The paidContent 50: The Most Successful Digital Media Companies In The U.S.

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There’s no doubt that people are spending increasing amounts of time with digital media (the web and mobile devices) and decreasing amounts with traditional media (newspapers, magazines and radio). The numbers prove it.

What’s less clear is this: Which media companies are doing the best job of exploiting that shift? Welcome to the paidContent 50, our inaugural list of the 50 most-successful digital media companies in the U.S. (Don’t be fooled: There are 50 companies on the list, even though it ends at No. 43. We had one three-way tie and five two-way ties).

Our list is a ranking based on digital sales, which, in our minds, is a fair indicator of digital success. Where digital sales figures were publicly available, we used them; in cases where they weren’t, we estimated them, using a variety of sources, including comments executives have made to the press, research reports, and conversations with industry analysts. We also reached out directly to dozens of companies that don’t report digital sales, although most — including major media conglomerates that only a few years ago were trumpeting their digital revenue figures — declined to provide that information to us. Some insisted the digital data was too tied into other parts of the business to break out.

We’re the first to admit that the list contains a fair amount of guesswork — informed guesswork but guesswork nonetheless. It is meant to help kick off a deeper conversation about digital success.

Some high-level takeaways from our ranking: Businesses that generate digital revenue by selling ads dominate our list; companies that make most of their money selling online content or subscriptions took only 13 of the 50 spots. And while many traditional media companies may be struggling to grow their overall sales, they are generating significant revenue online. Twenty-one companies on our list have a substantial presence in non-online media, such as newspapers, phone books or TV. Finally, Google is — by far — the most successful digital media company in the U.S. Its revenue is more than three times that of the number two company on the paidContent 50.

For the purposes of this list, we defined a digital media company as a business that is making money directly from the sale of online content or online advertising. So we didn’t include companies like content delivery networks, domain-name registration businesses, or advertising agencies. Even with companies like Apple or Amazon–both of which are on our list–we didn’t include revenue from the sales of devices like the iPad or Kindle. And in creating the paidContent 50, we decided to focus on consumer-facing firms, so you won’t find any business-to-business content companies here.

This is an iterative list, so we welcome your thoughts about the analysis of individual companies (see the comment box after each of the company profiles) or on the idea of the list itself.

Click “first company” below to start scrolling through the companies on our list, or see the full list here. For more about our methodology, go here.

Joseph Tartakoff