If you researched or purchased tech lately, or looked for ways to get more from the devices you already have, you’ve probably interacted with Digital Trends.
For three years running, the publisher has ranked on the INC. 5000 in the top tiers of America’s fastest growing companies. They’ve seen over 200 percent growth since 2014. With a solid core staff of writers and editors, a keen eye for tech, and an unparalleled awareness for their audience, their popularity and success have beaten the odds in a tumultuous publishing landscape and has taken the throne as the largest independently owned tech publisher in the nation. And they’re not backing down anytime soon.
Digital Trends is Attracting Top Talent From Across the Media Industry
Digital Trends has been focusing on its C-suite and managerial team. They had a rapid-fire hiring campaign, pulling talent from bigger companies that includes Chris Carlson (former vice president of Deutsche Bank) as their first COO, Bob Gruters (Facebook) as CRO, Lynda Mann (Wirecutter, a New York Times subsidiary) as Director of Commerce, Ben Hermel (Nike, Adidas, Microsoft, Siegel+Gale) as Creative Director, and Ray Philip (Verizon’s Complex Media) as Director of SEO. These heavyweights join current talent on Digital Trends’ team, in a staff that now numbers more than 100.
“I’ve been impressed with the evolution of the company, both in terms of its growth and its voice in consumer tech,” said Hermel upon agreeing to design for Digital Trends, describing their work to date as “outstanding” and their creative ambitions “far-reaching.”
Cofounder and CEO Ian Bell acknowledges their “dedicated staff and enthusiastic reader base are making [Digital Trends] the nation’s go-to source for tech news and media.” But it doesn’t hurt that their target reader, the high earning millennial, is coveted by advertisers. Digital Trends is building an empire giving HENRY (High-Earning-Not-Rich-Yet) Millennials the sharp-edged, tech-driven content they crave, and advertisers are lining up out the door to get a piece of their attention.
Holding the Attention of Millions in a Turbulent Media Landscape
Unique monthly readers at Digital Trends total 30 million, which includes traffic to men’s lifestyle publication The Manual and Digital Trends en Español. Their traffic is obliterating the 21.7 million average for high-traffic, digital native news outlets. They also have the attention of 100 million tech influencers through their media network. Meanwhile, audience numbers are dropping for traditional outlets like TV news and print publishers, including alternative weekly newspapers and legacy companies with both a print and digital presence.
And their digital footprint doesn’t stop with their native audience. The brand’s growth is related to “finding the HENRY audience wherever and whenever they engage with media, extending our reach way beyond the 30 million people we have on site,” explains Pete Jacobs, VP of Integrated and Content Marketing of Digital Trends.
Last year, alt-weeklies took a hit when New York’s longstanding Village Voice halted its print circulation. Just this fall, Portland’s own Mercury started cutting costs by switching to a biweekly schedule, now publishing just half the issues per year.
Meanwhile, Digital Trends has moved up to overlook the city from offices in Portland’s tallest skyscraper, opening bicoastal offices in New York City as well. With their footprint expanding to Chicago and LA, they expect to nearly triple their headcount by 2021. They’re keeping step with the rapidly changing media landscape and holding pitch with the public zeitgeist. Just in the past month, they’ve partnered with Brandlive and announced a new program of live streamed content, including a morning headline digest called Digital Trends Live. The move to live streaming is one of several areas the company is putting a large investment behind. Ecommerce and events are other areas that will see major growth.
“Audiences respond differently to live video and Millennials, in particular, crave the authenticity and improvisation that puts the hosts right on the same level as the viewer,” says CEO Ian Bell of the decision. “We’ve watched as live video has found a foothold in media, and we’ve been quietly testing what works and what doesn’t. Now, we’re ready to give our audiences more of what they’ve responded to, and to lead the way for other video content providers.”
Digital Trends was ahead of the game last spring, too, when the European Union launched the GDPR. The new regulations changed the game for publishers and advertisers by enforcing more stringent data protection and privacy standards. Larger publishers like the LA times and the Chicago Tribune, less flexible in their age, were left clumsily closing the doors on their European readers. Digital Trends was one of the few who welcomed, even championed the new EU regulations, arguing that embracing integrity and promoting readers’ well-being gives them a competitive advantage.
Independent Roots and an Independent Future
It wasn’t always this way for the new king of independent publishing. Friends Ian Bell and Dan Gaul started Digital Trends without venture capital, fuelled by a mutual passion for consumer tech, cars and home entertainment, along with a regular guy sense of humor and fun. After a few years, in September 2015 Bell and Gaull managed to double their traffic in a single month. They followed that with their biggest year ever, and almost outgrew their own shoes before they regrouped, strategized, and made plans to accommodate future growth.
There were times when they weren’t sure they made the right maneuver. “We hung back when our competitors invested heavily in video,” says Pete Jacobs, VP of Integrated and Content Marketing. “While all of our industry was pivoting, we stalled on growing our video offerings. We felt like we were falling behind.” But the move turned out to be a wise one, as colleagues who made video the central pillar of their publishing strategy have suffered valuation drops and shrinking staffs. “Our more thoughtful approach paid off, and we were able to fly under the radar, learn from our competitors, test and optimize our own video strategy, and ultimately launch our live programming in a proven format.”
Tech needs good coverage, and the world needs more independent publishers. Digital Trends is living proof that not all media content has to come from the corporate machine. With their homegrown roots, successful strategizing, commitment to excellence, and accountability to their readers, they’re setting an example for other young publishers to step in and follow.
It’s a story you don’t hear all that often anymore. In an industry dominated by old guard institutions, Digital Trends is disrupting assumptions about what a major publisher can be. In a media landscape trembling with every technological shift and trend, they’ve found a way to dance while others crumble. Now that they’ve arrived, Digital Trends won’t be backing down anytime soon.
Jordan French is the Executive Editor of Grit Daily. An award-winning journalist, he is on the editorial staff at TheStreet.com and a Fast 50 and Inc. 500-ranked entrepreneur.
He is the founder of Notability Partners and the co-founder of BNB Shield, Lisbon Hill Farms, Status Labs, BeeHex, BlockTelegraph, and Grit Daily. A biomedical engineer and intellectual-property attorney, French is the author of upcoming book, The Gritty Entrepreneur.