What would we do if the goal was to aggressively cannibalize ourselves?

How The Atlantic reinvented itself for the digital journalism era.

What that meant more than anything else was forcing one of the nation’s oldest magazines to stop thinking of itself as a printed product.

Separations between the digital and print staffs in both business and editorial operations came down. The Web site’s paywall was dismantled. A cadre of young writers began filling the newsroom’s cubicles. Advertising salespeople were told it did not matter what percentage of their sales were digital and what percentage print; they just needed to hit one sales target. A robust business around Atlantic-branded conferences took off.

The strategy is not a cure-all template for troubled media companies, of course. The Atlantic, a tiny enterprise compared with vast corporate magazine empires like Time Inc.and Condé Nast, has only about 100 business and editorial employees and a circulation of 470,000. A scale that small means that a few million dollars could push the company over the top — an amount that would barely register on the balance sheets of many other publishers.

Since 2005, revenue at The Atlantic has almost doubled, reaching $32.2 million this year, according to figures provided by the company. About half of that is advertising revenue. But digital advertising — projected to finish the year at $6.1 million — represents almost 40 percent of the company’s overall advertising take. In the magazine business, which has resisted betting its future on digital revenue, that is a rate virtually unheard of.

A good piece for any magazine wondering what the heck they need to do to transition into the contemporary realities of digital publishing.  It also helps that The Atlantic has Andrew Sullivan on their roster, as his Daily Dish site drives something like 250,000 pageviews a day to the magazine.

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