“There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of old things we don’t know,” said American journalist Ambrose Bierce more than 100 years ago.
Today, it’s an apt quote to use when considering how the media industry regularly gets itself all excited about hyperlocalism, believing it’s discovered untapped profits.
Here’s just three reports of pioneering innovations in 2010: Newsquest talking proudly of “new opportunities for businesses” with 30 new hyperlocal websites in April, Northcliffe announcing a doubling of its hyperlocal launches in July, and Trinity Mirror launching a new hyperlocal partnership project in August.
These and many other articles that led to my my mini-analysis of true community sites noting that despite energetic editors and enthusiastic audiences, the vast majority make no profit and pay no salaries.
One exception is Roger Ogle, who sent me an email pointing out that however ‘new’ hyperlocal was perceived to be, it’s a format that’s been making him money for decades… on paper and online.
“I’ve been publishing a successful hyperlocal magazine entirely funded by advertising since 1987 and have been posting stories online since 1999,” wrote Roger, publisher and editor of the SwindonLink magazine and website.
“Starting with 500 copies as a local newsletter in 1979, I turned into a business in ’87 and we currently give away 27,000 copies.”
I got hold of a hard copy of the December issue of SwindonLink, and at first glance cringed at the ad-heavy front page and the weak masthead.
But wasn’t a page one full of adverts the way all newspapers began? And once I flicked through the December edition of the 56-page A4 glossy, I was pretty impressed with the story count.
Many of the stories were positive and celebratory: ‘Prof picks up the OBE’ on page one and two; ‘West Prospect shop holds a party’ on page three; ‘Red hot Ofsted for Red Oaks’ on page 16; and ‘Girl Guides mark a century’ on page 36.
Yet for a free community monthly, there were also plenty of more challenging reports: ‘Police focus on anti-social people attracted by bright lights in the West’ on page 4; ‘Residents’ questions reveal inconsistencies and gaps in decisions’ on page nine; and ‘Single mums with disabled children face debilitating cuts’ on page 10.
There were a total of 96 community stories, plus a double-page spread of detailed ‘What’s On’ listings and another page of ‘At Church this Christmas’ service listings, all quite professionally put together by Roger and a few part-time assistants.
The real eyebrow raiser was the sheer volume of adverts throughout the magazine: 252 in the December edition, which was the 343rd published since 1979 by the way.
If the ad rates shown here are anything to go by, SwindonLink should be turning in a healthy profit.
You can see the full content at www.swindonlink.com and can read the magazine itself via a page-turning iViewer by clicking on the front page facsimile on the right of the screen.
I’m sure that this isn’t the only example of a community newsletter that has expanded into a combined magazine and online format, nor the only one making money.
It certainly suggests that despite the recession there is still room in the marketplace for local, back-to-basics media businesses.
So yes, take a good look at the potential of hyperlocal websites, but let’s not ignore the actual profits already existing in well-managed grassroots print.
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