Skift flies in the face of traditional business publishing
By Matthew Schwartz
Skift, a new media company focused on the travel sector, may prove a jolt to publishers that are struggling with the transition from print to digital, industry observers say.
The company represents a “warning shot” to traditional b-to-b publishers, said Ken Doctor, media analyst at Outsell Inc. “Increasingly, across the b-to-b field we're going to see disruptors come in and use aggregation, digital-first techniques and be very good at mobile, apps, events and marketing services.”
Skift, which launched late last month, is the brainchild of Rafat Ali, founder of paidcontent.org. In 2008, Ali sold ContentNext Media, which includes paidcontent.org and other media assets, to Guardian Media Group, for an undisclosed sum. (In February, tech media company GigaOM acquired ContentNext Media from Guardian for an undisclosed sum.)
Ali, CEO of Skift, left paidcontent.org in 2010 and proceeded to travel throughout the world for the next two years. He said the idea for the company was partly inspired by what he called an “outdated” and “siloed” approach by existing trade publications that cover the travel business.
“We want to build a digital brand that the industry and business travelers deserve that isn't boring,” Ali said. “We're trying on the b-to-b side [to bring] what we did with paidcontent.org—a conversational, quick-based style—to the coverage of the travel industry.”
Skift has rolled out a website, Skift.com, that offers content focusing on three segments of the travel industry: b-to-b trade publishing, consumer news and data analysis. The company will generate revenue from advertising and data services.
Ali said Skift has raised $500,000 from a several media industry executives and business executives, including L. Gordon Crovitz, co-founder of Journalism Online, and Alan Meckler, chairman-CEO of WebMediaBrands.
Business publishers should keep a close eye on Skift's development, said Tom Kemp, chairman-CEO of Northstar Travel Media, which in July was acquired by Wicks Group of Cos.
“It's a great example of a start-up that's approaching an industry from a totally digital perspective,” Kemp said. “At the same time, there continues to be an advantage to fully integrated information for media companies serving vertical markets in b-to-b.”
Since joining Northstar in 2009, Kemp has diversified the company's portfolio, which includes Travel Weekly; PhoCusWright, a research and events producer in the online travel segment; and Hotel and Travel Index, an online guide.
Kemp said Northstar now derives roughly 40% of its revenue from print products, 20% from events, 20% from digital products and 20% from information services. Skift serves to “reinforce our need to continue to invest in digital and digital media experts,” he said. “But we've got a lot more work to do.”