Pink News five years on: 'revenue could rise ten-fold'

Since Pink News clambered off the drawing board five years ago it has become the second biggest (it claims) global source of online news for the gay community. Press Gazette spoke to founder Benjamin Cohen as the site celebrates its 5th birthday.

Pink News launched in 2005 after Benjamin Cohen - who has since become Channel Four News' technology correspondent – was unable to get published a business story he was touting about the 'pink pound'.

Growing frustrated, Cohen put the article on the web and the site was born.

'It became immediately apparent then that there was a need for a high-quality, broadsheet level journalism about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community,'Cohen, founder and publisher of Pink News, told Press Gazette.

Pink News quickly built up a large, loyal readership, and after taking on a modest private investment it rapidly began to increase its influence.

Focusing on gay rights at home and abroad (with a particular spotlight on persecution in homophobic communities) provided the site with a platform to put questions to a number of high profile figures.

Not unlike another niche website Mumsnet, Pink News has impressed with the calibre of those to whom it has put questions.

David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and Boris Johnson have all been interviewed by the site, which - alongside its global credentials - claims now to be the most read source of gay news in Europe.

'I don't get invited to Downing Street as the Channel Four News technology correspondent but I do as the publisher of Pink News,'Cohen says.

The site claims a readership of more than 600,000 unique users and around three million page views each month (however, the Audit Bureau of Circulations doesn't publish an independently audited figure to verify its traffic).

In addition to general readers picked up through search engines, Cohen claims the site has a core audience of 10,000, who typically make more around ten visits a day.

The iPhone app launched two weeks has been downloaded more than 12,000 times, he adds.

The size of readership is remarkable given that Pink News is run with only one full-time staff member (Jessica Geen, the site's fourth editor), a handful of freelances and a tiny editorial budget. It even outsources its ad sales.

Despite the appearance of being a cottage industry, Pink News claims to now draw a bigger online audience than the MTV-owned website 365 Gay, which benefits from cross-promotion with gay channels owned by the network.

The Advocate, one of several titles published by Here Media, an American LGBT-focused entertainments company, remains the leading gay news site on the web.

Cohen said there were significant differences between the two brands. The Advocate is an established and successful print magazine and digital brand in the US which runs with the traditionally high costs associated with publishing a popular print title.

The UK didn't yet have a sufficient market to support a similar approach, he said, and being online-only allowed Pink News to work to a lower cost base.

"We spend no more than £30,000 a year but our site really does punch above its weight for that," he says.

Pink News will face a series of changes in the next six months, Cohen says, which will include a relaunch and could involve a change to the ownership structure.

Cohen says he had just begun 'exploring the market'and considering a range of options for the development of Pink News; including selling the site, raising capital to buy another publication or a merger. He has also been offered UK investment to develop the business.

'We have a tidy profit but not massive. Pink News could bring in ten times the revenue it gets at the moment with the right partners,'Cohen says.

To this end Cohen has appointed a corporate adviser to help explore possible partnering opportunities in the UK and the US, where the majority of the site's traffic is generated.

Cohen says he considered introducing a paywall to the site and even got as far as polling the readership on charging for access, however the idea was dropped.

'There are lots of copycat sites. There is not a shortage of supply of content, we may have kept the core readership but we would have pushed out other readers to rival sites and lost influence,'he says.

Cohen says he had even been mulling a relaunch of the short-lived print version of Pink News - which had a six month run in 2006 – but then decided against it.

He reasoned that the market was unlikely to support a daily LGBT printed title and that any less frequently published product would suffer from being filled with old, stale news.

The fate of the Pink Paper provides salutary lesson. The UK's leading fortnightly gay and lesbian newspaper suspend its print edition in June last year with parent company Millivres Prowler Group focusing instead on the PinkPaper.com website.

'I kept thinking of going back to print but what's the point…mobile is the future."

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