Note: This post was originally published on MelTaylorMedia.com. It is re-printed here with permission.
The hyperlocal online news space is getting crowded. Maybe it’s time to start throwing some elbows?
Digital marketing dollars of most small business are still up for grabs. When you take these tiny but high volumes of mum & pop budgets, and combine them with the ‘asleep at the wheel’ efforts of traditional media, you can see why AOL/Patch, Reach Local, Groupon, Hyper-Local Incubators, and other indie efforts are doubling down and are going in for the kill.
Yet, when it comes to big media’s foray into this space, it’s full of well intentioned, but often misguided efforts. Here are recent items of note on what’s working and what’s not in building profitable, hyperlocal initiatives:
Jan Schaffer from J Lab was recently asked if any online news projects will be ‘sustainable’. She answered: “time will tell”. We absolutely adore Jan, but we absolutely hate that answer. Since Jan is not an expert in sales and advertising, why do we even ask her questions like that? These so called ‘elusive’ business models we’re supposedly looking for…already exist. Pure-plays (Reach Local, DataSphere, Groupon, etc) are already using these models to grab local market share right now…right from under our noses……while we continue to “discuss and explore”. Read Jan’s speech here.
Philly.com’s incoming CEO; Greg Osberg recently told Poynter: “His top focus initially, will be on building audience, especially online. While conceding the point that small growth in unique visitors and other measures may not greatly impact ad sales, I think we can get 100 per cent more audience, and that would make a difference.” Whoa. Since revenue is likely the top priority of his bosses at the investment firm of Angelo Gordon, we took pause with Osberg’s statement. We believe Philly.com (and most news sites) have a sales strategy problem, not a traffic and page-view problem. Driving zillions of page views = inventory glut = lower effective cpm. Even MSNBC declared: pageview ‘dead’. Osberg also hinted of his plan to find local collaborators, especially in the suburbs where editorial coverage has been cut. We think this will be tough in the fiercely independent, Philly blogosphere, where some indie sites are getting bought up. (see next item)
A Philly sports blog called 700Level, was recently acquired by Comcast. Another local sports site called Beer Leaguer was also just snapped up by the cable giant. This should give local, independent site owners a much better sense of the value of their work. If your stuff is good, why give it away for peanuts? If your not sure how to value your site, contact us for assistance. Indie-sites like Philebrity.com, Philly2nite.com and SuburbanOneSports.com are not likely to sell out for the relatively small pay day and employee status that the 700Level & Beer Leaguer jumped on. (we think much too quickly). Kudos to Comcast Sports Net vp; Eric Grilly, for making this smart move, while the 2 sports Radio stations in town 610WIP.com, 975TheFanatic.com, as well as Philly.com, were snoozing.
Early efforts from Tribune showed promise, but stumbled a bit. Read why a local blogger pulled out of ChicagoNow network.
The Washington Post hoped local bloggers would drop everything to work with the legendary site, for what some say, free. Read the laundry list of rules you need to follow, if you want to work with the WashPo.
AOL/Patch reaches out to local website publisher in Alameda, California…. tells Patch: ‘no thanks’.
SacPress.com is the self-funded news project that reportedly reaches more Sacramento online readers than the daily Newspaper (Sacbee), by leveraging their Sacramento Local Online Ad Network (SLOAN). The network is now over 40 sites strong, even repping the web inventory of 4 local Radio stations. (stations owned by digitally-challenged, Entercom)
Radio & TV taking a shot at hyper-local news. Some broadcasters admit their weakness, and are outsourcing web strategy to DataSphere. Others do it themselves, and make clumsy mistakes (out of date obits) and leave money on the table. But promising Radio efforts like WYDaily.com and the forthcoming Baltimore Record, are signs of things to come.
Albritton’s TBD.com in DC, won’t pay bloggers directly — instead, the sales staff will work with interested advertisers. This does not sit well with local online writers.
CUNY’s New Business Models for News, and NYU provide excellent editorial guidance for The New York Times’ hyper-local effort, called The Local. But for some reason, they were also given the responsibility for sales & revenue leadership. With little advertiser support, we fear that The Local could be considered a failure and potentially shuttered, due to poor financial performance. It’s local sales strategy seems non-existent. We wonder if NYU’s Jay Rosen will be making sales calls, once he launches the East Village NYC version of The Local. UPDATE: July 1, 2010…NYT unloads their Jersey hyper-sites to indie-blog; Baristanet.
YouTube is experimenting in San Francisco, inviting local VJ’s and digital journalists to contribute. But we gotta ask….why just post your video on YouTube? Sell your footage to local TV or Newspaper instead!
Sites like TheBatavian, NewzJunky.com and NewJerseyNewsroom, are gaining traffic and advertiser support. They use the not-so-secret formula of “running their sites like a business”. They spend less time with research and theory, and more time on the streets closing deals, and making sales calls.
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