How Leaf Group Became a Commercially Dominant Media Company

Over the past eight years, Leaf Group (formerly known as Demand Media until 2016) has transformed from an SEO-focused content farm into a commerce-focused media company that has sold for $323 million to Graham Holdings last June.

Much of this transition was led by CEO Sean Moriarty, who wanted to create a portfolio of expert-led content that readers turn to when making purchases. And now the media side of the business derives about two-thirds of its revenue from its commercial business, Moriarty said in the latest episode of the Digiday podcast.

Moriarty joined Leaf Group after the media company acquired online art marketplace Saatchi Art in August 2014, where he served as CEO for a year.

The addition of the Artwork Marketplace (and Society6, another marketplace Leaf Group acquired in 2013 that turns its artist-made network into purchasable HomeGoods) has taught portfolio media properties a lot about commerce. electronics, he said.

Below are highlights of the conversation, which have been edited and condensed for clarity.

How trading became a dominant source of income

We accounted for about two-thirds of commerce revenue for one-third primarily from digital advertising on the media side of the business. Commerce companies give us an in-depth understanding of consumers buying products online, as a business as a whole. So you learn a lot about them. The opportunity in media is for us to take this knowledge, understanding and best practices and put them to use as these digital media brands go further in their revenue diversification efforts and incorporate smart, integrated commerce. in the content we create. And so when you start from an actual knowledge base because you run separate businesses in the category, I think that helps you because you start because you have some level of expertise in the organization that you can share.

Adapting to a publisher-centric business strategy

When you think about commerce for publishers, it’s a little different, because in many cases the commerce experience is really built into the nature of the content itself. The efforts and mechanics behind this are a bit different than simply managing a catalog directly.

But I think the fundamentals are similar, which is that you want to make sure that you’re providing your readership with products that they’d be interested in, products that you know are of high quality, and if that’s is done through third-party integration, [then it’s] from a partner who can execute well so that the customer has a great experience.

In the media world, you have to create the opportunity, not just by [saying]“A lot of people on this article, put an affiliate link and see if we can get a quarter of it.” It’s not very interesting. This [should be]”Can we use our knowledge and expertise in our ability to organize to provide introductions to a brand or product that a customer who trusts our brand might never have heard of before?”

Getting started in digital sales with NFTs

[NFTs] creating a whole new way for art lovers and collectors to experience art, and [give] huge new opportunities for artists. That said, at the beginning of everything there is a lot of noise and hype and it’s hard for a lot of people to navigate.

Art Saatchi [is] very much in the business of building a platform and a brand to serve artists and art lovers or collectors. So the right approach for us, given this new opportunity for artists and collectors, and the best way to cut through the noise, is to look at what we’re really good at? Saatchi Art is characterized by [an] an opportunity for emerging artists, a high level of curation and a trusted environment where people can go to discover art and artists.

It really informed our approach with the [NFT] collections we make. The Other Avatars is our project, coming out later in January, and we’ve brought in a group of participating Saatchi artists who create unique avatars. [that are] all inspired by Van Gogh’s self-portraits.

Cathy W. Howerton