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Who said news sites don't make money?

WHICH website has 26 million unique visitors every month who leave behind four million comments and help the online news destination earn close to $ 30 million in annual business? Pat yourself on the back if you answered The Huffington Post. The online news site and content aggregating blog on American politics, foreign policy and world affairs -- a genre that is seemingly as boring as it can get -- is slated to post its annual profit this month according to financial news giant Bloomberg -- a rarity among online news sites.

If it grows at the same rate as now, Huffington Post will earn close to $ 100 million by 2012.

More good news? It is, according to experts quoted by Bloomberg, valued at anywhere between $ 300 million to $ 450 million.

This is a remarkable development for media publishers, who have seen a gradual decline in newspaper and magazine readership, especially in the West, as online readership surges worldwide due to easier access to the Internet and falling broadband prices.

While news websites all over the world, including in India, are losing money because advertisers are unwilling to sink in money where there are no apparent returns on investment, Huffington Post has not only managed to buck the trend in just five years of existence, it is also creating a model for others to follow.

It has 3,000 freelance bloggers who contribute to the site in addition to the topranked columnists and reporters on its staff of 200 led by Arianna Huffington.

Most of those bloggers do not charge any fee in exchange for the visibility the site provides them with. But a lot of them don't really need the money. Not if your name is Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Madonna, Michael Moore, John Kerry, Alec Baldwin, Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Ted Kennedy, Jamie Lee Curtis, Donna Karan, Kenneth Cole and Donatella Versace.

The secret sauce, however, is the owner of the site, Arianna Huffington, who is to the American leftliberal ideology what Fox News is to the conservative right school of political thought. She is opinionated, headstrong and a workaholic (and expects her staff to be the same, too). Huffington, originally from Greece with the family name Stassinopoulos, was married to a former US Congressman Michael Huffington who, incidentally, is a Republican.

Arianna, along with a few friends, set up the site in 2005 which was to become the beacon of the liberal ideology in the US even though she started her political career as a Republican.

In an interview to Bloomberg, she said: " We're profitable despite the fact we're investing a lot in growing." Each day, The Huffington Post publishes 600- odd stories on its site, about half of which are aggregated from other sites and the rest are originally generated in- house. While it is still behind the New York Times in terms of visitors, it is way ahead of its online rivals such as the Tina Brown- run The Daily Beast and The Drudge Report, according to Bloomberg. But Huffington's target is not its online- only rivals.

She aims big. And others are aware of the impact that she has had on publishing.

This model has become hugely successful because of the strict guidelines that Huffington forces her staff to follow regarding linking back to the original site. But its original content, too, garners a tremendous response. A Bloomberg report cited how a blog post about former US vicepresidential candidate Sarah Palin written for the Huffington Post by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin was seen by 708,849 people, shared with others 24,243 times, and generated 7,731 comments.

News website owners and editors would kill to get that response and feedback.

Not that everyone is optimistic.

Wall Street commentator Jonathan Berr says the site spends a lot of money on its 200- plus employees, and a lot more on running its expensive and extremely complex content publishing system. " For now, it's hard to imagine that Wall Street would be interested in a Huffington Post IPO," he says. " A more likely exit strategy is a merger or a sale to a bigger media player like Time Warner." But detractors of not, Huffington Post has crossed the single biggest hurdle for a news website -- that of making it profitable.

How long, really, before others take the cue?

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Dec 18, 2010
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