Washington-based website and newsletter The Politico, like the CBS procedural dramas CSI and NCIS before it, is hoping to recapture the magic with a series of region-specific spin-offs. First, already extant The Politico-owned news site Capital New York will "rebrand" itself as The Politico New York, much like when Macy's bought every regional department store chain in America and renamed them all Macy's. Then will come The Politico New Jersey and The Politico Florida. The Politico's choice of expansion markets is perfectly "on-brand."
An organization dedicated to reporting on politics for a mass audience would of course consider opening a Florida branch, because of its quadrennial presidential election significance. If the organization simply sought the largest possible readership, its next logical target would be California, probably, or Texas. If the organization sought to establish itself in regions specifically important to presidential politics in the run-up to an election, you have you choice of targets: Ohio, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, even lowly Iowa.
New Jersey, though, is an interesting choice. It will not be contested in the 2016 election, and while its Republican governor may have presidential aspirations, he is not a very credible candidate. But each of those two states fit The Politico's business model in important ways.
Whether The Politico is actually profitable is an open question, as it's privately held. Its owners could afford to run it at a loss for years. Still, the site's higher-ups have insisted for years that it makes more than it spends. If that is the case, it is not because the site reaches a vast audience. Indeed, whether judging by ComScore or Quantcast, The Politico's traffic has always been anemic compared to many of its competitors. But as an unnamed The Politico source told the Washington Post's Erik Wemple Blog last October, The Politico is not making a play for "mass reach."
Another unnamed source at the publication — hey, you try getting these folks to go on record! — indicates that the metrics that draw the most attention among managers are “traffic from influentials, newsletter sign-ups and open rates, subscriber numbers and usage frequency and the social sharing of our best work among elite readers.” Politico, e-mails this source, does not and will not sell “mass reach and believe its simply a deal [with] the devil not worth making.”
We have spent eight years perfecting a blend of high-end ads aimed at policy and political leaders; high-end subscriptions and first-class events. This worked here, is working in New York, through our sister publication, Capital, and soon will be proven to work in Europe, where this spring our European edition will go live. We are confident we have created a scalable model - so we will scale it, methodically but aggressively.
You may read The Politico, but you are (most likely) not its audience. The product The Politico sells is access to "policy and political leaders." Most publications (Gawker included) promise brands that their ads will reach young, wealthy people who might purchase those brands' products or services. The Politico's implicit promise to its sponsors is that, by giving them money, you can potentially influence policy.
This has turned out to be a successful model in modern Washington, where the public relations and advertising business has exploded in response to lobbying restrictions, and where the idea that money buys access to power is no longer considered (by the savvy, at least) a scandal. It may be working in New York, with its disproportionate number of finance billionaires and corporate headquarters, and its easily purchased politicians.
Hence, The Politico's New Jersey and Florida. Their state politics may be no more or less significant than the state politics of any other large states, but New Jersey is our second finance capital and Florida is a hotbed of corruption, graft and favor-trading. People — potential The Politico sponsors — in Florida and New Jersey have already demonstrated a strong willingness to pay to play. The Politico is happy to facilitate.
The only question is when we can expect The Politicos Louisiana, Uzbekistan, and Kabul.