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1 Min. With A Superhero: Styli Charalambous, CEO of Daily Maverick

by on 21/11/11 at 9:07 am
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We’re fortunate to have Styli from Daily Maverick in the Ideate house this morning. Styli Charalambous is the CEO of the most daring online publication in South Africa at the moment, with an extraordinary rise to prominence since it launched just over a year ago. Fresh from winning a host of Bookmarks awards recently, Styli and his crew have bold plans for the future.

Styli, we’re big fans of Daily Maverick around here. It seems you guys are super-busy innovating, collecting awards and working the event circuit. How’s life on the leftfield?
Pretty awesome. With a marketing budget of twenty T-shirts, we’ve managed to grow our readership to 140,000 unique visitors per month. By focusing on quality reporting and analysis, and being one of the 100% original content publishers out there. But digital publishing remains a challenging space, where High LSM people consume 90% plus of their news in digital format, yet it commands less than 5% of ad spend. Revenues continue to grow each month, but we’ve had to educate the market about our unique approach to advertising.

Nice work. I’m sure having really smart, witty and dashingly handsome contributors doesn’t hurt your growth. Daily Maverick seems to have a knack of saying things that people are thinking but no one is brave enough to say – do you get loads of hate mail as a result?
Surprisingly less than one would imagine. Whilst we may be the voice of what people are thinking, each article or opinion is backed up by research, experience or well argued points of view. While not all our readers agree with it, they’re smart enough to accept a different point of view. Most of them at least, with a couple outliers that just plain bonkers.

The iPad edition looks particularly interesting, especially considering you guys were the first in SA to launch one – when’s the official due date, and what can we expect?
The iPad edition was launched on the 08 October, with a low-key announcement to our readers. We’ll be officially launching the title early next year, but initial response to the publication has been phenomenal. We’re currently producing a daily equivalent of Newsweek or Time Magazine on a daily basis, which is an amazing feat. And also changing the way newspapers look, we’ve taken a much more visual and magazine style approach to daily news.

You guys innovated with the stable block of advertising on the right hand side of the screen – it’s great for readers, it’s great for brands, but does it hinder DM’s revenue potential at all – ?
It was challenging at first to educate a market that isn’t used to embracing different ways of doing things. But advertisers were quick to to see results and are coming back for repeat campaigns. We serve a very niche, high LSM readership so we’re able to charge premium rates, and hope lure premium brands onto the web, that have shied away from online due to crowded and irritating banner ads.

It appears that the online publishing space is going through a bit of a shakeup right now, with the guys reducing costs, and other publishing houses making similar noises.
That’s probably because the online publishing business model is broken and unsustainable. Selling clicks and impressions only works if you zero cost of content, for example when traditional newspapers paid their journalists for the print edition and then simply gave the content to online divisions, where any revenue was seen as a bonus. But with traditional print now sliding from profitability, online needs to find model that supports a stand-alone business model and the clicks/impression model just doesn’t work.

So, basically you believe that South African online publications are still not doing things right? What would you like to see in the future?
The premium titles, both magazine and newspaper, must have a tablet strategy. As tablets become more prevalent, expectations are 200,000 per annum in South Africa. Tablet owners will want consume their media on the convenient and beautiful tablet platform. This is obviously at the high end of the spectrum with the cost of bandwidth and the tablet significant barriers to entry, so I fully expect the tabloid and mass market publications to continue for a very long time in Africa, until those barriers are reduced. The issue for traditional premium publishers is that iPad editions will not be able to command the same ad rates that print does, and any aggressive play at tablets will simply cannibalize their print revenues, so they’re somewhat of timing quandary. They know they have to, but when do they go all-in?

You guys are on a high right now, with a bevy of Bookmarks won last week, and everyone singing your praises. What online publications, local or otherwise, do YOU admire?
Firstly, we’re chuffed with the recognition but no-one at the DM comes to work thinking of awards. It’s credit to our editor, Branko Brkic and the team, that they believe in this admirable vision to improve South African journalism, in a way that big media houses wouldn’t consider. In my personal capacity, I admire the efforts of anyone who produces original stuff, because I know just how hard it is to run a business that has to actually pay people for producing quality, original content. ZA News is DM favourite, and just so damn funny. But other than that, its quite difficult to pick out local online publications that stand out because the environment is so challenging for them to prosper. Internationally, the iPad versions of New York times and Vanity Fair are benchmarks in great quality journalism and visual experiences.

Thanks Styli for you time. Keep up the good work.

Ideate readers, if you want to see Styli talk on online publishing and advertising is evolving, there are still a few seats to the Heavy Chef event in Johannesburg on Wednesday. Click here to book your seat.

[Tip for Ideate readers: hop on over to the Daily Maverick and subscribe to 'The First Thing' daily newsletter, packed with good stuff to read at the crack of dawn - it's the smartest move you'll make today]

Fred Roed is the marketing guy in the Ideate crew. Fred is the CEO of web marketing company World Wide Creative and the co-founder of online learning portal Heavy Chef. Fred loves writing about people out there doing marketing right. Follow Fred on Twitter here. View more articles by Fred Roed.

Tags: Africa, digital publishing, Heavy Chef, Heavy Chef event, iPad, Journalism, online education, publishing, South Africa, technology, writing

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