Ten years of Broadsheet with founder Nick Shelton

After recently celebrating ten years of Broadsheet, founder Nick Shelton spoke with Mumbrella’s Hannah Blackiston about how the publisher grew in its first decade and what’s on the horizon for the - now multi-platform - business.

26,000 articles, 416,000 photos, 50 employees and countless breakfasts, brunches, lunches, afternoon teas, dinners and desserts. Broadsheet has grown exponentially from its beginnings in 2009 when founder and publisher Nick Shelton returned from London and wanted a database of the best places to go in Melbourne.

Now the publication covers Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane with its 50 full-time employees and consistent profitability, despite never having sought external investment.

Nick Shelton launched Broadsheet ten years ago as a database for great things to do in Melbourne
Photo: James Geer

“It started as a one-man band and very much grew organically from there. At the end of the day, a lot of the success has come from being able to create a product and a brand that resonated with people and found an audience really quickly. From there, we focused on high quality content from the outset and building credibility with that audience,” Shelton tells me, reflecting on how Broadsheet grew from its modest beginnings to the lifestyle brand it is now.

Since the early days, Broadsheet has become much more than just an online platform. It’s now five books, a series of pop-up cafes and restaurants, the Broadsheet Kitchen dining concept, and a number of commercial partnerships including Mini and Disney. The platform doesn’t just cover food and drink. There’s a wide variety of topics that fall into the Broadsheet spectrum, including art, entertainment and city-wide events like transport strikes and freak weather events.

The space Broadsheet plays in is a lot more cluttered than it was in 2009. Lifestyle and culture is a popular arena for digital publishers to launch in, and more and more Broadsheet is battling other outlets for eyeballs. But the publisher reports it reaches 2.8m people a month, which means it must be doing something right.

Broadsheet has also hosted restaurant experiences for its readers

“We focused on building credibility with the audience and ultimately we became essential reading which has been critical. We’re not just another publisher, we’re essential to people living in these cities. That also means we built a real audience, that is, more than ‘traffic’, a proper, true audience who are connected to our brand,” said Shelton.

“We then focused on providing a service to our clients that they really valued, driven by creative ideas and high quality executions. And we built a first-class team of people. The people who work for Broadsheet are people who I can’t possibly imagine having done it without.”

As for the diversification of the brand, that’s been a part of the changing nature of publishing says Shelton. The way brands connect with audiences now is more than it was before, it’s no longer just a product with copy and images, it’s a pop-up or a bottle of wine or a sponsored event or a podcast.

One of the Broadsheet hardcover cookbooks that has joined the brand in recent years

Despite some of the impressive partnerships Broadsheet has managed over the years, reader trust is still a core value of the publisher, and restaurants have never paid to appear in a Broadsheet article or on a list. It’s easy to see why restaurants and eateries would want to though – the Broadsheet effect is very swift and very real. Restaurants that appear on the site are quickly impossible to get into, with lines snaking around the block and Broadsheet diehards desperate to snag tables. But, the audience comes first, because as Shelton says, without credibility there would be no audience and without them there is no Broadsheet.

“In this industry what we learnt really quickly is to be flexible and adaptable. This industry changes so dramatically really often, whether it’s your platform changing or algorithm, things that change the way your audience finds you, changes in the advertising industry. Every six months there’s something new to think about. So we had to learn to never say ‘this is how we do things and it’s set in stone’, it was saying ‘well this is what’s working for us now, but we can adapt’.

“Ten years ago digital was a bit of a wild west, which is what gave us an opportunity to enter the market. Ten years ago mobile was still emerging, digital budgets were small, it was still considered experimental by a lot of brands. Over the ten years the industry has become much more sophisticated and much more mature, but I guess so have we. We’ve been able to grow with the industry. There have been a ton of imitations come and go and I’m sure we’ll see more of them, but our approach has always been to focus on what we do pretty well and to make sure we’re always pushing forwards, delighting and surprising our audiences.”

The Broadsheet Kitchen experience went beyond pop-ups

As for the next ten years, Shelton says there is still plenty for Broadsheet to do. The audience is on the rise and the offering for brands and advertising partners is becoming more advanced and more creative all the time. As long as Broadsheet is still considered a market leader after another decade, Shelton says he will be happy with where the brand has gone, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t new and exciting ideas on the horizon.

To celebrate its ten year anniversary, Broadsheet launched the Broadsheet Editions – a curated edit of images from past and present Broadsheet photographers available for readers to purchase – and produced a special edition of the print paper in both Melbourne and Sydney.

“It will be exciting to look back on how far we’ve come, but what excites me more is what the future holds. We’ll be throwing a huge event at the end of summer – bringing together the best of our city for our friends and, even more importantly, our readers. Stay tuned for details on that.”


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.