A little more than two years ago, I took over the task of running Hudson River Blue. I’m using this anniversary as a reason to speak with you directly about the state of HRB, and how we’re navigating the choppy waters of the internet.
As you may recall, HRB was a part of the SB Nation network of sports websites from 2014 until earlier of this year. We weren’t cut off from SB Nation as much as we were given our independence: Parent company Vox handed over all rights to our name, our archive, our URL, and our intellectual property at no cost to us, then set us free.
We launched a redesigned and fully autonomous HRB back in April, and if you go by some key metrics it’s been all peaches and cream. Our audience grew 33% in the past year and is now the largest in our history, with 15,000 to 20,000 individual readers coming to our pages every month.
Let’s spend a moment looking at that: We’re above the high-water mark reached way back in 2015, when news about David Villa and Frank Lampard commanded a global audience. I give much of the credit to our reporting, which is more dynamic and comprehensive than ever. Senior editor Andrew Leigh, senior writers John Baney, Michael Battista, Mathew Mangam, and Mark Radigan, and False 9 columnist Corey Clayton are a dream team when it comes to covering the New York City soccer scene.
If only I could end this letter here with a round of back-slapping. The truth is, the internet is undergoing profound changes that directly impact not just HRB, but all news organizations.
The dismantling of X (can’t we just call it Twitter?) severely diminished an important source of readers. For years, a steady 35% of our traffic came from Twitter, but now it’s closer to 9%. That drop is being felt industry-wide. Then there’s Google’s decision to de-emphaize news sites like HRB in their search results. It’s a credit to us that our readership grew 33% despite all the issues with Twitter and Google, but we’re swimming against the tide.
For years, the economic model of a site like ours was to reach as many readers as possible and rely on advertising as a source of income — never mind that Google keeps an astonishing 65% of all ad sales. The goal was to get clicks, but that formula simply isn’t holding up.
If HRB is to survive, it needs to change.
Ideally, that change will come in the form of improving the site, and making it even better and more engaging: HRB will be redesigned before the start of the 2024 MLS season. We will be reaching out to you soon to ask what new functions and features you’d like to see the new site.
That change could also mean turning to a subscription model that asks you to directly support the independent journalism you find here.
That will only work if we offer you something that you enjoy and value: We want to be the al pastor taco that you go out of your way to eat, not the nine-ingredient craft cocktail you regret ordering.
We consider Hudson River Blue to be a New York City soccer community – that’s the slug you see at the end of every page – and if we’re to evolve and improve, we’re going to do it with your help and input.