Founded in 2016, Axios is known for its unique “Smart Brevity” approach to serious coverage on topics of consequence — including politics, business, technology, and the media. Axios’ articles are written by subject matter experts and are frequently shorter than 300 words.

In an exclusive Webinar on Wednesday, INMA members learned more about Axios’ business model, which brings this Smart Brevity format to native advertising, video, and events on behalf of brands and has exceeded its initial revenue targets by over 250%.

Kate Meissner, vice president of business development at Axios, presented the Webinar and led attendees through a roadmap that Axios has taken, sharing the news media company’s evolving vision for the future.

Axios — the Greek word for worthy — offers a mix of original and smartly narrated coverage of media trends, tech, business, and politics. Founders Jim Vandehei, Mike Allen, and Roy Schwartz spent 10 years at Politico. The Axios goal is to provide only content worthy of people’s time, attention, and trust. They do this with their new and innovative mobile platform, Smart Brevity.

News is the only thing the Internet has made more difficult, Axios executive Kate Meissner says.
News is the only thing the Internet has made more difficult, Axios executive Kate Meissner says.

“The digital age has made everything easier except reading the news,” Meissner said. “Finding out what information is trusted and valuable has gotten more difficult than ever before.”

Axios set out to solve a problem: people today live in a world of mistrust and fake news, and finding trustworthy news sources is more difficult than ever before. To achieve this, the team deeply researched news consumption habits and patterns.

News ecosystem and evolving reader habits

“The first thing we noticed is that consumer habits have changed dramatically,” Meissner said. The percentage of adults in the United States who read newspapers dropped from 48% in 2007 to 28% in 2016. While only 16% of U.S. adults said the Internet was their primary source of news in 2007, by 2016 that figure was up to 40%.

“This says something about the business model that we are using today and if it’s truly serving our user,” Meissner said.

Axios found reader habits have changed in the following ways:

  • Complete less and react fast: Only 5% of readers actually make it to the bottom of an article.
  • Bounce quickly: Two-thirds of visitors leave a publisher’s Web site homepage before clicking on a single page or article.
  • Share without reading: 59% of social media posts are shared without being clicked on.

Meissner called that last statistic about sharing without reading “terrifying.”

Another piece of data Axios discovered in its examination of the news ecosystem over a 10-year period was that the number of Americans on at least one social networking site went from 7% to 65%. The average American adult now spends six hours consuming social media each day — roughly 50% more than five years ago.

“It has been massive, the sea change in how we consume and disseminate information,” Meissner said. “Many media companies haven’t evolved to meet these shifts. The reason is because they’ve been trying to claw their way back from the decline in revenue for newspapers. If you’re the chief revenue officer for any legacy publisher, you’re just trying to make sure others aren’t eating your lunch everyday.”

Many media companies haven't met the changing digital reader habits because they're too busy chasing dwindling revenue.
Many media companies haven't met the changing digital reader habits because they're too busy chasing dwindling revenue.

Where is all that revenue going? Not to publishers, Meissner said. Google and Facebook, combined, own eight of the nine most-frequented mobile apps and were responsible for 90% of the growth in the digital advertising market last year.

The Axios Smart Brevity model

Axios was able to think through both the consumer and the business problem with more of a strategic mindset.

The Smart Brevity model used by Axios gives its audience concise journalism by subject experts.
The Smart Brevity model used by Axios gives its audience concise journalism by subject experts.

The Axios team saw a massive opportunity for a company that serves its audience with the information that they want and need — and in the way that they are consuming it today.

“We needed to cut through the clutter to create a platform that smart readers can rely on,” Meissner said. “What we found across the board was that people were constantly frustrated by not knowing where they could get information that they could trust and get it efficiently.”

The Axios team knew news today needs to be smart. The strategic to accomplish this was to hire wired, experienced journalists with the subject matter expertise to convey only what its readers need to know — and filter out the rest.

“Everyone we hire is an expert on the subject that they cover,” Meissner explained. “We have even hired people who weren’t journalists before; they were experts on a certain issue, and we turned them into journalists.”

The news also needs to have brevity. “We know people’s attention span is non-existent. No one is reading 800 word articles. We’ve taught them to write in 200-word formats. Tell them quickly what they need to know.”

This Smart Brevity model the team came up with is an innovative storytelling format that gets to the point, telling readers what they need to know — and why it matters. It follows a specific format that consists of a headline, multi-media piece, summary, and axiom as a conclusion.

“Everything we do is cross-cutting coverage,” Meissner said. The model is divided into different verticals that cover topics from business and tech to healthcare and science. “There are also areas where we are seeing a collision of all of these things. As AI and technology take over, we need people who are experts on the subject matter to condense it for our audience.”

The Axios business model combines native advertising in an effective and transparent way.
The Axios business model combines native advertising in an effective and transparent way.

Business model

The Axios business model is designed to support its Smart Brevity journalism and those learned best practices. “Our advertising partnerships always need to be effective, and they always need to be transparent,” Meissner said. “The solution is native advertising: long-form journalism, written on behalf of an advertiser. But if no one is making it to the end of an 800-word article written by a journalist, they surely aren’t making it to the end of an 800-word article written on behalf of an advertiser.”

Instead, Axios embeds its branded content natively, putting it directly into the Axios.com feed, newsletters, and Apple News.

“Everything is created using our distinct editorial best practices,” Meissner said. “We are vigilant about A/B testing everything, and we make sure to provide frequent, customised reporting to all our brand partners. By doing this, we’ve grown very substantially over the past 18 months.”

In that first year-and-a-half of business, Axios has grown to 11.8 million monthly unique visitors, 80 million monthly page views, and 360,000 newsletter subscribers.

Axios has grown its audience quickly, to nearly 12 million monthly unique visitors.
Axios has grown its audience quickly, to nearly 12 million monthly unique visitors.

“Our audience is also incredibly influential,” Meissner said. “We really designed this for influencer consumption habits. Our audience fits the bill for people who need this information to do their jobs.”

The valuable and engaged Axios audience is:

  • 389% more likely to be a Washington, D.C., policy maker.
  • 349% more likely to be a C-suite executive.
  • 87% college or graduate-level educated.
  • 23% household income of US$150,000 and above.
  • 62% age 25 to 54.

Q&A

INMA: How many writers do you have on staff?

Meissner: We have 125 employees total, about 60 are editorial.

INMA: How does time spent on site per user compared to average news sites?

Meissner: We try not to think about time spent as an important piece of data. That’s just an incentive to waste a reader’s time, we think. We look instead at how many articles the reader clicks through.

INMA: Do you ever give the readers the opportunity to go deeper than 200 words?

Meissner: We’re constantly doing user research and surveys, and that’s one of the biggest things we’ve heard from our audience. On many of our stories we have a button offering the reader an opportunity to go deeper. We’re looking to make that “tab overload” easier.