Thursday, May 27, 2010
Q&A with Suite101 CEO Peter Berger
Last year, I posted on SEO-oriented content creation… well, factory is a good word… Demand Media. The goal was to point out what they’re doing right (they are making money, after all) and what we can learn from them.

Today, I’m shifting the focus to another big online content publisher, this one homegrown: Suite101, based out of Vancouver. Their model is quite different from Demand’s: while the former generally pays writers on a fixed (and low) per-article rate and has them write preselected articles based on analysis of real web searches, Suite101 pays in advertising royalties and lets writers choose their titles and topics. I asked Suite101 CEO Peter Berger to answer a few questions about the Suite101 model and what magazine publishers can learn from it.

Q: What is Suite101? How does it work?

Suite101 publishes original, informative, fact-based articles written by freelance contributors. We help non-fiction writers build online profiles and audiences for their expertise. Writers choose the topics they want to cover and work with our team of professional editors to publish them online.

Our editors are mostly from the print journalism world and are based across North America with some Canadian bias: right now approximately 80% of editors are Canadian.

Through our editors and our online training, we work with writers to identify the most attractive angles for making their knowledge accessible online, and then guide them in establishing themselves as authorities in their fields. We would encourage that every writer or topic-expert give it a try, but begin with an open mind and get ready to write at least 20 to 30 evergreen articles. To really begin making money at this, you should also be ready to experiment with tips we provide about things such as how to title articles so they get found online.

Suite101 is Canada’s largest content website and has grown fast over the last few years, recently passing as the top Canadian-owned content site. We get over 28 million unique visitors each month and have published over 10,000 writers. Last year we launched sites in France and Spain, and in 2008 launched a German version. Our English-language site also ranks as one of the top 100 websites, in terms of US traffic. We’re based in Vancouver, and have been publishing online for 13 years.

Q: How does Suite101 make money?

Reading our articles is free – Suite101 generates revenue through online advertising. Given the nature of our articles (non-fiction, mostly evergreen material, lifestyle-focused), the biggest source of income are performance-based ads/text ads.

As for payment and rights, we share advertising revenues with the writers, and writers retain the copyright to their work. We ask for only one year of exclusive electronic publishing rights.

Q: How does Suite101 pay its writers and editors?

Writers participate directly in the revenues generated on the articles they write, for as long as the articles are live on the site and are being read. Depending on the commercial attractiveness of the areas they specialize in and how much they worked with their content and our team, this can be lucrative – our best writers earn north of $3,000 each month in royalties from previously written content. (For example, if they didn’t ever write another article they would still get this amount each month, for as long as their articles are on the site. Quite a few of them talk in our writer forums about paying their mortgages this way.)

However contrary to intuition, there is very little correlation between the number of articles a writer has contributed and the royalties they earn. A lot has to do with the topic and how many readers are seeking that information.
We pay writers each month via PayPal.

Our 45 editors are part of our team and are paid based on section-specific responsibilities and the amount of articles they oversee.

Q: What can magazine publishers learn from the Suite101 model?

Our model is probably most interesting for magazine publishers who want to build up audiences that are independent from the “destination” traffic they typically have built up. This is a step that tends to be very hard for organizations rooted in offline thinking. Having a website does not signify an organization has embraced online. Being an online pioneer, Suite101 has learned and demonstrated that:

• helping people write what they know can be lucrative
• if you want to be successful, you must research potential audiences and the commercial prospect of content prior to creating it (or assigning it)

• in every case, great quality works better than adequate pieces

• royalty-based payment is the fairest combination of rewarding great content while still keeping a scalable system

Success in new online content models is something that has to be grown over time – it takes persistence. We have not yet seen a single example where this was done without effort and patience, but the long term rewards make it very worthwhile for writers and publishers alike.

- Kat Tancock
About Me
Kat Tancock
Kat Tancock is a freelance writer, editor and digital consultant based in Toronto. She has worked on the sites of major brands including Reader's Digest, Best Health, Canadian Living, Homemakers, Elle Canada and Style at Home and teaches the course Creating Website Editorial at Ryerson University.
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