but also life sciences, energy, and anything else high-tech; build a national and then international network; bring people together through our events.

How did you raise the money to launch?

I started out talking to venture capitalists, [but] quickly realized I was unlikely to be big enough fast enough to move the needle on their funds, and switched to angel investors. CommonAngels, the largest angel group in New England, is our lead investor. There are a number of individual angels and one small venture fund, LaunchCapital. We raised $1.1 million in August 2007 and a smaller amount in April 2009.

How have you picked the cities in which you’ve expanded coverage?

We look for clusters where there are: great universities and research institutions, a startup culture, lots of venture and angel funding, life sciences and IT expertise, innovative large (i.e. public) companies, great service providers to support this group, and a strong innovation culture.

You’re syndicating your content to the Seattle daily. Are you looking for similar deals in other markets?

We also syndicate to the Boston Globe and Motley Fool and do hope to grow that soon.

Are you generating revenue primarily through advertising?

We created Xconomy specifically to NOT be dependent on display advertising. We think that is a really hard model for a startup publication — or even a big pub. We set out to build an extremely high-quality audience, and not worry so much about quantity (though we our pleased to be growing our audience).

Our main revenue stream is underwriting: this combines branding on our site with recognition at our events, much like a typical event sponsorship. The branding comes in the form of a logo tile on the right hand side of each page, in a non-editorial area clearly labeled Underwriters and Partners.

Our events are next as a revenue source — both via sponsorships and ticket sales. And then comes display advertising.

In each city, you have an advisory board of economists and others. What do they bring to the table for you?

We call them Xconomists. We ask them to do a few core things for us: write from time to time in our Xconomist Forum (our op-ed section), help us brainstorm and shape event ideas, and take part in events as appropriate. Of course, we also hope we get some great story ideas from them as well.

What about the technologists, scientists and innovators that contribute?

Many of them are Xconomists. But our Forum is open to anyone — students, entrepreneurs, experts in given subjects, etc. Just like any op-ed forum. We are really pleased that it has taken off in the past year or so as a place where people want to have their articles appear. We have gone from beating the bushes for forum posts to sometimes having two or three a day submitted.

Are there any ethical issues that have arisen with the underwriters?

We make absolutely no deals for our content — and that includes what we write as well as at our events. Almost everyone gets it. We’ve once or twice had service providers say they wouldn’t be an underwriter unless they got a speaking slot at one of our events. We explain our policy. Our job is to put the best people forward, the most appropriate people, and that is how we attract and retain a great audience that they want to reach. If they don’t accept that, we pass on the opportunity.

Every once in a while someone asks how we can cover a company that is an underwriter. Well, news companies have been covering companies that advertise in their print pages for a few hundred years, so there are some well-established best practices that we follow. We separate church from state, like the best publications. And the companies that have signed on as underwriters have never asked for special treatment.

Are you looking to expand into other cities? Which ones?

Yes! Not just in the U.S., but internationally. I can’t reveal specific plans, but take the above formula, and make some guesses.

Can you give readers an idea of what your visitors and page views are like?

200,000 plus unique visitors per month, and upwards of 1.3 million page views monthly.

How big can Xconomy get?

In terms of audience, it’s not about quantity for us, it is about quality. But we think we can hold our quality audience and still get several times bigger. In terms of the company, that is a long discussion. Bigger, much bigger.

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