The Atlantic’s Quartz is here at last but will it pay?

The world of elite online business journalism is starting to feel crowded. Publications like the Wall Street Journal (s nws), the FT and the Economist are all touting top-shelf digital experiences and now comes the Atlantic’s long awaited offering, Quartz.

Launched today at, the new publication is optimized for reading on mobile devices and aimed at the “global business leaders” who have become something of a white whale for media outlets looking for reliable revenue streams.

The new Atlantic product is pretty, staffed by smart people and designed for readers who share stories from mobile platforms. This all amounts to a sound strategy but there is one wildcard: the price.

Unlike its compatriots in the elite business niche, Quartz is free — no paywalls, no registration, no app walls, nothing. This is a marked departure from sites like the Journal which have made a very good business of charging hundreds of dollars a year for digital subscriptions.

So where does the revenue come from? Like its competitors, Quartz has flagship high-quality advertisers like Boeing and Cadillac that will engage in “full-page takeover ads on Quartz’s mobile, tablet and website,” according to AdWeek. This “takeover” style of ad — in which the advertisers gets to occupy the whole page for a hot second — has been touted by Flipboard (one of Quartz’s big partners) and others as the optimal format for tablets.

“Like Wired in the 1990s and The Economist in the 1840s, Quartz embodies the era in which it is being created,” saidQuartz Editor in Chief Kevin J. Delaney in a statement.

At the same time, Poynter cites a Ken Doctor report that explains that Quartz will offer a form of sponsored stories known as “deep content ads.” The idea here is to create ads that seem native to the publication — a scheme executed very well by Buzzfeed, another successful media pioneer.

But will ads bring in enough money to pay for all that elite content? Probably not. Few publications, elite or otherwise, can live on advertising alone these days. That’s why the analyst, Doctor, seems on the money with his prediction that the Atlantic will offer a professional subscription product like Politico Pro. In other words, one for another, the Atlantic will eventually target reader revenue.

With Quartz, Atlantic appears to be making smart tactical choices in pursuit of a viable medium term strategy. And, as David Carr reports in the New York Times, its backers have already tasted success with other digital endeavors like Atlantic Wire and the Atlantic Cities.

The Atlantic’s new business gambit is worth watching closely. Equally interesting will be how the other members of  the “elite” fraternity react. Will they lower prices to stave off Quartz’s arrival or double-down on the “high quality for a high price” digital model that has worked so far?