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How to Turn Your Hobby Into a Business: Lessons Learned From Publisher Kurt Kohlstedt

Publisher Spotlight:  Longtime publisher Kurt Kohlstedt is the Founder and Executive Editor of Webist Publishing and Misnamed Media. His collection of sites include WebUrbanist, WebEcoist, Dornob, and Gajitz – which each have their own theme relating to creative, innovative, and sustainable art, architecture, and design.
Kurt is the quintessential mid-size publisher who has used online advertising to successfully transition his hobby into a business. Read on to learn how Kurt got his start and how he built his business using analytics and online advertising.
How did you get your start in the world of online publishing?
I was finishing my graduate degree in architecture and slowly began to realize that I was equally interested (if not more) in writing about design as I was in becoming an architecture professional. It was at that point I decided to give online publishing a shot as a full-time career. I built an audience by testing out various topics and found a nice balance between what I liked to write about and what people liked to read. I launched my first site, WebUrbanist, in the middle of 2007.
How did you determine what “theme” to use on each of your sites?
WebUrbanist features an intentionally broad set of topics, covering everything from urban design and architecture to street art and graffiti. WebEcoist grew as a “green” sister site to balance the “urban” focus of its sibling, WebUrbanist. Dornob focuses more specifically on home, interior and furniture design, and Gajitz covers tech-centric topics such as innovative gadgetry and scientific discoveries. The theme for each site grew out of a deep understanding of audience and site analytics – who the readers are, where they are coming from, and what they are interested in. I have found that through analytics, opportunities for new sites arise.
How do you make money off your site?
I work with a number of ad networks, and I use some direct sales efforts when I have the time (which is rare). I rely primarily on networks because it allows me and my team to focus on what we do best: create content. Sovrn has done a great job increasing my bottom line directly by finding relevant, high-quality brands to advertise on my sites, but many of the benefits of working with Sovrn have been indirect.
How else has Sovrn helped you build your business?
Sovrn provides the core data set for any good publisher. Their numerical and graphical analytics provide easy and effective insights without overloading you with information. They provide everything from user demographics and reader behavior to advertising stats like CPM and fill, which are displayed in an extremely user-friendly interface. Understanding and engaging readers on a day-to-day, week-to-week or month-to-month basis means keeping an eye on the big picture without getting lost in the noise. Sovrn’s new audience demographics feature provides excellent data for selling ad inventory directly as well as indirectly, as well as understanding changes in your core audience – leave it to Sovrn to finally integrate this critical piece of data which so many other analytics tools lack!
You work with a number of ad networks. How do they compare?
Sovrn comes out on top across essentially every key metric when it comes to advertising. First, they pay promptly and automatically – their payments invariably arrive before those of any other network. Second, they are extremely flexible, able to fill as much or as little inventory as needed. Third, their competitive rates are tied to relevant brands and quality ads safe enough for any type of site. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, their team is always standing by to answer any questions and work through any issue a publisher might have. This critical component stands in sharp contrast to large and impersonal ad networks that can take weeks or months to respond, if they do it at all.
How does advertising performance differ between your four sites?
The results vary depending upon seasonal demand, traffic levels and specific niches. I try not to look too closely at which one is performing better than the others since I firmly believe revenue should not be the primary driver for editorial decisions. In the end, I have found that creating quality content ultimately leads to monetization opportunities.
What recommendations do you have for publishers looking to make money from their site?
I recommend a two-pronged approach for any publisher trying to make money. First, use a solid core network or set of networks to work with for the long haul – these provide a steady baseline and ongoing potential for growth. Second, use spare time to experiment with other approaches that diversify revenue streams. Depending on the type of site and nature of the content, these may include direct sales, affiliate programs or other approaches that can augment a core network-based approach to revenue generation.

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