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Founded in the 1990s, old-school web portal was an early web darling. Then it died. 

In its place in 2017 rose Dotdash, a collection of specialist interest verticals. In 2021, Dotdash acquired Meredith, publisher of some of the best-known magazine media brands worldwide, for roughly $2.7 billion.


We can go back to a talk Dotdash CEO Neil Vogel gave in 2017 at a summit in 2017 when he told the audience that, in the early days of the web, scale equated to trust. “But that is not true anymore. Now vertical brands are what people trust. These are the brands that people trust today.”

Exits Enters Dotdash with health, tech, personal finance, homes and travel verticals.

Even before then, in 2015, we wrote how special interest media could follow a hub-and-spoke model for magazine media (essentially special interest verticals) development, building on three pillars:

  • Develop the [vertical] “hub” (core proposition) to attract and build an audience;
  • Ensure the “hub” enjoys a “powerful place” in users’ minds, i.e. dominate in that audience sector; and
  • Develop spokes around the hub to monetise (translated: build a diversified model based on the specialist interests of the readers/users you serve)

Several years on, Vogel’s words in 2017 are perhaps now even more valid than back then.

In one of his recent newsletters, Brian Morrissey writes about “The flight to niche – Narrowing focus isn’t narrowing ambition”. He quotes examples such as Dotdash Meredith and Future and lists some recent investment deals that lend support to this notion:

  • Industry Dive, which aggregated publications in B2B areas, “had a remarkable exit with a $525,000 valuation”;
  • Recurrent “closed a massive $300 million equity round from Blackstone to continue buying up niche lifestyle properties; and
  • TCG has “emerged as the canniest of investors by focusing on niche publishing businesses”.

This year, on 19 and 20 October in Berlin, Germany, we are hosting our first event focused entirely on specialist media. Media Makers Meet (Mx3 Berlin) will zone in on strategies for monetisation, content, product, data and more in this sector.

Brian will be one of the more than thirty speakers in attendance. Here is what a few of our other expert speakers have to say about the power and future of specialist media.

Neil Thackray, Co-founder, Agribriefing, and Non-Executive Director, Gambit Media, UK, on the value of specialist media:

The value creation generated by specialist media is not built on audience size or vacuous measures of engagement or social media; it is grounded on the presentation of data and information that removes friction from business decision-making. The ability of specialist media to create recurring revenues that arise from this makes this media sector more attractive than any other in delivering long-term earnings growth and stellar investor returns.

Matthias Bauer, CEO, Vogel Communications, Germany, on the advantages of specialist media:

Specialist media offers a broad range of channels to conquer markets with all their companies and their communication and information needs. B2B communication exploded in recent years not only by techniques and formats but also by the quality of content. Because we know a lot about the specialist markets, we can quickly develop new business communities and create business models built on communication, information, market insights, business intelligence, professional education and data business.

Lucy Küng, Strategic Advisor, Board Member, Author and Speaker, Switzerland, on the opportunities for specialist media:

Get this model right and the potential for the kind of positive feedback loop, or growth flywheel as Bezos would call it, are significant. The basic model is to find a subject area that really matters to a community, produce high-value content for that community that reflects and anticipates their needs, and get consistently closer to that community through a range of content formats (events, communities, podcasts, interactions etc). Use learning from those interactions to further enhance the value of your offer, then your value increases, as does the audience’s loyalty, as does your attractiveness to commercial partners, and so on. And this is a beautifully replicable, ‘productisable’ model.

Alan Hunter, Co-founder, HBM Advisory, and former Head of Digital at The Times and Sunday Times, UK, on the potential of subscriptions as a revenue stream:

In many ways, specialist or niche publishers are better suited to subscriptions than broad, general interest news publishers. They typically offer exactly the kind of content that people will pay for, which is unique (“you can’t get it elsewhere”), expert and often contains proprietary data. In addition, in the specialist B2B media market they have the very attractive selling proposition that they will make you better at your job. It is clearly an underexploited area.”

Martha Williams, CEO of World Newsmedia Network, USA, on the opportunity with first-party data for specialist publishers:

With a critical mass of first-party data, specialist verticals will be able to drive better engagement and loyalty with their valued customers; build new products to further engage and expand the audience; and anticipate customers’ needs before they are expressed. All of these capabilities are made possible by knowing the audience through robust first-party data strategies.

Daniel Pitchford, CEO, Collingwood Advisory, UK, on the opportunity with data and communities:

It’s a little obvious but many great brands are still to capitalise on digital, and not just transforming print into online, but thinking about the ancillary services you can offer audiences, and clients. Data has been long talked about as the big opportunity, and for specialist media sitting on or with the tools to capture first-party data, there is a huge untapped resource, with multiple revenue streams. Communities are another aspect which can be accelerated through digital formats, and present media companies with a route to developing a strong flywheel effect. 

Alex Zeevalkink, Head of Digital Publishing, The Drum, UK, on getting a share of audience attention:

When billions of pieces of content are created and consumed every day, it becomes harder and harder to grab people’s attention. As niche publishers we have the opportunity to go deep, show authority and demonstrate expertise. We provide the information that people need to excel, and therein lies our true benefit.

Sebastian Esser, Media Entrepreneur, Germany, on creator-class niches:

The more diverse the media landscape becomes, the smaller the niches become. That’s good news for now: Independent reporting is also penetrating areas where journalism was previously not financially viable. The new creator class of publishers is also better able to publish using the right language and formats and to convert users into paying subscribers. For larger, more traditional publishers, there is a lot to learn here, but also a chance to develop new markets.

Join us at Media Makers Meet ( in Berlin, Germany on 19 & 20 October to hear more on this topic, and to meet with and learn from others in this sector. With only around thirty or so tickets remaining before we reach our cut off point on audience numbers, sign up today if you wish to join us in Berlin. It will be great to welcome you there.



Data & Di5ruption Study Tour: Meet with 10+ top-notch experts

This fast-paced, one-day study tour will highlight the best of Berlin’s media shifters, including Axel Springer’s BILD and Die Welt; and Deutsche Welle. The tour takes place on 18 October, the day before Mx3 Berlin, and there are 20 places available. The tour delegation will learn about:

  • First-party data collection
  • GDPR and the privacy imperative
  • Leveraging new platforms
  • How to engender trust in media,
  • Building data-driven products
  • how to build the digital media company of the future

You will hear from some of the most forward-thinking practitioners through case studies from data scientists, commercial directors, chief digital and data officers, innovation lab directors, product developers and other business executives at each company.

And as a special treat! You will have lunch at the fabled Journalisten-Club at Axel Springer.

You can sign up for the tour alone or combine Mx3 Berlin and the tour while in Berlin.

Register here to secure a place only for the tour. Should you like to attend both the tour and Mx3 Berlin, get in touch with Martha Williams at [email protected] for a discounted rate on both.